Community trust in Hartford has been slipping and sliding for generations, largely due to the segregation in our region, partially corrected by the Sheff v. O’Neill case and, unfortunately, mostly correlated to poverty.
Hartford families cannot deny what is before their eyes. Compared to the outlying areas, they see they are in a regional doughnut hole of disadvantage.
Their neighborhood schools, for the most part, still suffer from too much need and too few resources, and the State has no more answers for Hartford.
If city bankruptcy enters the picture, which could happen, there may be incentive for the City to raid the Hartford Public Schools’ budget by attempting to fund the schools even lower than the current State Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR).
Meanwhile, Hartford educators working in neighborhood schools continue to serve disproportionate numbers of children requiring special expertise for their language learning, disability, or academic recuperation needs.
Moreover, research-based calls for smaller, themed academies, while at one time smart, are running out of financial steam. The third rail of school closings and consolidation is about to light up.
Where Does This Leave Us?
If we are to keep our commitments to delivering equity for all students, and to Hartford’s strategy of using the concept of individualized student success plans, under which every student is supported by a caring adult, we must think creatively and boldly in this time of crisis.
First, if we honestly assess the reality of the needs of Hartford children, we must acknowledge that without:
- closing more schools;
- extending learning deeper into the day and summer for certain schools;
- shifting our best teachers into our lowest performing schools;
- allowing more students to advance grades by showing mastery instead of seat time;
- placing more needy students into magnet schools to decrease the concentration of need in our neighborhood schools; and
- helping families build rigorous learning environments at home . . . we are only pretending to do our best.
No constraint on our school system should go untested, just as no needy child should go unserved or under-served. We must push the status quo in Hartford and ask the question, more vehemently, why not make more radical change in the way we deliver education?
Second, absent superb communications, Hartford’s “trust gap” will widen even further, especially given the central office member’s scandal – and next week’s and year’s crucial budget cuts.
Painful decisions are coming, and we must remember that making undeliverable promises or dropping decisions from the sky endanger Hartford’s reform long term.
Decisions going forward must be collaborative, born of candid consultation with parents, school staff, School Governance Councils, and community and philanthropic leaders. HPS has made moves to communicate more openly under the current Superintendent, but realistic and honest communications have not been a hallmark of the Hartford Public Schools; more work on this is advisable going forward.
Especially in this year’s daunting budget situation, the quality of communications stands to define – or in the worst case, further undermine – community trust. Without it, Hartford has nothing.