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A Passion For Hartford Schools

John Motley's Pending Job Defies Easy Description

March 31, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

John H. Motley, who long played the role of the Hartford School District's patron saint as president of the St. Paul Travelers Connecticut Foundation, is expected to dive full time into his passion for improving education in the city by taking a job for the school district.

Motley, 62, who resigned last week after 16 years at Travelers, won't join the district until the board of education formally acts on his hiring April 5. He will take on a broad array of assignments that include lobbying the state legislature and serving as one of the school district's liaisons to the business community and the city council. He may also work as a troubleshooter of sorts, helping to douse political eruptions around the district and freeing Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry to concentrate on school improvement.

Motley, who approached Henry about a job, said his role defies an easy job description, although his title will be executive director of external affairs and his salary $120,000. While he is not certified to lead any schools, he said he will promote Henry's ideas for school improvement, which include longer school days and years and turning youths away from respect for the street to a renewed respect for academic achievement.

Henry said he will also ask Motley to help promote a more positive image of the school district and to oversee Mayor Eddie A. Perez's education initiatives, which focus on early childhood education and increasing the number of Hartford students who enroll in competitive four-year colleges.

Perez said he is thrilled. "The superintendent needs a little thinking power and a little muscle power - someone who could work in city hall and in the community and help execute our initiatives," he said. "John has a passion for the work that needs to go on from birth to 23."

Motley is a visionary, Henry said. "He has helped us make connections to the arts and to higher education. He has demonstrated that he is a big thinker and he has served as a mentor to many of our principals. He inspires people."

"I can hardly wait to get into this new job," said Motley, who lives with his family in Burlington, but is considering a move to Hartford. "There are so many challenges - where to begin?"

As president of the Travelers Foundation, Motley was able to pay for the initiatives he supported. For example, he `adopted' Dwight Elementary School with a grant of $500,000. The money was used to buy special "white boards" for every classroom. The boards are hooked up to a teacher's portable computer and a printer - also purchased with the grant. The rest of the money helped buy uniforms and supply teachers with discretionary funds for their classrooms.

He also paid to send all the fifth-graders to Central Connecticut State University last year for a tour of the campus. Each child got a T-shirt with the year he or she would graduate from college. This year, Travelers, along with the school district and the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, is sending every fifth-grader in the city to college campuses throughout the state next week. "It's a spin-off of his idea," said School Board Chairman Robert E. Long said.

This year, the state Department of Education nominated Dwight for federal blue ribbon status under the category of most improved. Just four years ago, the school ranked second from the last in the city in Connecticut Mastery Tests, and this year, the school is first in the city in all subjects with the highest percent of students reaching the state goal. Long attributes some of the school's success to Motley for encouraging the principal to think big and by showing that he cares.

Thomas D. Ritter, former speaker of the House and chairman of the state-appointed board of trustees for the school district, said Motley brings a wealth of skills to the job. "People take him seriously ... and at this stage in his career, all he wants to do is help the city and share his skills. He's not looking for another job."

Motley has had a long career marked by high-profile assignments. With a law degree from DePaul University, he joined Travelers in 1988 as executive vice president of its real estate subsidiary and dealt extensively with restructuring problem loans. He was senior vice president and chief of staff of claim services. He previously worked for Chemical Bank in New York, where he was managing director in the real estate group.

He is president of the board of trustees of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and a corporator of Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center and the Hartford Public Library. He recently was appointed to the Connecticut State University System's board of trustees by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

In the city, he has served on everything from Perez's inauguration fundraising committee to the mayor's Implementation Commission on Higher Education and the Commission on the Status and Future of Hartford's Children and Youth.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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