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Business Community Plays Role In Bid To Overhaul Hartford Schools

By VANESSA DE LA TORRE | Courant Staff Writer

August 13, 2008

Hartford Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski's effort to overhaul the city's struggling schools has alienated some teachers but gained support in the business community, which in recent months has raised more than $1 million for a private civic group that will provide oversight to the reforms.

The Local Education Fund, as it's being called in its early stages, also hopes to act as a powerful lobbying arm that will help Adamowski push systematic changes that may be unpopular, such as the possibility of longer school days. The group soon will hire an executive director from a national pool of 140 applicants, said R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, head of the MetroHartford Alliance, the region's economic development organization.

Griebel spoke at an alliance breakfast meeting Tuesday at the Hilton on Trumbull Street, an event that drew about 150 business and civic leaders who heard a renewed pitch from Adamowski. The superintendent has been talking with the alliance since accepting the Hartford schools job in late 2006, pushing for the creation of a civic oversight group as the "single most important thing the business community can do to assist in this reform effort," Griebel said.

In Boston, business leaders have been collaborating with city mayors and superintendents to improve the public school system since 1982. The agreement, known as the Boston Compact, includes a commitment from businesses to offer summer jobs to city students and advocate school reform. Officials in Hartford hope to gain insights from the Boston effort.

On Tuesday, Adamowski often used the word "we" in outlining goals to close the achievement gap in Hartford one of the state's lowest performing districts and to transform a "dysfunctional ... monolithic, bureaucratic school system" into a system of smaller, more autonomous schools that have specialized fields of interest and give parents choices where to educate their kids.

But along with changes such as shutting down poor-performing schools, Adamowski said, "we have to have a group that sustains the reform from the outside."

Eric Daniels, a managing partner of the law firm Robinson & Cole and chairman of the Local Education Fund's board, said stability is key in the high-turnover environment of elected school leaders and superintendents, and that the fund will be a long-term monitor of the district's test scores and graduation rates.

An independent, privately-funded group "can hold people's feet to the fire and make sure that we really are achieving meaningful progress."

The Hartford Education Foundation, a nonprofit community group that raises private money for school projects that the district couldn't otherwise afford, will also become part of the Local Education Fund, Daniels said. Members of the fund's eight-member board include Courant Publisher Stephen Carver and University of Hartford President Walter Harrison.

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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