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Hartford School Superintendent Gave Parents A Show Of Arrogance, Disrespect

Helen Ubiñas

October 22, 2009

If I hadn't witnessed Hartford School Superintendent Steven Adamowski berating parents for having the nerve to press for a public discussion about gangs in city schools, I'd never have truly appreciated how deep his disrespect runs.

He scolded Milly Arciniegas for allowing the press to attend the meeting in a tone better reserved for a student than an involved parent who also happens to be the president of the Hartford Parent Organization Council.

He accused her of trying to call attention to her candidacy for the school board.

And then he sniffed at the handful of parents in attendance; as if such a small group wasn't worth his time.

"I'm very disappointed," he said.

"Wow," one of the other mothers mouthed.

Wow indeed.

It didn't matter to Adamowski that parents wanted some answers to a week's worth of conflicting information about gangs in their children's schools, that they didn't want their views filtered through his overpaid communications machine, which dismissed initial news of gangs as a police matter they refused to comment on.

Nope; clearly the only message that mattered was Adamowski's and that — in case you lost track — is still deny, downplay and dismiss.

It was a striking moment, not just because of the startling arrogance Adamowski leveled at the parents he actually works for, but because of what's now looking like a citywide conspiracy to manage the message.

The numbers in the internal police memo — 4,000 gang members in the city associated with one of 138 city gangs, 800 members 17 and younger — are based on old data, Police Chief Daryl Roberts told the parents.

And the city, he insisted, has "effectively addressed that problem."

Yep, in a couple of short school years — poof — that "gang infestation," those "playgrounds with prison yard atmospheres" cited in his very own internal police report have magically disappeared. And here we wasted a Nobel Peace Prize on the president.

The parents agreed with the police chief — sort of. It's true, most said, they're not seeing an infestation of gangs in the city's middle schools, at least not right now.

But they quickly added, to the dismay of the superintendent, that may simply be because some of those kids have apparently moved on — to Bulkeley High School, for starters, where just a few weeks ago a fight involving eight students sent Maria Gomez's daughter scrambling into a bathroom seeking safety.

And isn't that the reality of gangs or crews or posses — or whatever term allows the city's leaders to write it off as a little league problem?

They start young, and small. They get older, they move on to other schools and even if they eventually drop out, they find their way back in one way or another, especially when there isn't much to keep them out.

Adamowski looked none too happy to have the parents talk so openly about gang activity in the school, but there wasn't much he could say: It's hard to argue with the truth, especially after you've tired yourself out with such a public temper tantrum.

Bulkeley, he said, is the one high school in the city that was not redesigned. Maybe it's time to do that.

Fine. But here's the deal. You can redesign all the schools you want. You can lay claim to higher test scores and graduation rates and profess it all a big success.

But if you're going to first deny, then downplay and ultimately dismiss what's going on, that just shows a lack of respect for parents and the children who deserve better.

And if you can't honestly deal with issues that have long made it impossible for students in the city's schools to learn, any of those successes are going to be superficial and short-lived.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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