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Kinsella's Ebullient Principal

November 30, 2005

Hartford's Kinsella Elementary School is one of the city's worst-performing schools, but that may soon change because of a daring principal with a magical idea.

Pamela Totten-Alvarado took over as principal two years ago with a vision to weave the arts into the curriculum in a bold effort to inspire students, parents and teachers and - in the long run - to dramatically improve test scores. It's too early to assess the impact on academic results, but the improvement in morale has been astonishing.

Located a few blocks south of city hall, Kinsella this year became a citywide magnet school with an arts theme. The pre-K-7 enrollment of 500 students includes about 60 from other neighborhoods. Another 400 students had to be turned away. Next year, suburban students also will be accepted.

Ms. Totten-Alvarado, who plays the piano, grew up in an arts family, where she was exposed to opera, museums and art history. She believes passionately that arts education has the power to transform learning into an exciting adventure for children. One 12-year-old student who plays the saxophone recently asked her mother, "Why don't we have school on the weekends?" Such words would warm any parent's heart.

Kinsella's eager students paint, dance, play musical instruments and act. About 130 of them play the violin. Attendance is up, fewer students get into trouble and teacher morale has improved.

Perhaps Kinsella's example offers lessons for educators everywhere. The first is that it is a mistake when schools cut back on art and music education. As important, Ms. Totten-Alvarado demonstrates again the vital role of an enthusiastic leader who believes in her students and staff and pushes them to achieve their best.

Fortunately for Kinsella, Ms. Totten-Alvarado, 50, has no plans to leave. She wants to retire from Kinsella after another decade of inculcating a love for learning in her young charges.

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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