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Council Set To Oversee City Schools

By David Medina

Higher test scores and opening four more redesigned schools aren’t the only things that Hartford Public Schools expects to accomplish in the coming New Year.

Beginning this semester, parents, students, staff and other strategic partners in the district are also poised to gain a major say in how their schools are managed.

Their authority comes from membership in the new school governance councils that were established by a vote of the Board of Education in the spring of 2009.

The councils have many duties. Their most important responsibilities, however, are approving their school’s budget each year, developing an accountability plan that sets data-driven educational goals for their school and recommending a new principal in the event of a vacancy.

“Our district’s strategy to close the achievement gap requires significant parent input to succeed,” Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski said. “The school governance councils were designed with that goal in mind.”

Each governance council can have up to 12 members, half of whom must be parents. A parent, moreover, must co-chair the governance council with the school principal, who is a non-voting member. The rest of the membership includes any combination of students, teachers and other staff, religious and community organizations, business partners and partners in higher education.

Sasha Davis, 25, who sits on the governance council at the Nursing Academy in Hartford Public High School, said she first heard about the council at a parent open house from principal David Chambers. Ms. Davis is legal guardian to her cousin, Sharion Clare, 17, a senior at the academy.

“I was looking for a way to get involved so that I could make sure that things went smoothly for her,” Ms. Davis said. “The council is a great way to help the principals run the schools and to guarantee that students get what they need.”

The new policy applies to autonomous schools, namely schools that maintain an Overall School Index at the proficient level or above each year and new and redesigned schools that increase their OSI by 3 percent a year, regardless of their level on the OSI.

MEDID001@hartfordschools.org

To that end, the district has selected 26 schools in which to launch the governance

councils. More than 200 individuals, half of them parents or guardians, have volunteered

to join them. The participants have spent much of the past semester attending training

sessions administered by Leadership Greater Hartford to prepare for service on the

councils.

“I found the early sessions interesting and helpful,” said Rand Cooper, a writer

and novelist, whose three-year-old daughter, Larkin, attends the pre-K program at the

Noah Webster MicroSociety Magnet School in Hartford’s West End. “They were

designed to help us work together and do things diplomatically. The fourth session was

about what the school governance council is expected to do and how to go about it.”

Diane Jones, a foster parent to Earl Coleman and Neftali Requana at the Hartford

Culinary Arts Academy in Weaver High School, had a similar reaction.

“The training was fabulous,” she said. “It brought everyone to a place where they

could feel they would have an impact.”

Ms. Jones added that, in addition to discussing the school’s budget and

accountability plan, her governance council is already into “the nitty-gritty” of plans to

build a state-of-the-art kitchen at the academy.

The councils must meet at least six times per year. Any member who misses two

consecutive meetings loses his or her membership. All members shall be designated

annually and may serve up to two terms, corresponding to two consecutive years that

extend from July through June. That said, councils do have the flexibility to set norms

for participation that may be more suitable for the school.

The success of each council will be measured by how well it meets the targets set

in its accountability plan and the degree to which it increases parental involvement in

school affairs.

“With teamwork and communication the council can be effective,” said Assistant

Principal Rafael Lopez, who sits on the Bulkeley High School governance council, where

social and discipline issues have been topics of discussion. “It’s going to take time to

adjust to this process.”

Victor De La Paz, the Special Assistant to Superintendent Adamowski who

supervises the formation of the governance councils, is very optimistic about the positive

impact that they can have on closing the achievement gap.

“If our parents, community partners and students participate to the level that the

Board of Education envisioned, this innovation has the potential to be transformative for

our schools,” he said. “It’s a very exciting opportunity for our district.”

Email us: editor@thehartfordguardian.com
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