Special master to New London schools: Now is the time to act

Steven Adamowski, the newly appointed special master for the New London school district, said Wednesday that the issues surrounding the city's schools are of "an emergency nature."

"This is not a question of people waiting for someone else to do something," Adamowski said Wednesday, after his appointment was announced. "This is going to require the engagement of all the stakeholders in the New London school system, starting with the school system itself. The approach is to not wait for me and what I'm going to do."

School officials had been anxiously awaiting the appointment since the State Board of Education announced earlier this month that New London would become the second school district in the state to be assigned a special master.

The State Board of Education last year intervened in the New London school district by assigning someone to oversee the school board. Now, Adamowski will try to help find ways to raise the district's failing test scores, which are the fourth lowest in the state.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor announced Adamowski's appointment Wednesday between sessions of the State Board of Education meeting. The announcement was not on the board's agenda.

Adamowski, a former superintendent in Norwich and Hartford, is finishing his first year serving as special master to the Windham public school system. His appointment in Windham marked the first time the state has appointed someone to that role.

"He's demonstrated the ability to wield the authority of the special master wisely while ensuring a collaborative spirit and approach involving a partnership with the locality …," Pryor told members of the state board. "He has a long track record here in Connecticut and has paved the way in creating the role of special master in Windham."

Adamowski said his immediate priorities in New London will be to stabilize the district's finances in preparation for the coming school year, initiate state-mandated training for the school board, analyze student performance data, and develop a multi-year strategic operating plan for the district.

He will serve as special master in New London for the 2012-13 school year. If additional time is needed, the State Board of Education will need to vote to extend his appointment.

Adamowski will begin work in New London next week while he is still working with Windham. He will continued to be paid $225,000 a year by the state.

When he was named special master in Windham, the state allocated $1 million to support his improvement efforts. The state hasn't announced how much money it would allocate to New London.

"To this point, New London public schools have been unable to build sufficient momentum around policies that drive student learning," State Board of Education Chairman Allan Taylor said. "We expect that the appointment of a special master will focus the school district on creating outcomes that provide the greatest benefit to schoolchildren."

New London Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer said Wednesday that he is pleased with the state's selection. He and Adamowski worked together in Delaware when Fischer was superintendent of the Christina school district and Adamowski was the associate secretary of education.

"I have a lot of respect for his work and the work that he did in Cincinnati as superintendent and also in Hartford. He's a strong believer in high standards for all students and accountability," Fischer said. "I deeply appreciate the support that the commissioner and the State Board of Education have lent to our efforts to improve the quality of education for all students, parents and the community members in New London."

Adamowski said he plans to spend the day in New London on Monday to meet with city and school officials.

Windham is similar in make-up to New London, with about 3,000 students in the district, a high proportion of low-income families and a large number of students who are not fluent in English. Like New London, Windham has had failing standardized test scores.

In his first year as special master in Windham, Adamowski developed a three-year improvement plan, improved teacher and leader quality and retention, expanded local, institutional and university partnerships with the school district and encouraged greater parent involvement, according to the state.

As Hartford superintendent, Adamowski raised test scores in some of the city's lowest performing schools.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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