New London schools need to avoid state takeover at all costs

It was amusing, in a pathetic sort of way, the recent state audit that characterized the New London school board as "incoherent." But it was a line later in Day reporter Julianne Hanckel's story that was far more sobering:

"Powerful, transformational and systemic interventions have a chance of changing the achievement gap in New London," she wrote, quoting the audit. The next line, not in the audit but in reference to potential consequences, read, "that could mean anything up to and including a takeover by the state."

Perhaps some of you - even the few, the proud - who have ever taken the time to walk inside New London schools and get to know the teachers and kids, would view state takeover as necessary. Or maybe you shrug your shoulders and issue an absorbing, "could the state do any worse?"

The evidence provides a frightening answer.

Look north to Windham, for example, where state takeover has commenced.

The state appointed a man named Steven Adamowski, the former superintendent of schools in Hartford, to repair the school system. You'd need a 20-second timeout right there to process such a development: Someone from Hartford - Hartford! - summoned to fix someone else's school system.

Sort of like appointing Octomom as prime minister of Planned Parenthood, no?

Don't laugh. Adamowski's recent charge to rid the school system of its athletic director underscores the perils of state takeovers. In the name of change, good people become collateral damage at the behest of bureaucrats.

Example: Pat Risley.

He was the athletic director at Windham High School before Adamowski's edict. A rudimentary knowledge of the city wouldn't even be required to know that "Risley" is the name most and best associated with athletics in Windham, since somewhere around the time of Mazeroski's homer. Worse, Risley, who grew up in Willimantic, learned of his changing job description in the Willimantic Chronicle.

So far, Adamowski's own standardized test score suggests an achievement gap for his communication skills and general knowledge of his new fiefdom.

What if the potential state appointee in New London is as obtuse?

What's more troublesome is that some suit is allowed to make the unilateral decision that there's "no need for a separate athletic director" in the Windham school system any longer, as he told the Chronicle. Instead, he appointed a "special administrative manager," whose duties, according to the Chronicle, include scheduling, transportation, security, maintenance, extracurricular activities, common areas, food services and athletics."

Food services and athletics.

Where does one go to school to learn the vagaries of the pick-and-roll and the hamburger roll?

Poor Bill Strand and his boys' basketball team will be waiting for a bus one night and get ham sandwiches instead.

Remember, though: The state knows best.

According to the Chronicle, former Windham principal Gene Blain will be the special administrative manager.

Blain, once a teacher at Killingly, won a state championship there as its football coach. He's a good guy. But he'd have to be Jesus to succeed at this new job.

The athletic director role alone is full time.

Lori Riley of the Hartford Courant wrote a terrific column on the subject a few weeks ago. Among other salient points, Riley detailed the role of an athletic director:

"The scheduling of games, officials and transportation, rescheduling of games, officials and transportation when it rains/snows, hiring coaches, making sure coaches are certified and have first-aid training, professional development of coaches, dealing with parents', athletes' and coaches' complaints and issues, overseeing facility maintenance, site management and crowd control at home games, overseeing the sports medicine staff, dealing with new concussion regulations, the athletic budget, ticket sales and record-keeping of gate receipts, inventory and care of school athletic equipment and arranging practice schedules. Athletic directors deal with pay for play. Athletes who want to play sports in college come to the athletic director for help with NCAA eligibility and clearinghouse issues."

And so assigning one man all those duties, plus scheduling, transportation, security, maintenance, extracurricular activities, common areas and food services is somehow supposed to make Windham schools more efficient?

The lessons here for New London, other than being careful what you wish for, rest on the shoulders of the current board members. They can remain "incoherent" or accept the criticisms constructively. If they can, for once, channel their bluster into something useful, maybe they can keep the state home. Big Brother doesn't always know best.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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