Meeting with The Day's editorial board Tuesday, Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor adroitly steered clear of entanglement in New London politics and policy, while sending the message the state will not let any of that deter efforts to improve academic performance in city schools.
"The one thing I'll say is that I'm pleased the special master structure will ensure stability," Mr. Pryor told us.
The special master is veteran superintendent, now consultant, Steven Adamowski. Since his appointment by the State Board of Education nearly a year ago, Dr. Adamowski has helped steer New London's school board toward an innovative approach to improving the city's struggling schools.
As discussed at Tuesday night's meeting at the Science & Technology Magnet High School, the strategic plan for New London's schools calls for transition to an all-magnet school district. That approach would generate more state aid - a significant step for a city with a limited tax base - while diversifying its schools with students from surrounding towns attracted by the various city schools focuses on math, science, language and art.
Mr. Pryor declined comment on the school board's recent decision, in the midst of momentous change, not to renew Superintendent Nicholas Fischer's contract, which expires at the end of the next school year. The board offered no clear reasoning for making the potentially disruptive action - tying it more to personality than performance.
"I don't involve myself in local matters, especially personnel matters," Mr. Pryor said.
Might the State Board of Education's power to replace local school boards in underperforming school districts - if they are judged to be an impediment to improving schools - be invoked? That's too hypothetical, the commissioner told us.
But in June Mr. Pryor and the state board will receive a status report and recommendations from Dr. Adamowski on the New London school system and the steps necessary to assure continued progress. Given the commissioner's confidence that Dr. Adamowski's presence "ensures stability," we conclude those recommendations will get serious consideration.
Mr. Pryor recognizes that New London's compact school system, unlike the state's large inner city schools, provides the potential for rapid change and speedy progress. "That's one of the reasons we're optimistic about the prospects," he said.
We suspect it is also a reason the state will be ready to take decisive action, if judged necessary, to realize that potential.