State gives special master another year in New London

Hartford — The state Board of Education extended the term of New London's special master, Steven Adamowski, for another year Wednesday, following a report by Adamowski that showed a district that is improving but is still in need of supervision.

"We're pleased with the progress in New London,'' education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said after the unanimous approval by the board at its meeting in Hartford.

In a report to the state board, Adamowski recommended that the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education assist the New London school board in searching for a new superintendent; that New London select a superintendent from among qualified candidates recommended by Pryor's office; and that it offer a three-year contract. The new superintendent's contract would be considered for renewal based on the results of evaluations of student achievement.

In April, the New London board voted to not renew the contract of Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer, whose last day on the job will be June 30, 2014.

"There are those in New London who expected me to recommend replacing the New London school board with a state-appointed board,'' Adamowski said. "But this is a district that has much greater capacity, if we can bring the political situation under control so decisions can be made."

The state board accepted Adamowski's report but did not take action on any of his recommendations.

Adamowski said that if a performance-based evaluation for the superintendent had been in place, Fischer would not have been let go. He recommended help with the search because the board "is not well positioned to attract a strong, experienced superintendent, or handle a search process effectively."

Fischer, who attended the meeting in Hartford, said afterward that he believed the district had accomplished a lot under Adamowski's guidance, but he cautioned the New London board to think carefully about changing leadership.

"Although we have made great progress and we now have a set of recommendations based off Dr. Adamowski's first year in New London, my continuing concern is that when you change leadership in the district, you put it on hold for another two years," he said in a statement released after the meeting.

"I'd like to note that we've made great progress over the last four years, and this is especially true given the commissioner's recent comments that we were among three districts in the state that showed significant improvements in student achievement," he said. "New London High School has been recognized as one of the top performing high schools (under state involvement) in the state, and because we have improved overall, we lost $458,000 in ECS money used to fund our efforts throughout the district."

Adamowski was sent to the city by the state last August at the request of Fischer and a former school board chairman who said the board was politically dysfunctional and unable to make decisions.

Adamowski said board meetings have "improved significantly in terms of order, professionalism and civility." Board members have gone to training and new members elected in November also will undergo training.

In his report Wednesday on the status of the 3,100-student New London school system, Adamowski said the city of 6.5 square miles, where half the land is tax exempt, cannot support the schools. The entire school board is up for re-election every two years, which puts inexperienced board members in place. Also, the city has flat-funded the school district for five years in a row.

Although the district has lost 98 teachers over the past five years, mostly due to budget cuts, he said, there is still a "cadre of dedicated teachers at each school.'' The issue of "significant" staff turnover has yet to be addressed, he said.

"It is my belief that this issue of dysfunctional governance is rooted in lack of resources and the inability of the city to support the school district," he said. "One of you encouraged me to look at a regional solution. That was sage advice. I came to that conclusion within two or three months."

Earlier this year, the school board adopted a strategic operating plan that would turn the city into a regional magnet school district. Eventually, 25 percent of New London students would attend schools outside the district, and 25 percent of the student population in New London would comprise students from outside the district.

The state would provide an additional $3,000 a year per New London student when all schools are magnet schools. Adamowski said Nathan Hale School, which focuses on arts education, would be eligible for the additional funds this coming year. The district also is working with the Garde Arts Center, LEARN and the other schools to create three kindergarten through 12th-grade schools that will focus on arts, languages and math and science.

Adamowski will now be a state employee, earning about $162,000 a year. He also was reappointed Wednesday to continue working with the Windham school system. He had been an employee of the State Education Resource Center, also known as SERC, earning about $225,000 a year.

"I wanted to do this for one more year,'' Adamowski said after his reappointment. "The SERC salary was not realistic."

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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