Connecticut sheds daily operations of Windham schools

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor with Special Master Steven Adamowski

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / The CT Mirror

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor with Special Master Steven Adamowski

Three years after the state took over Windham Public Schools amid concerns about low achievement and a divided locally elected school board, the state has agreed to return day-to-day operation to local officials.

While the tenure of the state-appointed “special master” will end June 30 in Windham, the state’s education commissioner will still have veto authority over whom the superintendent will be until July 2019.

The intention behind the resolution approved unanimously by the State Board of Education this week is to have the locally elected board working with the education commissioner to determine the identity of the new superintendent.

Teachers in the district, who routinely butted heads with Special Master Steven Adamowski, are happy with the news.

“This welcome change shows that political leaders and school officials at the local and state level have been listening to the concerns of teachers, parents and advocates. We have always said that public education works best with meaningful community input,” said Randall Prose, a social studies teacher at Windham High School and the president of Windham Federation of Teachers. “We’re hopeful that these decisions will lead to a change for the better for our students in Windham.”

Both State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and State Board of Education Chairman Allan B. Taylor said the state’s divesting itself of the daily operations but remaining involved in leadership decisions is appropriate.

“It’s an in-between step between saying, ‘You’re on your own’ and still being involved,” said Taylor. “The expectation always was that his tenure would end when it was appropriate.”

Has Windham’s academic success improved?

Student achievement still has not risen in the 3,200-student Windham district during Adamowski’s tenure. Students in various grades each year take standardized tests in math, writing, reading and science. Of the 24 subject areas tested, the number of students who tested as proficient has decreased in 13 areas since Adamowksi took over the district.

When he came before the state board last fall, he told them he need one more school year for all the reforms he has launched to play out in the test scores.

Adamowski is expected to deliver a final report on the Windam “special master” involvement by September.

So why did the state board elect to end this involvement now?

Pryor said because the district is in the process of finding a new superintendent and its the perfect time. It’s also necessary to recuit someone without preconditions surrounding a state-appointed person running the day-to-day operations, he said.

“They will lead us into a new era without a special master,” he said during an interview. “We will be involved in the search [for a new superintendent]. The state will be involved in Windham still.”

Windham will get $750,000 a year on top of the other appropriations the town gets from the state for the state’s continued involvement. A similar arrangement was made in Bridgeport two years ago, with the state having veto authority in return for $3.5 million.

State officials say that because the locally-elected Windham Board of Education approved an identical resolution giving the state commissioner such authority over its superintendent pick, no legislative action is required.

The other district in the state with a “special master” — New London — is not affected by the state board’s vote this week. Adamowski’s current term there expires August 30. The adopted state biennium budget provides funding for his continued involvement in New London through June 2015.

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