Hartford Superintendent: Why We Must Consolidate Schools

On Tuesday, I presented the Hartford school board with a plan to redesign the city's school system. It proposes fewer but better schools and fiscal resources focused where they belong — on our students.

The future of our city and its workforce is at stake, and our school district is at a turning point. We simply have too many school buildings.

Our student base is shrinking, yet Hartford continues to operate and maintain more facilities — 34 percent more — than peer districts like New Haven. Some of our schools are below 50 percent capacity. One is at 30 percent capacity.

Also during the last few years, we have been teetering on the edge of a fiscal crisis. We have been rescued in large measure by the teachers and staff who come to work each day committed to providing the best educational experience for their students, while also dealing with budget cuts, bankruptcy talk and colleague layoffs.

No business or institution can operate under this model and survive, but the need for a redesigned district is not solely based on finances. The status quo is simply unacceptable in terms of student outcomes. Persistently low student achievement in Hartford demands the change that we are undertaking. The yardstick that measures our school district is student performance — and we have fallen short for too long.

As a product of Hartford schools, I know Hartford and its students do not deserve to be known for failure. We need bold action and the improvement that will come from implementing this plan. The acute pain of families and neighborhoods that will be affected by closing schools is undeniable. I support these changes because I believe it is our responsibility as a school system to take the path that will lead to better programs and higher achievement.

We have beautiful and capable students and a moral commitment to make sure that they have abundant opportunities for success. Fewer schools will mean fewer dollars spent on maintaining buildings and more dollars spent on learning. Closing under-capacity schools will allow for reinvestment in our remaining schools to make them better.

The decision to close certain schools is difficult. Our schools anchor our communities in many ways, providing sanctuaries for our students and families and supporting our neighborhoods. We are very sensitive to that reality. Our plan calls for some closed buildings to be repurposed and remain as assets in their neighborhoods. We have engaged parents and stakeholders every step of the way — and will continue to do so — because all of us, together, must contribute to and stand as one in support of this plan.

As the redesign moves forward, the transition may result in some discomfort and a lot of hard work over the next several years. But there is no alternative. If we do not make these changes, we will doom another generation of students to an underperforming system.

When the process is complete, three-quarters of our students will remain in their buildings, and a quarter will move to better schools than they're now in. Nearly 2,500 students would move into different programs and locations, with specific options and supports for a smooth transition.

Once the plan is fully executed, the city will have uniformly better schools:

• All schools will have the staff and support necessary for great teaching and learning, including standards-aligned, culturally responsive instruction.

• All students will have safe, convenient and equitable access to great schools, regardless of their zip code.

• All schools will benefit from partnerships that will leverage community resources to drive student success.

We ask for the support of parents and guardians, community leaders, faith leaders, elected officials, corporate and other partners as we champion educational excellence.

Leslie Torres-Rodriguez is superintendent of Hartford Public Schools.

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