Questions Arise About the Filling of the Hartford School Superintendent Job | Connecticut Public Radio

Questions Arise About the Filling of the Hartford School Superintendent Job

Feb 20, 2011

The Hartford board of education is scheduled to meet Tuesday to pick a successor to Superintendent Steven Adamowski, who is leaving after this year.  But there's some concern in the community that the process was flawed.  The district’s spokesman has been advocating for one of the two candidates to take Adamowski’s place.

You might know the name Elizabeth Horton Sheff.  She's the Sheff in Sheff vs. O'Neill, the landmark school desegregation case in Hartford.

But you may not know the name David Medina -- he's the spokesman for the Hartford Board of Education and Superintendant Adamowski.  A few of weeks ago, Medina gave Horton-Sheff a call.  He told her that the superintendent's key deputy - Christina Kishimoto - wanted to meet.  

"And I said, 'Okay, about what?'  And he said, 'Well, you know, she's vying for the superintendent position.'  And I said, 'Yes, I know.' And he said, 'Well, she just wants to talk to you.'

“And I said, well, 'Are you asking for my support for her?' And he said, 'Well, a good word from you wouldn't hurt.'  Which I thought that that was very inappropriate.

"The process should go on and let the process happen and be pure. But because he's calling from the board of education it seems as though the board of education has already made up its mind about who they want to be the next superintendent, without even having a process."

Horton-Sheff was so bothered by the call from Medina that she called Ada Miranda, who was the chairwoman of the board of education at the time.  In an interview with WNPR, Miranda said she heard Horton-Sheff's concern and decided to speak directly with Medina.

"I told him that if he had done something like that, or if he was recruiting support for any of the candidates, that he needed to stop that.  That that was not a good action to have, that I told him even though it will have no bearing on the committee's decision about the new superintendent."

Adamowski plans to leave the district after working hard to close the achievement gap between Hartford's poor and minority students and their suburban counterparts.  Kishimoto has worked closely with him on their reform plans, and is one of two known candidates to take over his job. The other, Tim Sullivan, is a principal in Hartford.  

Sullivan says that during the superintendent search process, he reached out to various people in the community.  The difference is, he made the calls himself.

Medina - the board spokesman - also reached out to Mike McGarry, a former Republican city councilman who publishes the weekly newspaper the Hartford News.  McGarry said Medina set up the interview for Kishimoto in part to have a story written about the Hartford school choice program she runs.

"He wanted us to get to know her so we could do a story about her as soon as possible."

McGarry said that call came in the middle of the superintendent search, although Medina didn't make a reference to the search itself.

"I had understood that she was in contention for the job and that was the real reason she was here.  I understood that. I mean there's no question about that in my mind.  Why else would they drag her in to see us?"

In fact, it was unusual for the superintendent's spokesman to be setting up any interviews with McGarry's newspaper. 

"We were never able to get -- all the years he's been around -- never able to get a one-on-one with Adamowski on the record."

Other people in the city confirmed to WNPR that they had been contacted by Medina, including Mayor Pedro Segarra  – who has no direct influence over the choice of a school superintendent.

"And it was a very short conversation.  'Dr. Kishimoto would like to meet with you, I think it's important that you meet with her to discuss her interest in being superintendent.'

"The question is, you know, who was calling who at whose request?  And why? It's a fair question." 

The board makes its announcement official Tuesday night.  Principal Tim Sullivan has already been told he's not getting the job, leaving Kishimoto as the likely choice.  In her interview with WNPR, then-board Chairwoman Ada Miranda repeatedly said that whatever outreach Medina may have done on Kishimoto's behalf had absolutely no effect on the process.

But that's not what it looks like to Elizabeth Horton-Sheff.

"You know, I mean, this is not a political campaign.  It turns the superintendent search process into some kind of political game.  Is that what we want for our children?  We want to play politics over their school system?  I thought it was very inappropriate. Extremely inappropriate."

Medina did not respond to requests for comment.