Op-Ed: The Hartford Courant, Nov. 28, 2018: High goals transforming Hartford’s schools
I still remember the first time I walked into a Hartford Public Schools classroom.
I was nine years old when I moved from the beaches of Puerto Rico to a small apartment in Frog Hollow. In the beginning, I struggled with my new language, new environment and new life. At times, I disengaged from school and learning, and I wasn’t sure if I would be successful. But with the support of my single mother — while she, herself, was trying to balance multiple jobs and pursue her own education — my Hartford Public Schools teachers and my community, I got what I needed to achieve, and my story became emblematic of the American Dream.
Now, as a proud product of this city, parent of an HPS student and Superintendent of Schools, I am deeply invested in the hopes and dreams of each one of our 20,000 students, because I see a part of my story in every one of theirs. And it is through that lens that I view every decision I must make.
Protecting the needs of our beautiful and capable students and maintaining strong policies and practices among every district office and across every school and classroom — all aimed at building and sustaining high expectations and high-quality teaching and learning — means not everyone will agree with every decision that is made. I appreciate the passion and commitment that have been expressed recently regarding the leadership of Renzulli Gifted and Talented Academy. Through dozens of conversations with these families and community leaders, it is clear that we all are driven by the same desire to ensure the success of every one of the 120 children served by Renzulli Academy.
Through our District Model of Excellence plan, we aim to elevate the best practices in public education that have proven most effective in supporting the whole student and apply them uniformly across the district. That includes ensuring curriculum and lesson plans reflect what students should know and be able to do, classroom instruction is aligned to the different ways that students learn, and teachers and school leaders receive ongoing feedback and coaching to help them continuously improve. It also means offering a broader array of enrichment opportunities and social and emotional supports for students. All of these attributes are the seeds of opportunity for our young people, and it is our collective responsibility to create the conditions that will allow every single one of them to learn and thrive.
As we pursue those goals, continuous improvement is at the fore of my leadership values. I know we can always do better, and we consistently strive to do so. We value our partnership with Hartford Public Schools families and are dedicated to strengthening communications and engagement with all who we serve.
As a student, I had to figure out how to navigate the challenges of being a new arrival to this country, to this city and to our schools, oftentimes on my own. I remain steadfast in my efforts to ensure that Hartford Public Schools is doing everything we can to support all students and all families — particularly our most vulnerable. Too many of them, like I did, have nothing but the hope of a great education to rely on.
That is why we have set high goals to transform our school district into a network of excellent schools that meet the educational needs of every student. The work to get there is difficult, and it will demand that more difficult decisions be made. Throughout that effort, I will continue to strive to make the best decisions for the young people we serve because I believe deeply in them, in the power of our schools and in the future of the Hartford community.
Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Ed.D