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Why Is Adamowski Leaving CPS Now?

By Doug Trapp · July 18th, 2002 · Burning Questions
After nearly four years as superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), Steven Adamowski abruptly resigned June 24 to take a college position teaching leadership and school reform skills to principals and superintendents. By the end of August, he'll pack his bags and head to the University of Missouri's College of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, where he'll also found a research center for education reform.

Adamowski had been wooed by the Nashville, Tenn., school district for a superintendent's position and probably many other suitors in the last couple of years. So why is he leaving now?

During Adamowski's tenure, CPS attracted national attention for the series of fundamental reforms it continued, started and finished. The list is long. CPS, among other changes:

· Created the Taft Information Technology High School, among other restructured high schools, as part of the district's plan to refocus poor-performing high schools on more specific skills and careers;

· Decentralized and cut the district's bureaucracy so that parents and individual school leaders have more power;

· Drafted and began building the $1 billion facilities master plan for rebuilding or refurbishing almost all of CPS' schools;

· And lifted the district from the state's academic emergency list, (although largely because the grading system was changed).

But the most attention might have been given to the district's Teacher Evaluation System (TES), the district's method for measuring teacher performance. Education officials from as far away as England paid visits to see how CPS was about to become the first large urban school district to link evaluation scores to teacher pay.

It was curious, then, that in his resignation letter Adamowski didn't mention TES as one of the district's notable achievements. That could be because it isn't completely finished yet or because it was the first public relations black eye he suffered.

The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers (CFT), CPS' teachers union, declined to link TES scores to their pay in a May vote because they thought the evaluation system was still flawed (see Class Struggle issue of May 23-29).

Nearly two-thirds of the 3,127 eligible CFT members voted, and 96 percent of them rejected the proposal.

Adamowski criticized the CFT leaders for not bringing TES changes he proposed to the rank and file teachers. He believes teachers would have passed TES with the changes. CFT leaders said they didn't have the two months needed to formally vote on the proposal and communicate it to their members.

Despite all that, Adamowski said TES wasn't the final straw for him.

"No, the TES didn't factor at all in my decision (to resign)," he said.

In his resignation letter, Adamowski said now is a good time to leave because CPS' five-year comprehensive plan is ending soon, because many of the reforms have been completed and because CPS is in a position to attract another talented leader.

But the next several months could be difficult ones for the district. Maybe Adamowski knows when to get out, suggested Jene Galvin, a former district teacher who retired four years ago.

"It could be that he realizes that now that good news is going to be harder to get," Galvin said, adding that he thinks CPS is headed for some "dark clouds."

The district's contract with CFT expires Dec. 31, and teacher contract talks will need to heal the medium-sized wounds opened with the union over the TES vote, which both sides seem committed to doing.

The biggest cloud might be $500 million levy needed to pay for the rest of the $1 billion facilities master plan. In recent years, the district is 1-for-3 in getting levies passed, and the successful one raised only about $35 million a year.

Cincinnati Board of Education members were mixed on whether or not Adamowski was leaving to avoid future bad PR or tough work.

"I don't think there's any hidden agenda," said board member Sally Warner, adding that he didn't avoid tough work before.

Fellow board member Catherine Ingram, who's not shy about challenging Adamowski, said only the superintendent really knows why he's leaving. But the timing could be better.

"It leaves the district and the board in a precarious position," Ingram said. "We've got a lot of work to do."

Board member Harriet Russell agreed.

"It's bad timing for us," Russell said. "Maybe he left because it suited his personal timeline, not because it was in the best interests of the district."

Warner said she'd like to have Adamowski longer but that CPS has fundamentally changed during his tenure.

"There's lots of things that are there and have become part of our culture and won't change when he leaves," Warner said.

Adamowski said he's just become more involved in education leadership in the last several years. He struggled with the timing of his resignation from CPS.

"I'm not at all unhappy with anyone or anything," Adamowski said, adding that he wasn't leaving to avoid hard work. "I have never been able to look ahead in the next three to six months and not see major things on the horizon. I don't think there is such a time."

Adamowski is getting a lot more credit from the media than he deserves for reforms at CPS, according to Tom Mooney, CFT president for 21 years until mid-2000, when he became president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

"I was sort of appalled by ... the way (The Enquirer and The Post) took the propaganda of the school district and published it verbatim," Mooney said.

People don't understand how progressive a union CFT is, Mooney said. CFT originally proposed redesigning poor-performing schools.

"That was in place before Adamowski walked in the door," Mooney said, adding that teachers have been willing partners in some of the other changes.

Adamowski agreed that CPS began its reforms 10 years ago and that he's tried to keep them on track.

"Ironically, some of the things we accomplished could only have been done in an environment with two strong parties," he said. "I certainly would recognize the contributions of the teacher's union in the overall reform movement."

Mooney, borrowing a quote from the national teacher's union president, had a message for the next superintendent: Teachers are a key player in reform, not an obstacle to it.

"You can't reform schools over the dead bodies of teachers," Mooney said.

BURNING QUESTIONS is our weekly attempt to afflict the comfortable.


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