Category: guest writer

Twilight of the Kishimoto Administration (sans Kishimoto)

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By , May 22, 2014 4:28 pm

Tuesday night’s Hartford Board of Education meeting was well attended for two main reasons: the recognition of the late, great “Doc” Hurley and the appointment of seven new principals. The audience was filled friends, coworkers, and well-wishers. But once these agenda items passed, the crowd headed for the doors. But many were able to see the final, conflicted actions of a lame-duck, and now rudderless, administration.

The most agonizing of these was the discussion and debate of one of the hallmarks of the Kishimoto administration: the Teachscape teacher evaluation system. The program was on the agenda since the yearly contract was up for renewal. The annual fee for the evaluation system is $206,800. In discussing the evaluation system, the district pointed to the ease of managing well over 1,800 staff members and the wonders of a paperless system. They also pointed to the staff surveys, which found nearly 70% of the respondents happy with the evaluation system. But as board members Dr. Shelley Best and Robert Cotto pointed out, the district’s data revealed that well over 1,300 staff members were dissatisfied with the Teachscape evaluation system or did not even participate in the surveys.

Best and Cotto both pushed the district to explain the benefits of the system that went beyond the ease of electronically managing over 1,800 teachers and staff members. Best pointed out that at no point in the presentation did the district highlight how teachers were benefiting and growing from Teachscape, which is supposed to be the goal of any teacher evaluation system. She also preferred the $200,000 to be spent directly on the teachers in the form of professional development. Board member Mike Brescia also wanted to know why only teachers supportive of Teachscape were mentioned, especially since more than 50% of the entire teaching staff did not participate in the survey. Continue reading 'Twilight of the Kishimoto Administration (sans Kishimoto)'»

Scenes from the Sidewalk: Knock You Out

Photo courtesy of Johnna Kaplan

It’s validating when others notice the same strange things as you.

Johnna Kaplan said she found this little boxing glove, less than 2 inches long, on Market Street near Talcott Street.

It looks like a keychain we lost a few years ago.

Rising Tide: A Community Bill of Rights

By , April 29, 2014 4:35 pm

Photo by Josh Blanchfield

Decades have passed since neighborhood organizations in Hartford made city leaders nervous. At one time, these once legendary community organizations took over city council meetings, worked to bring better housing conditions to city renters, and held sway over local elections. Now Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART), Asylum Hill Organizing Project (AHOP), and ONE/CHANE are long gone or husks of their former self. These once vital groups used classic, Alinsky-style neighborhood organizing to keep City Hall and other Hartford powerbrokers in check. Today we see groups like HART simply cashing checks written by powerbrokers. Community organizing that has been dormant for too long in our city. Now, a new group is rising and working to fill the void.

The John C. Clark School in Hartford’s north end has been the site of many skirmishes in recent months over the direction of school reform in the city. But from these battles a new community organization and coalition of residents and neighborhood leaders has emerged. The group, called Hartford Rising!, has grown into a multi-issue community group that just this past weekend established a Community Bill of Rights to “ensure and protect each and every Hartford citizen’s most basic needs.”

Beginning with a city-wide canvas, Hartford Rising! worked to identify key areas of concern for city residents. With nearly 3,000 doors knocked on, the group was able to Continue reading 'Rising Tide: A Community Bill of Rights'»

When’s the Next Bus? The Future of Hartford’s Transit System

By , March 10, 2014 8:15 am

Connecticut’s public agencies tasked with managing public transportation services are currently planning the future of transportation for the state. The state Department of Transportation is in the midst of a widespread campaign called Transform CT to solicit public input on its 50 year transportation plan. The Capitol Region Council of Governments will soon begin a comprehensive evaluation of bus lines in the Hartford region.

Both of these efforts touch the city of Hartford’s bus network. So what we do want? What kinds of things should we be asking for? When it comes to improving the bus system, this can be a complex and confusing question even for those of us who ride the bus daily. Many of us feel frustrated with the bus service in Hartford and can cite a litany of complaints—too many connections, no crosstown routes, lack of bus shelters, slow travel speeds and lengthy trips, poor service in the evenings. It’s a big list.

And yet every day (more so on weekdays) all these buses are out driving around the city, often filled with passengers, every single one of them either heading toward or away from downtown.

To get past this vague but overwhelming sense that we could use a better bus system here, we can take some cues from Jarrett Walker’s book Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives. Walker suggests that we can start with two factors that affect the performance of a transit system—frequency and span.

Walker is a transportation planner and consultant, but he comes to transportation planning with a background in studying human cultures and languages rather than engineering or management. His is a book that pays close attention to language—for instance, Walker points out the problems with transit planners’ use of the term “captive” to describe people who are forced to use public transportation because they do not own a car. In another instance he argues that referring to transit “connections” is better than calling them “transfers” when one has to switch to a second bus on a given journey because the former sounds more positive.

Walker is known for being a champion for frequency—for more buses to run more often on a given line as the way to serve and attract more riders. (Other transit planners believe that the comfort and aesthetics of transportation vehicles is equally, if not more, important.) Frequency has become Walker’s rallying cry. “Frequency is freedom,” he exclaims. Walker’s argument is that the more often a bus comes to your bus stop matters even more than the average speed that your bus travels once you get going. This seems counter-intuitive, even irrelevant, for trips made with a car. With a personal automobile frequency is never an issue. The car is always there and ready to depart when you are. For bus travel, it’s the waiting that can really kill your sense of mobility. Continue reading 'When’s the Next Bus? The Future of Hartford’s Transit System'»

Known Knowns and Unknown Unknowns: Hartford BOE Edition

By , February 7, 2014 3:39 pm

Although Tuesday night’s Hartford Board of Education special meeting had only two agenda items for public comment, you would have never known it from the hundreds of people, especially Weaver students, who packed into the Fred D. Wish Elementary School gymnasium. It was a sea of forest green hoodies. Proudly emblazed on the hoodies was the rallying cry of the night: “Weaver Strong.” In addition, Weaver students greeted every attendee with a handout celebrating the school’s achievements. Thundering drum beats in the school’s lobby foretold of a battle. Handheld placards proclaiming “Weaver Forever” were placed on every seat. Ironically, the presumed fight over the future of Weaver High School was the least contentious event of the night.

The massive turnout of Weaver students, parents, alumni, and staff was the dissatisfaction with the Board’s communication with the school’s community. The show of force was to ensure the survival of Weaver, including its traditions, history, and legacy. The issue at hand was the future move of Weaver Culinary Academy to a temporary location at the Lincoln Culinary Institute on Sigourney St. Weaver High School is slated for a $100 million rehabilitation and the entire school must be relocated to Lincoln while construction occurs.

Rumors had been swirling over the future of Weaver, but the real issue, as the school’s principal Tim Goodwin explained, was the glacial pace of the project and the numerous unanswered questions over the school’s future. The leadership of the Blue Hills Civic Association also peppered the board with questions over the developer of the Weaver site and lack of communication with the neighborhood. Continue reading 'Known Knowns and Unknown Unknowns: Hartford BOE Edition'»

Breaking Down the Silos in Modern Day Feminism

By , November 20, 2013 4:52 pm

Sandra Fluke, an attorney and women’s right activist whose name achieved celebrity status when Rush Limbaugh publicly referenced her as a “slut” and a “prostitute,” spoke to a group of students, academics, and community stakeholders in Hartford about an array of social justice issues affecting modern day politics and life. The discussion spanned from reproductive healthcare, Roe v. Wade (and Planned Parenthood v. Casey for the constitutional law enthusiasts out there), to social welfare programs, poverty, labor movements, and even immigration reform.

At first glance, these issues appear to stand alone as isolated social and political agendas. However, Fluke, a Georgetown Law graduate, demonstrated how each of these issues intersects with gender equality, providing a context for modern-day feminism that is often disregarded as being abstract or far-fetched. But as Fluke pointed out, what is a theoretical debate in one circle represents another community’s day-to-day reality of living on the margins of society – despite desires to break free from the structural barriers they face to legally proscribed rights.

Fluke cited the family cap on public assistance as one example. The cap is a policy that denies mothers and families who receive welfare additional assistance after the birth of another child. Essentially, it’s a child exclusion policy. Fluke said, “That child is cut off from any kind of basic assistance. Basic needs. If you think about why we have this policy [and] what that policy is about, it’s about controlling the reproductive choices of somebody who’s poor. It’s about saying we don’t want to have a lot more poor children, so lets try to tell poor people not to have more kids. …. [It] links to very racist ideas about who should be having kids and who shouldn’t.” Continue reading 'Breaking Down the Silos in Modern Day Feminism'»

The Others: A Reaction to #YoungHartford

By , November 1, 2013 11:25 am

Horses in Keney Park in Hartford’s North East neighborhood               Photo by Kerri Provost

A recent forum, #YoungHartford, explored a multitude of the struggles facing the city, featuring some of the city’s rising leaders who fall in the twenty-something and thirty-something age range. The conversation highlighted failings unique to Greater Hartford – bifurcated neighborhoods, racial segregation, and the persistence of educational disparity in our post Sheff v. O’Neill region. Other impediments referenced resemble the types of obstacles being debated in cities across the country. You know the buzz-words: sustainable infrastructure, walkable amenities, multi-modal transportation, safe streets, the list goes on.

While the panelists didn’t disagree on the importance of each of these in producing a socially and economically healthy Hartford, their realities and experiences produced very different sets of priorities, and equally contrasting strategies on how to procure those priorities.

Erin Concepcion, West End resident, and TJ Clynch, downtown resident and founder of Civic Mind, Downtown Yoga, and the Hartford HodgePodge, offered perspectives requiring less commitment or action from city leadership, such as investments in basic infrastructure, awareness campaigns to educate visitors of all that downtown has to offer, and an increased sense of ownership among residents.

Jamil Ragland, a resident of the North End, had a different perspective. He expressed concern over stark racial divisions and how that segregation prevents Hartford’s sixteen neighborhoods from maximizing each other’s cultural creativity and creating a real, collective identity for the city as a whole. When asked to comment on how the relocation of UCONN’s West Hartford campus could potentially help to integrate Hartford’s neighborhoods, Jamil responded:

I would love to see UCONN in the North End. I would love to see UCONN in the South End … I’d love to see UCONN anywhere. We need to get past the idea that Hartford is downtown Hartford, that Hartford exists only within the confines between the north side of Capital [Community College] and the end of the library … [and] that beyond that, Hartford doesn’t exist … Continue reading 'The Others: A Reaction to #YoungHartford'»

OPINION: Residents Deserve More Than This/Nos merecemos más

By , July 11, 2013 8:35 am

By Leticia Cotto

El 17 de Junio del 2004 fue el primer día que La Paloma Sabanera Coffee House and Bookstore fue introducida a la ciudad de Hartford y su gente. Fue una labor de amor creado por Luis, Carmen, Melanie Cinthia y Leticia Cotto que nos cogió 5 anos para lograr.

Nuestro deseo era comenzar un negocio en la ciudad especializando en libros en español escrito por autores latinos y de temas Latinos y vender café de Latino América. Este rinconcito en la Avenida Capitol, se convirtió en un lugar donde se celebraba la creatividad, música, lectura, el arte y muy en especial tiempo para compartir. Toda persona que entraba por las puertas fue recibida como familia. Nuestra misión era crear un tercer lugar en la ciudad donde la gente podía entrar, descansar, y conversar sobre una buena taza de café. Lo logramos y mucho mas. Continue reading 'OPINION: Residents Deserve More Than This/Nos merecemos más'»

Focus on Women, Not Fox News

By , March 18, 2013 7:00 am

Now that the initial sting of Fox-CT’s obscene coverage of Women’s Day has subsided, we can all agree that some reflection is in order. After all, the event did mark the 40-year-battle for gender equality in Connecticut.

The obvious takeaways: yes, the progressives’ disdain towards Fox News has been validated. And yes, the footage highlighted that even in a 21st century, blue state like Connecticut, the effects of misogyny and gender discrimination persist at best. Even though Fox was publicly shamed, I can’t help but wonder if they won this round at the end of the day.

Think about it. For those who weren’t able to attend the event, the only newsworthy piece of information revolved around the news outlet’s unfortunate—but unsurprising—distraction from the depth of the issues and their solutions. In Connecticut, full-time working women earn 78% of their male counterparts. The wage gap is even more drastic for African American women and Hispanic women, who earn 59% and 48% of what men earn, respectively (The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, Policy Agenda 2013). Violence against women, whether it’s domestic violence or sexual assault, abounds and causes costly long-term health problems for women everywhere.

But what does this mean for Hartford, where poverty and crime are concentrated more than anywhere else in the state? Continue reading 'Focus on Women, Not Fox News'»

Hartford’s Property Taxes in the 2012 Election

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By , October 18, 2012 9:13 am

Candidates for state office discussed a range of pressing issues facing the city of Hartford this past Monday at a forum held at the Hartford Public Library. Some of the candidates were long-time veterans of political campaigning and public policy, while others were running for the first time. Generally, the issues remained consistent; however, more than once, the conversation turned to the topic of Connecticut’s tax structure and its disparate effect on cities like Hartford.

The forum, moderated by the Hartford Courant’s Tom Condon, highlighted that Hartford is over-reliant on property tax for revenue. Several factors play into this. As the Capitol city, Hartford has several public buildings that are exempt from paying the tax. As a result, the burden falls on businesses and homeowners. Furthermore, as an urban area, the city must provide for more publically funded services for residents on a greater scale than its non-metropolitan counterparts.

Every candidate present agreed that over-dependence on property tax amplified several of the city’s struggles, such as financing education, closing the achievement gap, and improving the climate of the city in terms of attracting businesses and jobs. While there was consensus that property taxes are an underlying structural problem, each candidate had a somewhat different solution. Continue reading 'Hartford’s Property Taxes in the 2012 Election'»


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