Monthly Archives: December 2012

‘We Are All Affected By Gun Violence’

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

The Rev. Henry Brown summed up the sentiments of a crowd gathered on the front steps of Hartford City Hall Wednesday: “It doesn’t matter if you live in Hartford, Newtown or Bridgeport — we are all affected by gun violence.”

Vigil held at Hartford City Hall Monday for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Photos by Jenna Carlesso.

Attendees at a “compassion vigil” held at city hall for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting said they were as deeply moved by the gun violence in Newtown as they have been by shootings in the capital city.

“They are all our children, regardless of race or creed,” said Muriel Holmes, a crossing guard at West Middle School on Asylum Avenue, who sported a patch on her jacket reading “school guard.”

Holmes said she’s seen an increased police presence around Hartford schools since the shooting Friday.

Brown, who noted that he’s held countless vigils for shooting victims, said the tragedy in Newtown hit Hartford as hard as many city shootings have.

“They were just babies,” he said.

Shouting into a microphone during the vigil Wednesday, he told a small crowd gathered there that they didn’t have to worry about the 20 children killed “because they are surely with God.”

The Rev. Henry Brown embraces a woman as the vigil at Hartford City Hall gets underway.

He also acknowledged the teachers, principal and school staff members who gave their lives protecting the children. “These brave women laid their lives down. Would we do the same?” he said. “It took a lot of courage and God is blessing them, too.”

He read the names of all 28 deceased aloud — including gunman Adam Lanza and his mother, Nancy Lanza — pausing between each name to ring a bell.

Several city employees came outside to watch. Olga Vazquez, the city’s Democratic registrar of voters, made pins of green and white ribbon to hand out to her staff Wednesday. Some of the staff members sported the pins at the vigil.

“I just thought of it as a symbolic gesture,” Vazquez said. “It doesn’t matter where you live, it touches all of us. It’s going to be with us for a while. It’s not something that’s going to be forgotten overnight.”

The mood at city hall has been somber, she said, as many employees were stunned by the violence.

Olga Vazquez, Hartford’s Democratic registrar of voters, holds a green-and-white ribbon pin she made as a tribute to the Sandy Hook school shooting victims.

Mothers United Against Violence Vigil Wednesday

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

Mothers United Against Violence, an organization founded more than nine years ago to help families devastated by violence, will hold a “compassion vigil” Wednesday for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

The vigil will take place at noon at Hartford City Hall, 550 Main St. For more information about the vigil, contact Henrietta Beckman at 860-727-9887 or the Rev. Henry Brown at 860-461-2403.

For the latest coverage of the Sandy Hook tragedy, click here, or visit the Courant’s homepage.

For a list of other vigils and memorial services, click here.

Mourners continue to pay their respects for the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting, visiting memorials and leaving mementos, including flowers, candles and stuffed animals. Photo by Cloe Poisson

Hartford Fails To Win ‘Race To The Top’ Grant

by Categorized: Christina Kishimoto, Pedro Segarra, Schools Date:

Tough day for Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, Mayor Pedro Segarra and everyone else in the city who believed the school system had a very strong chance at winning millions in the federal Race to the Top competition.

As I reported in this story, both Hartford and Bridgeport — among 61 finalists for $400 million in grants for education reform — lost out on the possibility of big money. Each sought $30 million over four years in recent proposals to the government.

Bridgeport Superintendent Paul Vallas was stunned. “I’m not only disappointed, I’m really kind of shocked,” he told me. “I’m looking at some of the awardees and I’m baffled.”

Vallas didn’t name names — “I’m not going to criticize other people for being successful,” he said — but the 16 winners include the KIPP DC charter school network ($10 million) and the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative ($40 million), which is a consortium of schools in Kentucky.

Bridgeport’s application received a total score of 190.33, not far behind the 196.33 that the Lindsay Unified School District in California received for its $10 million grant. Hartford’s score was 171.67.

There had been plenty of confidence in Hartford leading up to Tuesday afternoon. After the news, first posted on the U.S. Department of Education website, it was like a needle popped the balloon. The school system eventually released a statement expressing disappointment but highlighting the positive of being a finalist. Kishimoto, through schools spokesman David Medina, declined a phone interview.

A panel of peer reviewers that scored Hartford’s application noted that “there is a compelling vision that drives this project. The focus on children and addressing their singular needs is the focus of the grant.”

But scattered throughout the reviewers’ written comments were bits of criticism that Hartford’s proposal was too vague in some areas, which lowered the score.

“The rationale for addressing achievement gaps is not clear … there are no letters or other indications of support from the local or state teacher associations … Targeted funds for the continual support of the project are not evident … By relying solely on the current state budget allocation, the proposed reform initiative is likely to fall short of necessary funding after the grant period,” they wrote.

Hartford Schools Rated In New State ‘Performance Index’

by Categorized: Christina Kishimoto, Schools Date:

The state Department of Education today released an online database called the School Performance Index, which the Courant’s Kathy Megan explains in this story.

Sound familiar? You might be thinking of Hartford’s Overall School Index, devised in 2006 under former Superintendent Steven Adamowski. That metric system ranks city schools from highest-performing to those literally in the red — the bottom-tier schools are grouped in an area shaded with the ominous color in district PowerPoint presentations.

Like Hartford’s system, the state’s index uses standardized test scores to rate schools, which is likely to draw its share of critics. In particular, the SPI puts forth a numerical scale of 1 to 100, with 88 being the target figure that indicates most students are meeting “goal” benchmarks in major subjects such as reading and mathematics.

A quick search shows that one Hartford school surpassed the state’s target: the Renzulli Gifted and Talented Academy, which has culled some of the city’s brightest students who scored highest on the Connecticut Mastery Test. (I wrote about Renzulli last month.)

I asked schools spokesman David Medina if Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, or another administrator, wanted to comment on the Hartford ratings. Medina referred me to Assistant Superintendent Dianna Roberge-Wentzell, who was out of the office today.

But in comments last week, she offered positive feedback on the state’s new index. It’s worth noting that Roberge-Wentzell was appointed the state’s new chief academic officer in November and plans to leave the school system in the spring.

She said the new accountability system is “very helpful and very much in alignment with reform in Hartford.” She said the city has a similar system of indexing schools “to understand the relative performance of our schools and the improvement.”

“For us, we’ve been looking at our schools this way for a long time,” said Roberge-Wentzell. “We were really very aware. I don’t think there were any surprises.”

The district OSI is high stakes in Hartford. If a school shows “significant growth,” everyone at the school gets a minimum $1,250 bonus, including the cook managers and custodians. For 2011-12, about 960 employees received a little more than $2 million in group performance pay.

Want to see how the state rated your school? Check out the Courant’s interactive database.

Asylum Hill Renovation Project Receives $500K Donation

by Categorized: Neighborhoods Date:

The former home of the Ashley Cafe, on the corner of Garden and Ashley streets, is undergoing a $1.7 million rehabilitation that just got a major boost: $500,000 from Connecticut Light & Power.

Ken Johnson, executive director of Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (NINA), told me today that the money will be used toward restoring four apartments on the second floor. The project to fix up all three floors of the 1926 building, including the facade, is expected to be completed by early 2014.

“Ashley Street is a gateway to the Asylum Hill neighborhood,” Johnson said. The blond-brick structure had become “a symbol of the decline of the neighborhood as a whole.”

The alliance acquired the property in 2010. Read the whole story here.

The three-story building at 207 Garden Street is expected to be renovated by early 2014. New windows were installed over the past several months. Photo by Vanessa de la Torre.

Hartford Gets $5 Million Gates Grant

by Categorized: Christina Kishimoto, Schools Date:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with Hartford and state leaders, announced the big news on Wednesday — a $5 million, three-year financial push for Hartford to connect further with the Achievement First and Jumoke Academy charter schools.

If you’ve been following the charter school debate, you can imagine that the Hartford Federation of Teachers is not happy. Read comments from union President Andrea Johnson in my full story about the grant.

Perhaps the most striking news to Hartford parents is buried several pages into the school system’s grant proposal. Jumoke Academy, which is now managing Milner Elementary as part of the state Commissioner’s Network, is receiving Superintendent Christina Kishimoto’s support to manage two other city schools in the coming years.

Of course, the board of education will have to approve any sort of school management agreement. Board Chairman Matthew Poland told me that “it’s going to take work with the board, there’s no doubt about that, to make it happen.”

But clearly, the proposal appealed to the decision-makers at the Gates Foundation.

Hartford school officials did not specify the Jumoke proposal during Wednesday’s press conference at the state Capitol building. And this is how it was worded in the official press release about the grant: “Expand on the Jumoke Academy’s capacity to successfully manage and transform low-performing schools.”

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto announces the Gates Foundation grant. At left are school board Chairman Matthew Poland, state Rep. Andy Fleischmann of West Hartford and Jumoke Academy CEO Michael Sharpe. Photo by Vanessa de la Torre.

Hartford Records 21st Homicide of 2012

by Categorized: Police Date:

Ricardo Arroyo, a 36-year-old from Wethersfield, is the city’s 21st homicide victim of the year. He was found Monday night in the driver’s seat of a burning car on Monroe Street, according to police. Arroyo had been shot in the head.

Until Arroyo’s death, the last recorded city homicide was in October, when the son of local businessman and activist Sam Saylor was fatally shot on a Saturday afternoon near Betances School. Shane “KC” Oliver was 20 years old when he died and a suspect was arrested days after the shooting.

The Courant’s Hilda Muñoz reported late last month that Oliver’s death was the 20th Hartford homicide in 2012. She also noted the possibility of a milestone for the police department, which has sought to reduce violent crime with the Hartford Shooting Task Force.

“If nobody else is killed in the city before the end of the year,” Muñoz wrote, ”2012 would have the fewest homicides since 2004.”

Anyone with information about Monday’s shooting is asked to call police Lt. Brian Foley of the Major Crimes Division at 860-757-4463.

UPDATE: Police announced that Verall “Anthony” Hampton, a 41-year-old who was shot fives times on Nov. 11 in the North End, died from his injuries at 3:33 p.m. today at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.

Byron Williams, 44, a chronic offender known as “Bleach,” has been charged in the case. Police say Williams has 49 prior arrests in Hartford.

Hampton’s death makes it 22 homicides in the city.

Flower Street Closed To Traffic For Busway

by Categorized: Busway, Neighborhoods Date:

Time to get used to detours. After a delay Monday, the state Department of Transportation permanently shut down Flower Street Tuesday to vehicular traffic as part of construction for the $567 million CTfastrak busway.

Pedestrians and bicyclists can still access the road, but as Don Stacom wrote last week, they might occasionally encounter brief closures as construction crews build a busway crossing along the Amtrak rail line, between the Asylum Hill and Frog Hollow neighborhoods.

It appears that rush-hour traffic for the nearby I-84 on-ramp, off Broad Street, will truly be backed up for the foreseeable future. Courant reporters can attest to that — our building is right in the thick of all this heavy machinery.

Flower Street closed to through traffic Tuesday as construction continues for the New Britain-to-Hartford busway. Photo by Vanessa de la Torre.

Police Chief Promotes Nine In City Hall Ceremony

by Categorized: James Rovella, Neighborhoods, Police Date:

Our colleague Steve Goode reported on nine promotions that Police Chief James Rovella carried out Friday in a ceremony at city hall. Rovella called the promotions — the first of his tenure — a “tone setter” and said they reflected a renewed focus on community policing.

Among the new deputy chiefs are two former lieutenants who first joined the Hartford police department in 1994: Emory Hightower, a city native and member of the Hartford Shooting Task Force who will oversee command of the North End, and Luis Rodriguez, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who has been assigned to the South End.

“The police department should be more reflective of the population they serve,” Rovella said. “I look at Hightower — he knows the North End like the back of his hand. Same thing for Luis, they’re natural and easy fits.”

Here is Friday’s story and the police department’s press statement on the promotions.

Hartford Hurricanes To Play In National Semifinals

by Categorized: Neighborhoods, Sports Date:

Need a team to root for this week? The city’s own Hartford Hurricanes, a pee wee football squad of 11- and 12-year-olds, is facing the Beacon House Falcons from Washington, D.C., on Wednesday in the semifinals of the national Pop Warner championship in Orlando, Fla.

If the ‘Canes win the 10:30 a.m. Division I matchup, the team will play in the Pop Warner Super Bowl on Saturday.

The football games are played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort. As noted in my weekend story, this trip to Florida is the first time that many of the players have ever left New England.

Can this championship be Hartford’s own Cinderella story? After a rough start to the program four years ago, the ‘Canes compiled a 13-0 record as a team in the Southern Connecticut Pop Warner league this fall. They have been practicing at Keney Park in the North End.

One of the coaches, state Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, told the Courant’s Julie Stagis after Sunday’s 25-24 quarterfinal victory — a triple-overtime thriller over Holy Cross of Texas — that “our young men played very hard.” A few boys were injured during the game, including one who needed 16 stitches, McCrory said.

UPDATE: The Hurricanes lost Wednesday in the semifinals to a tough D.C. squad that was no stranger to nationals. Congrats to the team for a great season.

A Hartford player executed a Heisman pose during Sunday’s win over Holy Cross of Texas in the national quarterfinals. Photo by Gerardo Mora for Pop Warner.