Looking back at the second half of 2012

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Wed., Dec. 26, 2012
Former Norwich mayor Ben Lathrop (right), chats with Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. File photos by Melanie Savage.
Former Norwich mayor Ben Lathrop (right), chats with Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. File photos by Melanie Savage.

A fire reported at a six-family home at 62-64 South St., in Willimantic, at about 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7, drew firefighters from the towns of Willimantic, Windham Center, North Windham, South Windham, Mansfield and Columbia. A few weeks later, David Marshall, the husband of Katherine Hill, who was severely injured, talked about his wife and the fire. Both biologists, he said, “We share all the same loves,” said Marshall. After meeting on a field collecting trip more than 10 years ago, the two have been inseparable ever since. They were married in 2004. Both worked at the same lab at UConn. They went on research trips together. “We’ve had a fantastic life,” said Marshall.

All of that changed during the early morning hours of Aug. 7, when Marshall awoke to find the third-floor Willimantic apartment that he shared with his wife engulfed in flames. Having gone to bed less than an hour earlier, “we woke up out of the deepest possible sleep,” said Marshall. Disoriented, confused and already suffering the effects of smoke inhalation, Marshall called out to his wife and headed for the door. It wouldn’t open. “That was it for lucid thought,” said Marshall. In a panic, Marshall went to a window and ended up jumping/falling three stories to the ground below. In the fall, he suffered a dislocated elbow and a broken wrist.

Marshall alerted first-responders to the fact that Kathy was still inside. “It’s just horrible, because time is wasting,” he remembers thinking. Unable to see due to the heavy smoke, firefighters “crawled in and they found her by feel,” said Marshall. “They were super brave. That apartment was getting to the point where it was not possible to go in.” After pulling Kathy to safety, firefighters were able to get her heart going again. But Kathy remained in a coma. The fire was ruled an arson, and Marshall was looking for help identifying those responsible.

Folks arriving at the Windham Board of Education meeting on Aug. 22 were met in front of Windham High School by a group of concerned parents and teachers with handouts. The subject of the fliers was Steven Adamowski, under whom several of the teachers worked when he was superintendent in Hartford. Adamowski retired from Hartford in June of 2011 after five years in the district. Shortly thereafter he was appointed by the state as the “Special Master” for Windham public schools. The State Dept. of Education had pegged Windham as a struggling district, specifically citing concern regarding the increasing gap between its highest- and lowest-performing students, as measured by standardized testing.

With an annual salary of $225,000 plus benefits, Adamowski was charged with addressing this concern and improving the performance of the district overall. His work in Hartford was widely cited to support his suitability for the job. Adamowski and his supporters claim that test scores among the lowest-performing Hartford schools significantly increased during his tenure. He is also credited with improving graduation rates in Hartford.

But the flier circulating at the Aug. 22 meeting suggested that these claims are not entirely credible. Regarding the graduation rate, the flier claimed that Adamowski “imposed a minimum failing grade of 55 for all students, whether or not they attended classes.” This resulted in a “system in which many students attended for only one quarter of the year, yet they passed.” Regarding improved test scores, the flier claimed that “Adamowski achieved an approximate 10-percent increase in CMT scores by identifying those students who couldn’t pass the test and moving 9.8 percent to the MAS Modified Connecticut Test in lieu of making real gains.”

Asked to comment regarding the allegations, Windham Board of Education Chair Murphy Sewall said that he hadn’t seen the pamphlets. “I have no knowledge, direct or indirect, about the allegations,” he said. “I don’t put much stock in character assassination.” Sewall suggested that, “It is common for some segment of a population to find the prospect of change frightening, no matter how poor the situation and how necessary change is.”

“Have there been any investigations by the State Department of Education or any other authority?” asked Sewall. “You’d think that if there was any substance to the allegations, someone would have looked into them.”

“That no one has conducted an investigation into this problem leads us to the problem,” countered one urban teacher, who wished to remain anonymous. “It appears to many teachers that fraud is being perpetrated against the state, the schools, and the students, and the state doesn’t seem to care. It is a simple matter for the state to look into student grades during the Adamowski reign in Hartford, checking to see how many students failed to complete any work over three marking periods, and yet received grades of 55 instead of zero for those periods. Then, these same students were able to earn a sufficiently high enough grade during the fourth marking period to ‘earn’ an overall course grade of 60.”

“Steven Adamowski represents the new breed of corporate school administrators, people driven by privatizing public education, reducing teacher input and implementing programs that target scarce resources to the ‘best’ students while undermining educational opportunities for the vast majority,” said Jonathan Pelto, a former state legislator a Mansfield resident. “His claim to fame is creating the appearance that he increased test scores in Hartford, when what he really did was stop giving the test to the 10 percent of students most likely to have lower scores, creating the illusion that students across the board scored better. It was a gimmick that has now become a ‘tool’ of ed reformers who believe it is better to make things look good, than actually change the quality of education.”

Ninety-year-old Mansfield resident Olga Raymond was killed during the height of superstorm Sandy, on Oct. 29, when she was hit by a large tree uprooted by strong winds. Raymond had rejected the offers of nearby relatives to ride out the storm with them, preferring to stay in her West Highland Road home. But after the top of a pine tree hit the roof of her home, Raymond decided to head over, flashlight in hand, to the home of a neighbor to wait out the remainder of the storm.

Raymond was only steps away from her front door when a huge oak tree toppled over, falling parallel to her single-story home and reportedly killing her instantly. Raymond’s death was one of three in Connecticut directly attributed to the storm.

It seemed appropriate that the weather was raw and uninviting the evening of Dec. 16. As the parking lot at the Mansfield Community Center quickly filled shortly before 6 p.m., first responders dressed in reflective gear stood in a chilly drizzle, directing arrivals to parking spots. In the vestibule, residents patiently waited as others filed in ahead of them, collecting programs and unlit candles as they approached the entrance to the community center’s gymnasium.

The vigil in Mansfield was just one of hundreds held across the country after a Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people, most of them young children. The hundreds of resident attending had come “to comfort each other... to gather hope for our future,” said Mansfield Mayor Betsy Paterson, as she opened the vigil.

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