Stratford Superintendent Looks Back on Tenure

Irene Cornish improved instructional curriculums, raised test scores and made substantial gains against the achievement gap.

"I hate the cold -- everybody knows that about me," Stratford Supterintendent Irene Cornish said to explain her decision to retire at the end of 2012.

Last year, she bought a condominium overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and this is the last winter she said she intends to endure in New England.

A photo she showed on her iPad of the view from her balcony has palm trees in the foreground and blue water sparkling in the sunshine receding to the horizon.

Cornish has a substantial record of achievement since she came to Stratford in 2004. She said she has reformed Stratford's core curriculums for reading, writing, math and science, cut unnecessary administrative positions, beefed up teacher training, raised test scores and restored the Board of Education's reputation with the town's contentious political leaders.

She also established all-day kindergarten throughout the district, and this year is hoping for approval of a new foreign language program that will start in kindergarten.

"We'll be one of the only districts with a foreign language program in our elementary schools," Cornish said.

Under her leadership, Stratford made enviable gains closing the achievement gap, the gulf in test scores between students from affluent families and those from poor and minority families.

Cornish said the word is, Stratford did one of the best jobs in the state in that area. "We've heard that from a number of sources," she said.

She said she didn't do it alone. She gave most of the credit to her staff and the district's teachers, to the town school board and the PTA Council, and even to the Town Council, which saw that that improvement was being made and approved budget increases that made it possible.

She said she was fortunate to have a good working relationship with the school system's unions.

Cornish grew up in the Rockville section of Vernon, Conn., and graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in French, Spanish and secondary education.

Early on she set her sights at becoming a school administrator. She got her Master's degree in French from Central Connecticut State University, and her administrator's certificate for secondary education from UConn in 1978.

She taught French and Spanish from 1963 to 1971 at Rockville High School, at Manchester Community College from 1971 to 1973, and at Tolland High School until 1978. Then she became the assistant principal at Bloomfield High School.

Cornish pursued a law degree from UConn in 1987, and then practiced law in Vernon for seven years. When her husband died suddenly, she took the job of assistant superintendent for pupil services in Chelsea, Mass., in 1994, and was promoted to superintendent. In 2004, she was hired by Stratford.

At the time, many Stratford residents were critical of the Stratford public schools for having a top-heavy central office administration and unremarkable test scores, she said.

Cornish cut the central office staff and appointed department heads for the two high schools. She revamped the instructional curriculums by moving back to more traditional forms of teaching. Reading instruction focused on phonics. Math instruction was simplified so parents could understand it.

A committee of teachers and administrators wrote a district improvement plan that the state Department of Education has held up as an example for other districts to follow. Each of the town's schools also wrote new improvement plans, and teacher professional development training was improved.

"From my perspective," Cornish said, "the district has made tremendous progress.

Dom DeCicco February 07, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Victor -- that's called disagreeing with someone; it happens in a free society, get used to it! Disconcerting: making somebody feel ill at ease, slightly confused, or taken aback..
Gabriel Kotter February 07, 2012 at 09:35 PM
It's obvious that all of these people know one another and that they are just trying to get one or more of you kicked off of the Patch. Large Improvements in the schools? Where are they? What supports that statement? They admit that they can't even prevent veteran teachers and administrators from leaving for other districts.
Herb Morrison February 07, 2012 at 10:57 PM
I have noticed a pattern here. The names mentioned directly and with great insult have been those that have expressed disagreement with the Cornish tenure. They’re a number of distasteful comments directed at Dom DeCicco, George Bernad Shaw, and Charles Cornwallace. One poster even goes so far as to taunt Mr. Cornwallce by intentionally misspelling his surname “Corn-Wallace.” Granted, Mr. Shaw’s response to Marcus Aurelius’ first comment was abrasive and likely unmerited; however, the continued adjectives supporting some culturally mutated form of victimization and insinuation is embarrassing and has no place in public discourse. If anything, the authors crying foul are guiltier of the very encroachments they feign. Not a once have I read where any of the wronged parties mentioned herein have directed any adjective of insult such have been endured by them. For instance, “droll and quite boring, strange, nuts, feeble, and Bully.” These are all direct attacks that are more likely designed to stifle the freedom of expression and have had nothing to do with the content of the article. Divergence of thought is necessary in order to preserve good standards of practice. Hypothetic analogies are an appropriate way, if merited, of offering criticism to an institution that may have systemic issues that insulate it from change for the better.
Herb Morrison February 07, 2012 at 10:58 PM
It is a useful way of criticizing an institution without potentially smearing the reputation of an individual who is less in control of the machine and merely a piece of it. I would also recommend some restraint be used when slanderously extending your profession into Bazooka Joe diagnostics regarding DSM conditions and treatments such as “anger management.” If you are not license to make such findings, you shouldn’t. If you are, than your statements could be actionable. The article was focused on policies and achievements, therefore responses to it could easily have encompassed a whole range of topics for debate or response. The way I see it, GBW could have offered an apology to MA but did not have to. The rest should go look in a mirror and, after reading the definition of lemming to themselves out lowed. If the definition in any way applies and you’re happy with it, continue lambasting and following your protectionist instincts; however, if you do not enjoy your roll and wish to subscribe to something better – take a chance and change.
Louise Ortega February 10, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Getting back to the subject, I'd like to say that the Stratford school district is wonderful on many levels. It has problems, no doubt about that, but my children have flourished since we moved here from NYC. Class sizes are generally small, each school has a real sense of community, and test scores are steadily improving. Irene Cornish has a lot to be proud of. Enjoy your retirement!


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