When Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez took over as the head of Hartford Public Schools, she took the helm of a district with significant challenges and one with an unprecedented opportunity to re-imagine its future.

In our COMPASS Questionnaire, the Superintendent explains her vision for the district, what matters most in the upcoming year, and the message that she hopes the students of Hartford take to heart.

1: As Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, what are your main goals for the upcoming year?

Certainly, the main goal is to continually improve the core of our work – and that’s high-quality teaching and learning. We want all of our students to have access to rigorous instruction in environments that nurture who they are as a learner, as a person, and as a member of a community.

At a macro level, we’re aiming to establish and sustain a high quality, urban model of excellence. To accomplish that, we need to lift our family and community partnerships, improve our operational effectiveness, and ensure that there exists a strong system of accountability; all to support our core business, which is teaching and learning.

2: Talk about your legacy. In 50 years, what do you want to be known for?

I believe, because I have lived it, that both the needs and the strengths of each student have to be discovered and nurtured in and out of school. Thus, I want to be known for having transformed Hartford Public Schools into a rigorous learning community where student voice is championed; a system of high expectations that is supported by the entire community and that is grounded in authentic partnerships with families.

3: No one can do this work alone – it takes a village to fully support youth. How do you look to build community collaborations into your work?

This year, we are developing a plan for how to redefine the way Hartford Public Schools operates. For that, we need all voices at the table. Voice and communication matter significantly to me. Not only do we need community partners to bring their ideas for how to make our district sustainable, we need them to also help facilitate conversations. The future of our school district cannot be created in isolation, and that starts with having transparent conversations and soliciting honest feedback.

4: Growing up, what did you aspire to be?

Initially, I wanted to become a Marine Biologist because back home in Puerto Rico the ocean was my playground. As soon as I migrated to Hartford my aspiration changed — I wanted to be a teacher.

5: Fill in the blank: Hartford has….

Beautiful and capable students.

6: If you could thank a former teacher, who would it be and why?

When I moved to Hartford from Puerto Rico, I attended Burns Elementary School. I was 9 years old, in the 5th grade, and didn’t speak English. My first teacher in Hartford, Mrs. Rivera, changed my life. She spoke my language, understood my culture, shared the color of my skin, respected my attempts to learn, and created space for me to express my energy.

7: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and from whom?

“Always keep your head up.” – My mother

8: If you could give one message to the parents and students of Hartford Public Schools, what would it be?

To the parents: I am committed to honoring your voice, and your expertise. We need you to bring your experience and thinking as our partners, so we can collectively ensure that ALL students have access to a high-quality education in a safe environment.

To the students: No doubt, you have the capacity to be successful. One way to start is to commit to being better today than you were yesterday. Even if you don’t see success now, dig in, you are capable.

By: Clare Timmis
Photo Credit: Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, 2017 | Paul Shoul