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West Hartford’s Emergent Identity

Posted by whforums on July 8, 2008

I think that, if you asked a random sampling of West Hartford residents what other towns West Hartford should compare itself to (in terms of education and other public services), the answer would probably be “Avon (who I think we’re taking to the referenda dance), Farmington (who also had two referenda) and Simsbury.” Our self-conception has been (and I think largely still is) suburban. Yet in the past two days I’ve seen West Hartford compared to very different towns and cities.

In making a brief but suggestive argument for regionalization, Hartford Magazine grouped West Hartford with Hartford, East Hartford, Bloomfield and Wethersfield.

On the Bristol Blog, the town of Bristol says it’s stepping away from its usual band of brothers – Middletown, East Hartford and Norwich, to compare itself to West Hartford (who it compared to Southington). If West Hartford still assumes the prior comparisons for Bristol, we find ourselves in context with Middletown and, once again, East Hartford.

SAT scores from the past 5 years (found on the state’s site) suggest West Hartford’s best “test score comparisons” (I more than willingly grant that test scores are a poor measure of educational quality) are RHAM (Hebron/Andover/Malborough), Canton, and Bolton (with excellent average test scores, but still scores that are well behind those in Avon, Simsbury and Farmington). But these – RHAM, Canton and Bolton — are all more rural areas, with a different set of strengths and a different set of problems than West Hartford.

So, that’s a long way of asking – where are we at, West Hartford? We know who we’ve been, and we know our “reputation,” but who are we today, and who are we becoming? And what other towns, going forward, do we fairly compare ourselves with?

I’d start the conversation this way: West Hartford remains a generally wealthy — but extraordinarily stratified — suburb, situated to maintain if not regain its reputation for education, especially as gas prices rise and people look to move closer Hartford. I’d compare it most closely to Glastonbury (which, incidentally, seems entirely devoid of blogs) — a suburb with a reputation for good schools and good eats that also deals with issues of economic stratification.

4 Responses to “West Hartford’s Emergent Identity”

  1. Noah Webstar said

    What is WH? More urban than suburban, with several convenient, thriving “centers”. (But just don’t tell us residents we live in a city). We are a rarity – a strong inner-ring town that has adapted to the changing times and thrived. My guess is that that fact was more accident than planned, a product of the inherent advantages that the WH of the past had over the other first generation suburbs. While they have crumbled, with more crime, worse schools, and a flight of long-time residents as the fabric of the towns crumbled, we have thrived.
    So who do we compare to? We are much more of a diverse community than Avon, Farmington, Simsbury and Glastonbury. My kids are at Wolcott School, and the number of household languages spoken there is incredible. This also explains some of the “lower” test scores in recent years, as students who do not speak or haven’t mastered english are expected to take and pass the same standardized tests as their peers. Are my kids getting a lesser education because Avon outperforms us in the CMT’s? Or are they better off for being exposed to more cultural and racial differences that their Valley friends? As long as the town remains a safe place to live and raise children, I will suck it up and pay my high taxes. It’s nice to walk sidewalks of tree lined streets in order to go to a shop, a library, or grab a cup of coffee. You can’t do that in Avon…
    As for Bristol – they aspire to be what we are. But they are more like Manchester and East Hartford….

  2. Mark Twain said

    West Hartford is a Greenwich wannabe.

  3. Noah Webstar said

    Twain, you are correct, sir. WH is a Greenwich wannabe, and a Westport wannabe. And there are worse models to emulate.

  4. WH Alum said

    Noah, I’m with you. When I look at my own kids’ test scores (ok – white, middle class, but do come from a bilingual home) they are right up there with the Avon, Sims, and Farmington kids. I know that in our averages are kids at a much higher economic disadvantage, as well as the recent immigrants who are still mastering English, and students from families that may not get the support mine do, and these are all in very limited quantity in our neighbors to the west and north-west. The schools can only take these kids so far. There are many programs in place to support them, but what happens in the home is a huge factor.

    One of the reasons I wanted my kids to grow up in WH is for the cultural diversity, so I will not bemoan that if it contributes to our test scores lagging a bit.

    I think WH can still be as wonderful as it has always been. We will get through these tough times and I think will emerge all the better for it in the long run. We still have great schools, great shopping, and lots of ice cream options. (I’m not much of a coffee drinker…) 🙂

    Short answer… We are unique.

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