Why Stamford's superintendent is personally taking Realtors on … – The Advocate

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Kindergarten student Paula Lojano Cardenas works on reading skills at Stillmeadow Elementary School on Monday, April 24, 2023, Stamford, Conn.
STAMFORD — Stamford Realtors are sometimes the first point of contact for those interested in moving to the city, and one of the first questions they tend to hear is some variation of “How are the schools?”
That can be a tricky question to answer for Realtors who don’t have first-hand knowledge of the school system, which is why a new initiative was launched this year between the district and the Stamford Board of Realtors.
Since January, Superintendent Tamu Lucero has taken a group of roughly 10 Stamford real estate agents on a tour of one of the city’s public schools every month. The first tour was held at Roxbury Elementary School, with visits to Hart Magnet Elementary School, Strawberry Hill School and Stillmeadow Elementary School in subsequent months. 
The idea was the brainchild of Realtor Jeffrey Wirz, who was appointed to a three-year term to be the Board of Realtors’ school liaison in 2019.
By that year, the school system was still hosting district-wide open houses in November which were open to the public. During the event, all of the schools would open their doors and provide information about the school and the district to parents, prospective parents and anyone else who attended.
Wirz, who attended them, said he found the sessions to be very useful for his role as a Realtor but he noticed that other agents weren’t taking advantage of the opportunity.
He said he also noticed that many Realtors he knew didn’t live in Stamford, and even if they did, many didn’t have children in the school system or had children enrolled in Stamford schools many years ago.
That’s when he came up with the concept for the tours. 
“My biggest objective was to find a way to get more Realtors in schools,” he said.
Wirz — whose three children went through the Stamford Public Schools system, graduating in 2018, 2020 and 2022, respectively — knew the school system well and also knew that Lucero would tour a school building every day. So in late 2019, he approached her with the idea of Stamford-based Realtors joining her once a month.
“She loved the idea,” Wirz said. “She embraced it right away.”
Lucero said she immediately saw value in the concept.
“There is no better way to fully appreciate and understand what makes our schools an engaging, supportive and appropriately challenging place to learn than to see the day-to-day interactions and active learning that happens every day in our classrooms,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “Inviting Realtors into our schools gives them exposure to the high caliber of instruction and the quality of the learning environment in Stamford Public Schools, information they can then share with their clients.”
The board loved the concept too, and the first tour was set up for March 2020 — a trip that never happened as the COVID-19 pandemic descended on Connecticut, shutting down all school buildings for months.
The idea lay dormant until this fall, when Lucero reached out to Wirz about reviving it. And in January, the first tour took place.
Roxanna Barja, president of the Stamford Board of Realtors, has been on every tour so far, and said the visits have been full of valuable information.
For instance, she and others learned about the plans to build a new Roxbury School when touring that facility as well as the school’s recent designation as a Higher Order Thinking School, or HOTS, a program that helps integrate arts into all grade levels and subject areas.
“Through these tours, we’re learning what’s happening,” she said.
As buyers are examining the school district, they’re also seeing home values continue to rise, while housing stock declines.
Over the first three months of this year, the median home sale price in Connecticut was $325,000, 4 percent more than the median price during the first quarter of 2022. On average, buyers paid 1.4 percent above the final listed prices in March. 
The number of homes sold in March plummeted when compared with the same month a year prior. This March, about 2,600 houses sold in Connecticut, down from nearly 3,450 a year earlier for a 24 percent decline, according to Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties.
As a Realtor, Barja said she hears what prospective buyers have to say about Stamford schools, and she’s noticed that the perception of the city’s educational facilities can sometimes skew negative.
“Stamford schools get a bad break,” she said.
Wirz said online real estate search engines such as Zillow often give home buyers an impression that Stamford schools are poor.
That’s because school ratings are attached to each listing, provided by the website greatschools.org. That site takes data from schools and comes up with a total score for the school’s rating between 0 and 10. The final rating is heavily influenced by student test scores. 
The district has struggled in recent years with test scores, still lagging well behind pre-COVID-19 scores.
In Stamford, most public schools score a three or a four on the website, with a few exceptions. The biggest school in the district, Westhill High School, currently has a score of three.
Barja said those scores don’t tell the full story.
“What folks are not realizing is we are a multilingual city,” she said. “We also have a lot of (English as a second language) students. That may be a challenge for them to take standardized tests.”
During the tours, the Realtors go inside classrooms and see teachers at work. They meet with the school principals and other staff members. In all, the visits last about an hour and a half.
Wirz said the hope is that those who attend the tours will go back and share findings with their colleagues.
“I know firsthand, because I’ve done this so much, that anybody who tours a school walks away with a great feeling,” he said. 
Includes prior reporting by staff writer Alexander Soule.
Ignacio Laguarda is a reporter who covers education and more for the Stamford Advocate.


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