Appropriations Committee Meeting: How to Spend our Tax Dollars to Best Benefit the Families of Connecticut

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HARTFORD, CT– On Friday morning March 7, 2014, the Appropriations Committee of the Connecticut General Assemble held a public hearing to discuss the potential amendments and concerns for Bill S.B. No. 340, a relatively recent Act raised concerning the further implementation and expansion of two-generational school readiness plans throughout the state of Connecticut. The Bill proposes an active plan to promote “long-term learning and economic success for low income families by addressing intergenerational barriers to school readiness and workforce readiness,” which would hopefully lead to the closing of the gap between the rich and poor in terms of income and education within the state.

This meeting was chiefly overseen by Appropriations Committee Co-Chairs Toni E. Walker and Beth Bye. Other members of the Committee present included: Republican Senator Robert Kane, House Republican Melissa Ziobron, Democratic Frank Nicastro, Robert Sampson, and State Representative Gail Lavielle. Presenting their proposed changes and concerns for Bill S.B. No. 340 were Commissioner Sharon Palmer from the Connecticut Department of Labor, Roderick Bremby from the Department of Social Services, Executive Director of the Office of Early Childhood Myra Jones Taylor, Theresa Younger from the Commission on the Status of Women, and Elaine Zimmerman, the Executive Director at the Connecticut Commission on Children.

First to present was Commissioner Sharon Palmer, from the Connecticut Department of Labor. While she agreed with and was pleased by the general concepts of the Bill, Palmer cited a need for further investment in job training, adult education, subsidized employment, transportation, and childcare. According to statistics collected by her department, 63% saw lack of childcare as a “significant barrier” for employment and 67% cited transportation difficulties limiting their employability. These statistics, which surprised Appropriations Committee Co-Chair Beth Bye with their severity are cited by Palmer as being the two largest factors preventing disadvantaged Connecticut residents from holding a steady job.

Second to present was Commissioner Bremby, from the Department of Social Services. Like Palmer, Bremby too cited a lack of access to affordable childcare for working parents or parents seeking adult education as a primary barrier in equalizing the gap between income and education level in Connecticut. Bremby also called for better coordination between the different providers of care and services. Too often, he claimed, individuals are forced to leave their adult education classes in order to meet with their social worker, which has a detrimental effect on their education, and, if this happens often enough, their ability to advance both in their education and in their level of employability.

Next to take the podium was Theresa Younger. As a representative from the Commission on the Status of Women, her approach to Bill S.B. No. 340 was more focused on gender parity rather than solely on education and economic improvements, though these issues were still relevant to her department. According to Younger, this two-pronged approach to educational and economic reform set forth in the Act proposed would help to bring families out of poverty, rather than just the parents or children. To Younger, further investment in adult education and quality childcare are insurmountably important to increasing the number of parents who can in fact work on a regular basis or go to school to further their employment opportunities so that they might stand a change to earn a somewhat sustainable income. The focus and additional funding on and for quality childcare would also help prepare the next generation, the children, for school.

Next to speak was Myra Jones Taylor, from the relatively new Office of Early Childhood. Taylor, in her testimony, highlighted a potential model already in place called the Even Start program, which operated using the two-generational approach proposed in Bill S.B. No. 340 to successful outcomes. According to the organization’s statistics, 35% or fewer had not made it past high school, 56% had had some high school, 86% were either at or below the state’s poverty level. The 40% of the children of these individuals were infants, and 52% were between the ages of three and six. Taylor notes that, after participating in the Even Start program, 48% had completed high school, and 82% of the students in the program were meeting grade proficiency standards. Despite these marked improvements, federal funding for the program was cut, and Taylor’s testimony suggested that the new Bill put forth highlight the Even Start program, and perhaps increase funding for it and programs like it to expand throughout Connecticut.

Last to speak on the proposed bill was Elaine Zimmerman, from the Connecticut Commission on Children. It was her belief that a two-pronged approach would be particularly beneficial to the children as “adults are more involved in their child’s learning if they are learning too.” This is to say that, by opening up opportunities for adult education and employment, one could also foster a sense of increased involvement from the parents in their children’s schooling. In order for this to work, however, Zimmerman stressed that educators teaching adults had to be better trained for addressing the needs of young adults, who were easily discouraged from furthering their education. By assuring their involvement in their education, Zimmerman argued, their children would also benefit. In her testimony, Zimmerman noted the reality that the state does not have unlimited funds, and rather highlighted the idea that funds be re-appropriated from less impactful uses to her proposed addition to the Bill.

As Co-Chairs Walker and Bye heard these different opinions on the Bill, it became more and more evident how necessary such a refocusing of government funds was needed in order to aid the struggling families of Connecticut. Only time can tell if the propositions made by the speakers will be adopted in the final passage of the Bill, which is suspected to in the relatively near future.

Appropriations Committee Public Hearing. March 7, 2014. Photograph courtesy of Alexandra Clark

Appropriations Committee Public Hearing, LOB 2C. March 7, 2014. Photograph courtesy of Alexandra Clark.


Adult Education: The Solution

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The Hartford Board of Education held a conference at the Asian Studies Academy at Bellizzi School on Tuesday evening. During this workshop session, the board and the researchers were discussing the Adult Education Feasibility Study. The researchers presented the information that they had found during the study about the adult education concerns. The board and the researchers collaborated their knowledge and collectively came together with information and questions. The audience consisted of a few adults that seemed to be writing on the workshop, as well as some adults who seemed to be potential adult education students.

This session started with some background on the study and on adult education in general. The study was approved to start in September of 2013 and ended in December of 2013. The purpose of the study was to gather information that would improve the lives and needs of the adults that are residing in Hartford. The consultants had discussions with many different types of people. They consulted with adult education students in both the day and evening programs. They also talked to the faculty and staff of the adult education program. In addition, they discussed with stakeholders, such as community agencies, city and state officials, higher education experts, funders, and other selected stakeholders. This information collected in this study was obtained through documents, interviews, and identification of resources.

The Hartford adult education program mandates that adult education services is free of charge to any person that is older than 16 and not enrolled in the public school. The program operates four state mandated adult education programs: 1. Elementary School Completion, 2. Secondary School Completion, 3. United States Citizenship, 4. English as a Second Language. The researchers stressed that 30.2% of the adult population in Hartford does not have a high school diploma, while 15.2% of the adult population does not even speak English. This statistic was shocking and means that the Hartford community is in need of resources to better educate the adults. The funding is crucial as well. These statistics are from over the past seven years (2005-2012). They explained that the statewide adult education budget in Connecticut is $20 million, which funds $2,295 per student in Hartford. This is not enough to educate the amount of adults that are in need of a proper education in this district.

Obtaining productive employment by successful Hartford Adult Education students is a critical outcome objective for these researchers. 55% of the adult education students are unemployed at the time of their entry into the program. 72% of the adult students say that obtaining or maintaining employment is the reason why they are enrolled into the program. Middle skilled jobs require more than a high school diploma, but less than a traditional four-year college degree. The salaries for these jobs average between $30,000- $60,000.

Business leaders explained that they expected there would be entry-level jobs that could eventually lead to middle-skilled employment opportunities. Employers also expressed that a GED does not prepare people enough for actual job readiness. Employers are really looking for people that are prepared for the work they will be confronted with, which the adult education program can help achieve. The gap needs to be closed between the classroom at Hartford adult education programs and the realities of a work place.

This meeting, as well as the audience that attended it, was very interesting. A lot of the audience members seemed as if they could be potential adult education students so they seemed very invested in what the researchers had to say. The concept of adults “stopping out” as opposed to “dropping out” was especially interesting. The reasons for stopping out are based on the reality of adults’ every day lives. They have responsibilities that ordinary students would have such as taking care of children, families, and homes, as well as maintaining a job. As the audience was listening to the researchers, it became clear that adult education could drastically improve the situations in Hartford. It could teach the large number of adults that cannot speak English as well as teach valuable employment skills to the great percentage of unemployed adults in the Hartford area. Before this is all fixed, it is obvious that the funding is going to have to be improved as well, as the system currently cannot meet the demand for adult education in this area. One of the concerns of one of the board members was dwindling down the waiting list that currently exists in the program. He asked the researchers how much money they would need to eliminate these waiting lists, a question for which they did not have the answer.

Though the board members made it clear from the get-go that they would not make any decisions during this meeting, a lot was achieved from this workshop. Most importantly, the audience gained an understanding for how greatly this program could improve the Hartford area, which is in desperate need of help.


Adult Education Mandate

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Hartford Board of Education held a Workshop Meeting at the Asian Studies Academy at Bellizzi School in Hartford Connecticut, on the evening of Tuesday March 4th 2014. The Workshop was held in the auditorium of the school, a panel of the Board of Education faced the audience, and across from them sat the two men giving the presentation on their study of Adult Education Feasibility. The meetings goal was not to pass any legislation but instead to have a conversation about the information found in the study and pose any questions and concerns the board had.

The meeting began with background information about the Superintendent and Board of Educations’ agreement with the CREC to manage a feasibility study of Adult Education Services. The goal was to acquire information and find potential resources for adult education. Adults (16 +) are eligible for a free education by Connecticut state law, if they are not enrolled in school. The presentation provided detailed information about the labor market, business stakeholders and partnership opportunities, resources and feasibility study recommendations. The statistics found in the study were quite eye opening, 30.2% of the adult population in Hartford (18+) has not received a high school diploma and 15.2% of the adult population does not speak English. Poverty and unemployment in Hartford are direct results of illiteracy that were found in this study. The study also found that 72% of adult education students reported that their reason for joining the program was because they wanted to obtain or maintain employment. Most adults who go through the program are not concentrated on advancing into a higher education; most of these jobs want middle-skill sector jobs. As one presenter said, “ These students need to learn the skills and fundamentals of reading and writing of 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders.” That statement truly shows why an Adult Education Mandate is needed in Hartford, where an immense amount of adults are lacking the fundamental literary skills that are crucial in life.

The Adult Education Mandate divides its students into two groups: Students who need help with basic literacy skills –these students are further away from employment through the program, and students that are closer to the possibility of being successful – who have had jobs and they have the necessary skills to keep a job. One board member raised an interesting point that was missing from the research, and that was whether or not the researchers had conducted any interviews with students who are currently in an Adult Education Program. One in the audience could tell that this made the presenters a bit uncomfortable when they replied saying that they had not conducted any interviews with students. Most individuals would find that this would be a very useful piece to incorporate into the study and the same bored member continued to pose questions that the presenters couldn’t answer. The meeting was not held to get any legislation approved but it is evident that there are some holes in the study that would have been useful information for the board members to know.

Connecticut has the largest achievement gap in the country and Hartford has an even larger achievement gap than the rest of Connecticut. With that said their needs to be major reforms and mandates in Hartford to try and close the achievement gap. Right now there are four Adult Education Mandated Programs: Elementary School Completion/ Adult Basic Education, Secondary School Completion (GED, National External Diploma Program), United States Citizenship, and English as a Second Language. After studying several education reforms I’ve learned that many reformers say that inadequate funding is preventing their reform for taking off. The researchers found that the funding for Adult Education was not nearly enough, with a statewide budget of 20 million 65% state – 35% local funding. With those funds the enrollment is only 1,323, which is only .03% of what the community needs. Inadequate funding is one of the major problems that it preventing the Adult Education Mandate from taking off and making a difference.

             This board meeting attracted many middle-aged women and men whom may have been interested in the Adult Education Mandate. The arrangement of the meeting was a little off putting with the two presenters backs were faced to the audience. Based on the questions that the board members were posing it seemed that the two presenters were not as prepared as they should’ve. They were not able to answer several of the board members questions, the questions posed should have been able to be answered. Overall the meeting was informative because we had not known of the Adult Education Mandate. A mandate that would help not only individuals struggling with illiteracy and unemployment but it would also help Hartford as a whole by improving employment and closing the achievement gap. photo (1)

An Achievement Gap Presentation on the Past & Present

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The Achievement Gap Taskforce (AGT) meeting on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 was a glimpse into Connecticut’s educational goals that have been established in both the past and present. The meeting began with introductions to Elaine Zimmerman, the Director of Commission on Children, Paul Freeman, the Superintendent of Guilford Public Schools, David Kennedy, the C.O.O. of United Way of Coastal Fairfield County, and Stephen Tracy, the Superintendent for the Department of Children & Families (DCF). The meeting’s goal and criteria was to address achievement gap disparities in Connecticut.

Then there was a snap-change in the meeting’s agenda. The “Presentation” by Stephen Tracy was pushed to the beginning, and the “update” on the AGT report was moved towards the end. However, it turned out to be a dual-presentation, one of which was on what’s to come (DCF), and what’s going to be done (AGT), blending aims for the present with goals created in the past to bridge Connecticut’s achievement gap.

Steven Tracy launch his presentation with DCF’s mission statement: “To promote learning, school success and personal fulfillment for children and young people whose life experiences have included trauma, family disruption or involvement with the juvenile justice system.” Tracy then followed this statement up with the challenges of their mission by addressing how many of the students they engage are at the bottom half of Connecticut’s achievement gap. Tracy outlined his presentation through four components, which consisted of: Pilot Programs, Academic Tracking, Case Planning, and DCF Facility planning.

Tracy delved into how their Pilot Programs are geared towards increasing the academic achievement of students who are in state custody. Tracy explained how they have hired coordinators in the three cities of Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven where legislation has provided funding, conducted listening session to hear about positive and negative academic experiences in school, and established liaisons with school leadership teams in these three cities where the program has been implemented. Tracy furthered that the next steps are: to get these newly hired coordinators into the field so that they can identify students who are in need of improvement, work with school leaders, and craft interventions that will provide more opportunities for these students. Tracy ended this segment by saying that he hopes to have more to show by the end of the program on, June 30, 2015.

In regard to tracking the academic progress of all children who are in state custody, Tracy announced that they have creating a data sharing agreement with the DOE, and are beginning to gather data for all children enrolled in DCF. However, he mentioned that they are going to need to extend that arrangement, so that it also includes attendance, academic achievement and discipline data as well.

Turning our attention to Case Planning, Tracy notes that this aspect has taken up most of their time and attention. He furthers that any child in state custody requires a preliminary case plan that’s used to specify educational goals and performance for each individual student. Tracy moves on to say that they “have also implemented, or are implementing a new process for getting records,” through a new protocol that’s specific in terms of students’ attendance, achievement, behavior and stability.

Lastly, Tracy mentions how they will inspect their own DCF facilities and develop a report of the educational needs for all of the students who attend their schools, and proposes to return at the end of the school year with a completed update and preview of their results. Tracy concluded his presentation with how their program is focused on the “issue of engagement and motivation [because it] is generally overlooked in our school reform efforts in Connecticut.” Tracy’s presentation provided an insightful vision for things to come, and its adagio progress and process seemed to stir a little skepticism due to the overwhelming challenges of its goals.

The meeting then shifted its lead to the voice of David Kennedy, who introduced AGT’s newly published strategy to eliminate the achievement gap in a Drafted Master Plan. This plan outlines, explains and identifies 17 key ingredients that are divided into two major categories of: conditions inside and outside of school, which will, in theory, bridge educational gaps. Kennedy explains that this Master Plan develops a “recipe, a kind of very poor analogy, but I do enjoy cooking … of all the components that are going to be needed to close and end the achievement gap in Connecticut.” The Master Plan includes teacher and administrative preparation guides and practices, grids on results and measurements, plan and policy recommendations, among many more strategies aimed at bridging the achievement gap.

Throughout the rollout of AGT’s Master Plan, I couldn’t help but relate it to Whatever It Takes, because the ideas and structures seemed to bounce back and forth among specialized education plans and central schooling models, practices and approaches, along the similar veins of Geoffrey Canada‘s thinking. Kennedy stressed how their plan’s “focus is not education reform, [it’s] about ending the achievement gap.” The plan is to intervene with families and provide early care and education, much like HCZ. However, Kennedy furthers that the “achievement and opportunity gap exists because of economic disparities,” which Connecticut has yet to report on. The plan describes the conditions that need to change inside of school, such as training teachers to address the achievement gap and how to engage English language learners, a curriculum that is designed to close educational gaps, and an investigation into the role of time over the course of both school days and summer vacations. These notions are coupled with the conditions that will need to change outside of school, which include early care and education, family engagement, affordable housing and addressing the issues and challenges of poverty.

As the presentation-update came to a closure, it’s emphasized that the plan isn’t about education reform or failures in schoolhouses, it’s about recognizing that the achievement gap is a statewide and communitywide concern, and addresses and acknowledges the academic challenges in different communities through a broader lens. The AGT was very proud to announce the publication of their newly scripted plan because it was a product of hundreds of meetings over the past couple of years that includes four years of data input. Their ideas were very refreshing and uplifting, but will be interesting to see if this paper-based plan develops into Connecticut’s systemwide educational praxis.

Education Committee: Achievement Gap Taskforce, Tuesday, March 4, 2014.

“This is the Right Thing for Our Children”– A Public Forum on the Common Core Standard in CT

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HARTFORD, CT—On Friday morning at 10:00 am, the Education Committee convened at the Legislative Office Building to hold an informational forum to discuss the implementation of the Common Core curriculum standards in Connecticut. Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and Executive Director of the Council of Chief State Schools Officers Chris Minnich were among the proponents of the Common Core that presented at the forum chaired by Senator Andrea Stillmann and State Representative Andrew Fleischmann.

Citing the high remediation rates in both Connecticut’s state university and community colleges and drawing up pie charts showing that 56% of employers in the state were having trouble hiring qualified workers, Pryor presented the use of Common Core standards as a vital measure to improve the future of students and the economy.

“Even if we look at the future of our work and at what is required of our youngsters, the common core is going in the right direction. And more importantly, our educators… have long been saying that we shouldn’t be focused on rote knowledge and pure recall, on drilling kids in our classroom. We want to be focusing on higher order thinking skills, critical thinking skills, on the kinds of approaches that will enable our youngsters to succeed in college and careers,” said Pryor.  According to Pryor, in 2020, around 60% of the jobs in Connecticut’s economy would require a college or other higher education degree and the state schools simply aren’t churning out enough college- and career-ready students.

Minnich expressed his understanding that while everyone was in support of the notion of having higher standards for students, they found the Common Core standards controversial because of how it was being implemented and the process of how the official document was written. He emphasized that there was public involvement in every state and that educators played a major role in the process of writing the Common Core standards, adopted in July 2010 in Connecticut.

“This is really giving teachers the flexibility they need to be great teachers,” said Minnich, who believes that teachers can still freely decide on how they want to tailor their lessons to local needs to meet national standards. Minnich stated that approximately 73% of teachers polled were in support of the Common Core .This statistic, which seems to be at odds with the popular conception that most teachers didn’t support the Common Core standards, was a subject of scrutiny and repeatedly brought to question throughout the duration of the forum.

Minnich also reported that the ACT, Collegeboard, and the business community also offered feedback on standards set in the Common Core to ensure that it was comprehensive and contained what future employers were looking for in employees.

“The vast majority of our country is aiming towards higher standards. Are we going to glide towards them or are we going to be left behind?” asked Minnich, citing that 45 out of 50 states had accepted the standards and that states like Kentucky and Tennessee had achieved great gains on NAEP test scores.

Education Committee Informational Forum on the Common Core Curriculum at the LOB
February 28th, 2014
Photo: Ada Chai

A heated Q&A session followed the presentations of Pryor and Minnich, though each of the 16 representatives of the state present was limited to asking only one question as Minnich had to depart early.  

Hurried along by Representative Fleischmann, the representatives voiced concerns, as parents and on behalf of parents and teachers, about the flawed implementation of the common core that were pressing “too much too quickly” on children and putting a strain on small school districts that had to write their own curriculum to match the core curriculum standards. Representative Bolinsky mentioned “disenfranchised and frightened” educators and parents with children coming home terrified of tests, who were questioning the intent behind the Common Core standards and asked about how they intended to engage the community in this conversation. Concerns were also raised over the use of technology and the failure of the common core to include social and emotional development of children as part of the curriculum.

At the forum, Pryor also announced that Governor Malloy was creating a task force for January of 2015 to help implement the Common Core Standards that would include educators to ensure practitioner input. He also made assurances that more support, including a team of Common Core coaches to aid professional development and a “Dream Team” that would make model units, lesson plans and other resources available through their website (, would become available to teachers.

Despite Pryor and Minnich’s favorable presentation of the controversial Common Core standards, there were some among the general public who were not convinced that the implementation of the standards would make students critical thinkers or more competitive in the future nationally and internationally. One such group, consisting of parents and teachers, was conspicuously dressed in bright red shirts with an octagon shaped stop sign which read “Stop the Common Core in CT”. They apparently disagreed that the Common Core standards would lead to students becoming critical thinkers.

“We need to let teachers teach so that children become critical thinkers, not robots that follow a format,” said one of the red-shirted parents, Malcom McGough.  McGough views the implementation of the Common Core standards as an invasive act carried out by the government that treats children like guinea pigs.

“It is clearly against what the founding fathers wanted,” he said, claiming that the standards were nothing less than an attempt to indoctrinate students rather than allowing them the freedom necessary to become critical thinkers, the freedom which in the first place is what led to innovations that made the United States one of the greatest nations in the world.


The Only Thing Students Wanted to Hear, “Weaver Is Not Closing”

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students from Weaver High School are protesting against school shutdown
Students from Weaver High School are protesting against school shutdown, shouting “Weaver Strong!”


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About 200 people gathered for the Board of Education special meeting on February 4th, 2014 at Wish Elementary School in Hartford.

On February 4th, Tuesday night, Wish Elementary School gymnasium in Hartford was filled with a couple hundred students, parents, and staffs from Weaver High School of Culinary Arts to protest against the Hartford Board of Education shutting down their school. However, it turned out that the Culinary Arts Institute is going to be relocated to the Lincoln Culinary Institute for four years and then moved back to the new, renovated school.

Originally, Weaver High School was built to serve up to two thousand students, but the student population has shrank drastically that there are only about six hundred students attending now. Weaver High School has been run by two different programs, the Culinary Arts Institute and the Journalism and Media Academy. The Culinary Arts Academy is offering regular high school academic curriculum and specifically focuses on culinary arts and hospitality management. According to the Hartford Public School website, about four hundred students are attending Culinary Arts Academy and two hundred students are attending Journal and Media Academy.

For the school to serve a right number of students, the city has been planning to renovate the buildings at Weaver since last year, and Hartford Public Schools was granted 100 million dollars for its renovation. The Journal and Media Academy already moved to the new building on Tower Avenue last year, and Culinary Arts Institute is the only school left at Weaver High School. If the Culinary Arts Academy stays at Weaver, the maintenance would cost more, and empty building would be wasted. In the mean time, Lincoln Culinary Institute has suggested providing their facilities to Weaver Culinary Arts so that the school can be continued without any closing.

Although the Hartford Public School and Lincoln Culinary Institute has not firmly decided the cost of lease, they are estimating 4 million dollars for four-year lease contract with Lincoln Culinary Institute including all the taxes, facilities, and maintenance.

However, on Tuesday night, there was a big miscommunication between school administrators and students from Weaver. Students and their parents had heard the rumor that the city was trying to close the school by moving them out from the original place. Several students, alumni, and parents came out and strongly voiced their opinions that the school should not be closed. Unlike students worrying about shutdown, the principal of Weaver, Tim Goodwin, was more concerned whether or not the construction would be finished on time without stopping the school. More specifically, he wanted to hear how and when students could go back to their original school. Also, he worried that splitting Weaver to two different locations will harm their identity as Weaver.

After hearing several addresses, the Board Chairman Matthew Poland pointed out the miscommunication revealed by students and administrators saying that Weaver would never close, and rather the city wanted to strengthen the school by renovation. Dr. Christina Kishimoto, Superintendent of Hartford Public School, said, “I am sorry that there was miscommunication between the school and students . . . . I want to emphasize that Weaver is not closing.” Although there was an awkward moment of silence in the entire gym when people figured out that students were misunderstanding the point of renovation, they cheered “Weaver Strong!” assuring that the school is not going to be shut down in any way. Unraveling the miscommunication and clarifying confusing points, the Board of Education approved the Weaver’s relocation to Lincoln Culinary Institute.

In addition, the Hartford’s school construction program manager answered Weaver’s principal’s question. He said that they were planning to finish renovation by the year of 2017 so that the school can start the 2017-2018 academic years at the new school building. Superintendent Dr. Kishimoto reassured, “students will be at school on time everyday.” There would be a little bit of schedule adjustment when they are relocating at the Lincoln Culinary Institute, but the summer programs and the commencement would take place as the school has set up, and transportation will be provided to those who are living far from the new location funded by the Hartford Public Schools. In terms of the principal’s identity question, the board replied that it would not cause drastic change in the school’s identity because Weaver was already separated into two different schools.

Besides the issue about Weaver high school, there was another main agenda about choosing Kinsella School’s new location, and it was discussed as much as the Weaver School’s relocation. Moverover, there were workshop sessions for the Special Education Update, 2011-2015 Strategic Operation Plan, especially focusing on Chronic Absences Plan and College Readiness Initiatives. Superintendent Dr. Kishimoto wrapped the meeting up by emphasizing that there was remarkable improvement in the last couple of years in chronic absence and college-readiness.


Grace Ryu is a sophomore student at Trinity College, attending the Hatford Public School Board of Education special meeting on February 04, 2014
Grace Ryu is a sophomore student at Trinity College, attending the Hatford Public School Board of Education special meeting on February 04, 2014


Committee Meeting Turns Out to Be a Bust

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On February 10, 2014, the State of Connecticut’s Education Committee held a meeting in the Capital Building located in Hartford, CT. Room 2C was a beautiful room with a large mahogany, crescent shaped, table filled with representatives who overlooked the large turnout, which sat in front of them. The audience was dressed in business attire and everyone in attendance appeared to be eager to learn and start off the new session.  At around ten thirty-five A.M., the meeting began, however more people and representatives trickled in past the start time and sat down to open their computers in an attempt to miss not a thing.  The Chairwoman and Chairman were both announced and began the meeting in a very official manner.


Senator Fleischman began by welcoming everyone and briefly mentioned there would be a large focus on pre-schools this year.  Senator Stillman followed and quickly got to business.  She began with briefly speaking about the new tiles for bills and encouraged everyone not to try and look them up because the language for them did not currently exist.  Next she referred to the handout every attendee picked up on his/her way in.  She first touched on item three.  Item three, a large one to chew off, consisted of AAC Minor Revisions to the Education Statutes, AAC the Recommendations by the Legislative Commissioners for Technical Revisions to the Education Statutes, AAC Authorization of State Grant Commitments for School Building Projects, AAC Education Issues, AAC State Education Resource Center, AAC Uniform Regional School Calendar, AAC Education Mandate Relief, AAC the Technical High School System, AAC The Minimum Budget Requirement, AAC Boards of Education, AAC Academic Achievement Gap, AAC Special Education, AAC Magnet Schools, AAC School Safety, AAC Chronic Absenteeism and so on.  Stillman did not read the list she only referenced item three and left the reading for the audience to do.  As the list was mentioned, attendees delved into their laptops and notepads, hoping not to miss anything important.  The thought of sitting there to listen to every single one of these issues was agonizing.  Stillman proceeded to ask everyone to view item four on the list and then everyone came into an agreement they would discuss these lists further.  After a brief introduction to item four and a quick recitation of its three components, everyone in the room seemed ready for the intense, detailed, material to begin.  However, Stillman then thanked everyone for coming and dismissed the meeting leaving everything for “next time”.


A moment of silence followed and the other three journalists and myself were quite stunned.  Senator Stillman had just read four things off a piece of paper and then casually ended the meeting.  We were unsure if people were taking a break to go eat and then they would return, so we sat and waited.  After about ten minutes we noticed attendees were not returning and we had really attended a fifteen-minute meeting.  Unsure what to think, we rethought details that led us to believe this meeting would be somewhat important.  The room was beautiful, everyone was dressed to impress, and the list of items was very hefty.  Naturally, we thought the meeting would last a tad longer than what it had.


With everything going on with school reform policies, it would have been nice to learn about some of efforts being made in order to implement certain policies.  The only beneficially thing taken from the meeting was that I now know there will be a focus on pre-schools.  How?  Nobody at the meeting would be able to tell you.  For folks who have a jam-packed schedule filled with meetings and appointments, this committee meting was a waste of precious time and merely a joke.  Anybody can read from a list or open an attachment in an email and it would have been just as beneficial as attending.  As well as students in Professor Jack Doherty’s class Education Reform Past and Present, there were other Trinity students in attendance as well.  All which seemed to take time out of their day, put on a nice outfit, and all who I am sure would have liked to gain some form of knowledge from a meeting wishfully longer than fifteen minutes.


Our hope was to learn more about policies being implemented in pre-schools particularly or any policy in general for that matter.  My fellow classmates and I who attended all are looking to work with children and were left with many questions and a lot of confusion.  As and Ed Studies major, we understand it is mandatory to attend events dealing with policies and how these policies will be implemented.  However, it is neither beneficial nor time-

Trinity Students Christina Raiti (left) Biance Brenz (right) in attendance at Connecticut Education Committee Meeting
Trinity Students Christina Raiti (left) Biance Brenz (right) in attendance at Connecticut Education Committee Meeting

First Education Committee Meeting Ends in Disappointment

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On February 10, 2014 at 10:30 in the morning, the Hartford Education Committee held their first meeting of the 2014 session at the Legislative Office Building of the Hartford General Assembly. Room 2C was filled with an audience of people in amphitheater style seating, interested and perhaps even passionate about reforming the Connecticut education system.  The audience seemed prepared to devote a considerable amount of time to the meeting, as many were dressed in suits, ready to take notes on laptops and in notebooks.  Both of us were excited to witness discussion about the many issues existing in Connecticut schools today.  Having never attended an education committee meeting before, we expected a lengthy and thoughtful deliberation that would illustrate the direction education reform would take in the coming year.

Senator Andrea L. Stillman opened the meeting by welcoming everyone to the new session.  She introduced other committee chairs, who all seemed eager to make progress in the new term.  Representative Andrew Fleischmann remarked that he was especially enthusiastic to address the issues of reforming pre-schools and increasing safety in schools. He declared another worthy goal the committee had: “we want to do good while keeping the number of bills short”.

Senator Stillman addressed Section III of the meeting agenda schedule, titled “Committee Concepts to be Raised”, stating that these were all issues to be discussed at future meetings.  Section III lists several issues: special education, magnet schools, collaboration between boards of education and school resource officers, authorization of state grant commitments for school building projects, and social media education.  Having yet to formalize most of these into a bill, Stillman suggested, “don’t try to look up these bills because there is no language for them yet.” There was a collective response from the audience in favor of reviewing these topics at future meetings, and with that the meeting concluded.

Initially when Stillman called recess, it seemed logical to assume that the meeting was taking a short break, and that conversation would once again resume.  Some members remained seated, engaging in small-talk with one another, while others rushed out of the room.  We waited for about five minutes expecting a sign that the meeting was going to recommence.  Finally, we got the courage to ask another member of the audience if the meeting was still going.  The man we asked told us that the meeting was in fact over, and that the purpose of it was to simply vote that the concepts raised would be discussed in greater detail in the future.  These concepts would eventually take form in a bill.  However, there was still no decided time and date for the next meeting.

Leaving the meeting, we were shocked at the outcome and lack of effectiveness that took place.  There are clearly many issues with the Connecticut education system, and we expected this meeting to address some of them.  In addition to the many concepts to be raised, there were three previously raised governors bills on the agenda.  It is not surprising that these issues will not be resolved, or that they will take a long time to be resolved because of the nature of the legislative process that we witnessed before our eyes.  If our government continues to treat major issues, such as education reform, with such insignificance and lightness, progress in creating policy will inevitably be absent.

Similarly, we were surprised by the tardiness of the people attending the meeting and the tardiness of the meeting itself which started ten minutes late.  Because this was such a formal assembly with senators and representatives, we expected promptness and efficiency.  Neither of us could believe that people took time out of their schedules for what seemed like such a disorganized and unproductive gathering that only lasted about twenty minutes.

Even while the meeting was taking place, the comments that were made by senators and representatives lacked substance.  Those in attendance introduced themselves and spoke only of how excited they were to reconvene in session.  These were nice remarks, however they were redundant and neglected to articulate the key issues at hand.  One would expect these powerful voices to have more to say regarding some of the most prominent issues in our society.  It felt as if we were sitting in a high school class, where a student would makes a comment, and three more students paraphrased the same concept simply to gain participation points.  We were truly disappointed by the lack of originality and value in their words.

Ultimately, the outcome of this meeting was disappointing.  Our expectations for quality conversation and strong voices receded quickly.  However, observing this event allowed us to understand the inner workings of today’s legislative process in a way that highlights their flaws and truly depicts why education reform is a complicated, cluttered, and slow-moving process.

Isabel and Emily at the Education Committee meeting
Photo Credit: Christina Raiti

Isabel Monteleone is a student at Trinity College ‘16, majoring in Public Policy and Law

Emily Meehan is a student at Trinity College ‘16, majoring in Educational Studies


HPL Hosts American Promise Panel Discussion: Is Private School the Answer?

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Audience members watching the documentary American Promise
Audience members watching the documentary American Promise at Hartford Public Library

On February 8, 2014, Hartford Public Library (downtown) hosted a screening of the documentary American Promise and a panel discussion at the Center for Contemporary Studies. Around 25 people were in attendance. As the audience viewed the film, a central question began to unfold and become the main topic of discussion.  In the quest for the American dream, is private school the answer to attain success?  American Promise shows that for students of color, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and private institutions can fail to make them feel included.  The interactive discussion that followed the screening unpacked the benefits and downfalls of private school education and what public schools can learn from them.

Over a span of 13 years, Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster’s documentary captured the educational triumphs and trials of their son Idris and his best friend Seun. These parents decided to send their children to the prestigious Dalton School because it would provide them with  an education that would allow them to be successful. As two of the few black students, Idris and Seun faced issues that spanned beyond the classroom. The implications of race and class in a predominately white institution were prevalent throughout the film, and it clearly impacted the boys’ intellectual/personal development. Furthermore, the self-esteem issues that Idris and Seun faced made the value of this experience questionable at times.

At the age of nine, the Dalton teachers described Idris as a “hard to manage” student who was often disruptive. Seun was seen as a student who was “bright”, but had difficulty focusing on tasks at hand. The documentary captured the transition of the boys from doe-eyed, color-blind six-year-olds to young men who realized that they were not like the other kids and the treatment they received from faculty was different. Due to feelings of isolation and their parents’ inability to afford the privileged lifestyles of the other students, Seun and Idris had a difficult time performing in school. Seun crumbled under the pressure of dyslexia. Even with extra tutoring, his sense of self and motivation diminished over time at Dalton. Ultimately, he went to public high school in Brooklyn. Idris was able to graduate from Dalton with countless hours of extensive, extra help from his parents and proper management of his newly found ADHD. Both of the boys were able to go on to college.

For the sake of the fantastic opportunity at Dalton, Seun and Idris’ parents tried their best to be pillars of strength for their children as the boys lost self-confidence in private school. For students of color who are seeking out the best opportunities, is private school the answer? What can public schools learn from them?

Stan Simpson, a current affairs talk show host and a former columnist for the Hartford Courant, moderated the panel discussion.  The panelists included Milly Arciniegas (Executive Director of the Hartford Parent University), Lee Huguley (Dean of Students at the Westminster School) and Adam Johnson (Director of Secondary Education for the Capital Region Education Council).  Stan Simpson kicked off the panel discussion with the question  “What’s the secret sauce of private schools and why can’t that be duplicated in public schools?”  Lee Huguley dived into the question by explaining, “Students and faculty at private school have a different type of connection. Specifically from my experience in private boarding school, there is a lot of contact time with the students.”  Lee followed up by asking  “Do you think the success of private schools stems from a pool of high achievers and active parents as we saw in the documentary?” Lee disagreed and explained that seeing the kids in their own environment allows faculty to really know who they are both inside and outside of the classroom. Johnson added that private schools are able to “remove kids from negative, outside influences” and “allows students to establish and draw on networks for the rest of their lives”. These factors create a very rich learning environment for the students. As a champion for public schools, Arciniegas explained “public schools have gotten away from accountability. Public schools need and should have the best and parents have to want more”. She elaborated by explaining that if there were faculty members in private schools that weren’t doing their best, they would be fired. Public schools should be doing the same.

As the discussion continued, the panelists agreed that private schools should not be seen as the only option for students to get the best education. However, in order for public school students to perform to the highest standard, a combination of things must be in place. Johnson pointed out that leadership in schools is key. When he was a principal at Law & Government Academy, he wanted to make it the best experience possible for the students. Arciniegas went on to assert that parents also play an active role in their children’s educational development. However, the kids should drive their own success and parents should be there for inspiration. Arciniegas felt that Idris’ parents were not allowing him to develop due to their strict control of his life.

Regardless of whether children of color attend private or public schools, the panelists explained that perception of self is the key to success.  For minority students, many of the hardships that may come from attending a private school stems from feelings of inadequacy in the new culture. Huguley noticed that there was a lack of mentors in the documentary, which is particularly essential for the students’ adjustment. He explained that boys like Idris and Seun (whether they are in public or private school) need someone in school that they could count on for motivation.

In conclusion, students of color can attain success in any type of school. It is a combination of external and internal factors that can either make or break a student.  All schools should have the best in order to provide an environment that is conducive to high achievement. As pointed out by the panelists and the experiences of Idris and Seun, there is no one-size-fits-all model. Private school is not necessarily the answer.


 XRS (Class of 2014) is a sociology major with minors in French studies and community action. She is from Brooklyn, NY and attended public schools before going to Trinity College. 

Sheff Movement Reflects on the Past While Recommitting to Its Future

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On the coming 26th of April, Sheff Movement leaders and supporters will join to reflect on 25 years of successful advocacy and to look forward to their future efforts of scholastic integration. Since their triumph in the landmark case, Sheff v. O’Neill, the Sheff community has worked tirelessly in an effort to promote a mission of “Quality Integrated Education for All Children.” This coming anniversary will not only serve as a celebration of the Movement’s success thus far, but as a reminder and promoter of future goals for the organization. This past Saturday, February 8th, Sheff movement leaders met with representatives from Hartford Public Schools, the Capitol Regional Education Council, and several allied groups as they do monthly, to discuss their upcoming education and advocacy agenda. Two major topics of discussion: the newly proposed Parent Organizing Plan and the proposed agenda for the current Connecticut Legislative session.

With the planning of the Movement’s 25-year Anniversary celebration underway, the day’s agenda focused largely on the goals for the event. One objective taking primary importance was the promotion of the Parent Organizing Plan. The first intention of the plan was to create the initial awareness among Hartford parents surrounding the level of education their children were receiving. It expanded upon this by then educating parents on the racial disparity within Connecticut school districts, most notably, the class and racial imbalance between city and suburb school zones, and the fundamental role this plays in a child’s educational opportunities. With this information in mind, parents would be better equipped to draw the connection between the goals of the Sheff Movement and the realization of equal educational opportunities for their children. As founder and co-chair (as well as mother of the historic case’s lead plaintiff Milo) Elizabeth Horton Sheff describes it, “People need to realize the connection between public policy advocacy and their children receiving a quality education.” Hopefully their outreach efforts will also help people realize, as we now do role the Sheff Movement plays in making this quality education a reality.

In addition to the Sheff Movement’s reflective and educational missions, policy advocacy remains an integral part of the Sheff Movement’s operations.  With the Connecticut General Assembly’s 2014 Regular Session now in its first week, Sheff leaders are ready to make their voices heard by Connecticut policymakers.  “We’re looking to organize for this legislative session,” said Mrs. Sheff.  The Movement’s organization was evidenced by their Legislative and Advocacy Agenda, which clearly outlined nine major points on which the Movement will seek to affect change towards equal access to education in the state legislature.  A particular focus of Sheff leaders during this legislative session is emphasizing high degrees of access and integration in magnet schools, with the agenda specifically including the creation of “dual language immersion magnet schools in the Sheff region” because, according to the Movement’s printed agenda, “studies indicate the dual-immersion model is strongly associated with closing the achievement gap between native and non-native English speakers.”  Other magnet school policy interests of the Sheff Movement include the continuation of state funding for free Pre-K magnet school tuition, and the development of the interdistrict magnet schools outside of the Hartford Area.  Another key point of emphasis is the opening of more Open Choice seats in suburban districts.  Sheff leader Phil Tegeler said that “the Commissioner [of Education] should be given authority to require districts to open seats,” although acknowledging it to be an uphill battle.  This is the sixth consecutive year that Sheff has asked this of the legislature, and they show no intention of easing off of this pressure.

John Humphries, the Movement’s Outreach Coordinator who recently met with several state legislators, raised an alarming statistic during the meeting.  Representative Doug McCrory told Mr. Humphries that over 100 of 169 school districts in Connecticut currently employ no teachers of color.  While not all attendees were ready to accept this shocking statistic without further research, and while it was noted that this statistic did not include minority individuals in school administrations and other leadership positions, it was agreed upon that, given the Movement’s position of the forefront of educational integration, the Movement would look further into this statistic and work towards increased diversity among educators.

The lesson to be gained from the Sheff Movement’s passionate, thorough, and organized advocacy was summed up well by Janée Woods-Weber, a representative from Everyday Democracy who attended the meeting: “We want [people] to not only reflect of the past 25 years, but look forward to the next 25.  People need to understand that Sheff [v. O’Neill] was not a static moment in time.”  Given the outstanding level of organization, work ethic, and persistence that were evident among the ranks of the Sheff Movement, we are confident that the next 25 years of Sheff will be as remarkable as the last 25 have been.

Madison Starr is a student at Trinity College (Class of 2016) studying French and American Studies

Evan Turiano is a student at Trinity College (Class of 2016) studying American Studies


Madison and Evan sitting alongside Sheff leaders, including Elizabeth Horton Sheff (fourth from the right
Madison and Evan sitting alongside Sheff leaders, including Elizabeth Horton Sheff (fourth from the right) [photograph courtesy of Jack Dougherty]