Most Likely To Succeed

Posted on

“If we teach today’s students, as we taught yesterday, we rob them of tomorrow.” – John Dewey

On April 6th, the Capital Community College in Downtown Hartford hosted a small screening of the educational documentary, “Most Likely to Succeed.” This documentary, directed by Greg Whiteley and produced by Ted Dintersmith, debuted at the Sundance film festival last year, and has since gone on to be shown in over 2,000 schools across the country. The film offered an interesting perspective on the current traditional schooling system and it’s desire for change.

124 years ago the Committee of Ten, a group of educators, came up with a standard set of subjects they felt every student should know. This system of education began in 1892, and still today in 2016, it has not changed. There is something alarming about this notion- that students today are still learning what was put into place over a century ago, despite the drastically changing times. The problem with the traditional method of teaching is that every student learns differently. Kids who are excited about a certain topic will learn it better.

This is where Larry Rosenstock came in. He had a vision of what schooling should become, and developed a school unlike any other- called High Tech High. Located in San Diego, this school centralizes around the idea of project based learning. This means there are no written exams, no class periods or subjects, no bells, and no textbooks. Instead, teachers are on a one year contract and can simply teach whatever they want, whenever they want too. In place of a final exam that normally forces students to memorize and cram information onto paper, at this school there is an end of year exhibition where parents, friends, and teachers alike come to publicly view the student work in an open forum.

One of the biggest misconceptions of the traditional model of school is that the more information one can gain, the more knowledge he or she will have. However, this is wrong. According to a supporter of High Tech High, “Content is ubiquitous, it’s free.” We can merely Google things nowadays, we don’t need to learn to memorize unnecessary things. High Tech High instead focuses on implementing what they call “Soft Skills.” These non cognitive traits include critical thinking, asking questions, collaborating with a team, time management, and work ethic. The traditional school curriculum we have now doesn’t actually teach children to learn, it just teaches them to memorize. In a study done at the Lawrenceville School, a class of students were asked to re-take their Science final 3 months after it was over. After doing so, their grade average dropped from a B+ to an F, showing that there in fact was no retention of the material because all that mattered to them at the time was the letter on their report card.

Parents of students at this “new” type of school have expressed their concern for straying from the traditional curriculum. They fear that the lack of structure will hinder their children’s preparedness for standardized tests such as the SAT/ACT and hurt their chances of attending good colleges and universities. As producer Ted Dintersmith said, “We’re a nation obsessed with numbers.” All anyone cares about anymore are quiz grades, report cards, and SAT scores, when in reality that doesn’t guarantee anything in life. Students need to follow this new type of education that teaches them about “work and citizenship readiness.” The things that will matter in the so called real world. High Tech High and the new method teach kids to learn through doing. Students work with a sense of purpose here.

The goal of this riveting documentary is to show that education is not something that can be standardized for everyone because at the end of the day, this ignores the fact that education is about people, and no two learn the same.

After the film was over, there was a Q&A session with a panel of three poignant individuals: Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools- Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, Producer of the film- Ted Dintersmith, and Executive Director of the CT Association of Public School Superintendents- Dr. Joseph Cirasuolo. Superintendent Narvaez was asked what innovations will be implemented here in Hartford schools, to which she responded that there are currently three High school centers of innovation where kids can do real, meaningful, hands on work. The first school is project based, the second is mastery based, and the third is blended learning. Furthermore, the Montessori schools all focus on independent learning as well, where kids get to chose what they want to work on. One challenges she faced in trying to create innovations in these existing schools was learning to change as a leader and educator. Instead of feeling that there was no backbone to the curriculum, she learned simply to place the foundation down for student success and stabilize the educational system in order to help cultivate student innovation in Hartford schools.

To learn more about the documentary, and the Most Likely to Succeed campaign initiatives, check out:

“Some Districts Do More, Some Do Less” for English Learners

Posted on

On Wednesday, April 6, 2015 court proceedings continued before the Hartford Superior Court regarding whether Connecticut schoolchildren receive an adequate and equitable education in CCJEF v. Rell. The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) argues that they do not because of the state’s funding formula, which favors property-rich districts. CCJEF seeks to protect the interests of all schoolchildren, and today’s court proceedings surrounded English learners (ELs).

The defense attorney questioned Megan Alubicki Flick, the English as a Second Language (ESL)/Bilingual Consultant for the Connecticut State Department of Education. One of her responsibilities include conducting site visits to schools and districts to ensure the needs of EL students are met. Her testimony explained who an EL is, how one is identified, and how districts accommodate them.

An EL is defined as a student lacking sufficient access to the curriculum. Spanish speakers constitute 72.4% of ELs in the state. According to Flick, approximately 95% of the programs provided for ELs in the state are Spanish programs.

When a student first enters a district, they are administered a Home Language Survey, which screens for language dominance. The survey also determines the language spoken at home, the language first acquired by the student, and the language the student predominantly speaks. It also concludes if a student meets English language proficiency.

Various services are available to ELs – ESL services, bilingual English programs, and transitional bilingual programs. For ESL services, teachers either push students into a general education class or pull students out to provide additional support. In bilingual English programs, classes emphasis learning both languages. And in transitional bilingual programs, the goal is to transition students in general education classes completely. For all three, the goal is for students to ultimately demonstrate English proficiency.

Students can participate in a transitional bilingual program for up to thirty months, after which they can request the State Department to extend their participation by up to another thirty months. However, there is no restriction on bilingual English programs.

Of the three, transitional bilingual programs are used the most, with thirty-five districts providing them in at least one school. To have such a program, the district must report that at least twenty students speak the same non-English language in one school building before Oct. 1. If it is reported after Oct. 1, then the program is implemented the following school year to provide sufficient time to develop the program’s details.

According to Flick, “Schools are an extension of the districts’ responsibilities.” Her statement indicated accountability for ELs’ education fell predominantly on school administrators and teachers. School districts are responsible for implementing large-scale plans. This includes conducting Home Language Surveys (which screen for students’ language dominance); identifying, placing and serving ELs; ensuring high-quality instruction for ELs; and classifying and reporting ELs to the State Department of Education.

Judge Thomas Moukawsher asked Flick, “In Connecticut are these items being fulfilled?” referring to the pages long list of districts’ responsibilities.

Flick responded, “Some districts do more, some do less.” She went on to discuss how districts have varying numbers of ELs and that over 160 languages are spoken in Connecticut. Ultimately, she said, districts do fulfill basic standards. Whether such basic standards are sufficient will be addressed by the court’s ruling.

image1 (2)

Battle for Equitable Education Funding Continues in Hartford Superior Court

Posted on

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF) is engaged in an ongoing court case against the State of Connecticut in order to fight for every pre-k to grade 12 student to have an adequate and equitable educational opportunity. Their mission is to make certain that school funding is distributed equitably based on the student’s needs in their districts. CCJEF wants to ensure that all students will acquire the supports they need to, even if it means all students do not have the same resources. They argue that all students are not the same and some require additional supports to succeed academically and engage in civic life. They are targeting the school districts with high concentrations of poverty. The goal of this trial is to have adequate funding for each student to prepare them for the rest of their educational careers and set them up for success in their futures.


On Friday morning, courtroom proceedings began with Kathleen Demsey, Chief Financial Officer for the State Department of Education. Previous to being a CFO, Demsey worked as an Education Consultant for the Connecticut Department of Education and as Principal  Budget Specialist at the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management. Demsey received her BA from the University of Connecticut in Management information Systems with a minor in Finance and went on to obtain a MBA from Quinnipiac University.


The line of questioning of Demsey sought to understand her role in the allocation of funding to public schools in Connecticut. She explained that her office is responsible for following the letter of the State and Federal law in an administrative and support role rather than provide policy discretion in this calculation and allocation of funding. The policy decisions which provide funding allocations is the sole responsibility of State Legislators with input from the Governor. Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher consistently worked to clarify the role of the Demsey and the departments she oversees, at one point, he verified, “You take the formula, you do the math, and it spits out a number.”  
According to Demsey, there are a series of calculation adjustments which change the allocation of financial resources provided to individual school districts in the State. The student enrollment calculation is not simply based on total student enrollment. The number of students enrolled in Pre-K programs is used to adjust the per pupil calculation down based on the assumption that most Pre-K programs are half day. There are also factors which will adjust the per pupil calculation up, such as extended school year and additional school day hours. This adjustment would also  include programs such as summer school. In addition, districts receive increased student enrollment calculations for participation in the free and reduced price lunch program. According to Demsey, “Need of the students based on free and reduced school… 30% credit for each students enrolled…” Once these enrollment figures are adjusted, district wealth and income are used the further adjust funding allocations. The median income of a district is used to compare it to the median income of the State as a whole. The series of adjustments is intended to provide more equitable distribution of resources based on the differences community need within the district.IMG_5468-3

Acceleration Agenda Meeting Debuts Mini-Documentary on Progress

Posted on

While everyone was gathered in a small room in the Public Library in Hartford,  teachers and other figures excitedly filled into the room. As the meeting started we all heard from Dr. Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, the Superintendent, gave a brief overview of this program. She described how right now there are 6 schools in the Acceleration Agenda (for summary of the agenda click here. The schools involved are: Thirman Milner Elementary School, Burns Latino Studies Academy, Alfred E. Burr Elementary, Fred D. Wish Elementary School, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, and John C. Clark Elementary School. The main purpose of the Acceleration Agenda is to focus on the urgency to improve the neighborhood schools. After the Hartford Public Schools’ Transition Report (2014) was published, it was reported that there is an “urgency to improve the neighborhood schools, a need to increase systemic focus on teaching and learning, a lack of systematic approach to student interventions, need to create meaningful engagement and partnerships, and need to build the capacity of leaders, teachers, and staff who serve our students,” as reported in the previous link with the summary of the agenda. There is a need for stability and the teacher’s instructional approach is lacking in effectiveness. The Acceleration Agenda focuses on the individual strengths and needs of the students in Hartford. The program created an action plan that addresses educational equity and achievement by creating more support for schools and make practice more consistent.

A very important part of this meeting, which served as a community update, was the debut of a mini-documentary that focused on the progress of the Acceleration Agenda’s implementation. The film, “The Acceleration Agenda: An Equation for Equity” had Spanish subtitles and English subtitles, depending on what language was being spoken. The video began with “This is about a tale of two Hartfords.” A line that sticks out and resonates with the audience. Dr. Beth Schiavino-Narveaz then describes how there are schools in Hartford that are doing really well and then schools are doing poorly and desperately need acceleration. With the implementation of the Acceleration Agenda, people are now looking at what is working and what is not. There were three highlighted topics in this video. The first one the need for strong leadership. With this, teachers and officials must be able to step back and reflect on their goals and what they are aiming for. The second was a powerful focus on instruction. Teachers should be learning with each other and learn how to tailor their needs to their students. Also teachers should look at previous assessments and research and focus on what is working and what is not working. Finally, the video focused on Student Centered Support. With the Acceleration Agenda they put in a family service center. There is also a heavy focus on personalized support for students and the students should be at the center of their learning. Throughout the video we heard from other administrators and teachers about their positive experiences with the Acceleration Agenda.

So far, the schools involved have seen results. 5 out of the 6 schools have reported reductions in chronic absences. All of the 6 schools have see better success in mathematics. So far this Agenda has seen major success in the schools and this mini-documentary was very important in showing the progress. Lauren and me at the Hartford Public Library

A Tale of Two Hartfords: Superintendent Addresses “Acceleration Agenda” for Hartford Public Schools

Posted on

On Tuesday, March 26, Hartford Public Schools Superintendent Beth Schiavino Narvaez hosted an event entitled, “A community Update: Cultivating Equity and Excellence,” at the Albany Branch Hartford Public Library.  In discussing the current state of public education in Hartford, Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez described it as a “Tale of two Hartfords.” She described it as such because there is a presence of both high performing schools, who are nationally regarded for their high levels of achievement, in addition to schools with high need for support and improvement. The focus of the event was their acceleration agenda, which came as a result of the Hartford Public School’s Transition report in 2014. Some of the main themes raised by this report were “a demonstrated urgency to improve neighborhood schools, the need to increase systemic focus on teaching and learning, lack of systematic approach to student interventions, a need to create meaningful engagement partnerships, and a need to build the capacity of leaders, teachers, and staff who serve our students.” This launched the initiative for the acceleration program, which particularly focused on the progress and improvement of six Hartford public schools (Thirman Milner Elementary School, Fred D. Wish Elementary School, Burns Latino Studies Academy, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, Alfred E. Burr Academy, and John C. Clark Elementary School.)

Hartford Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez’ top priority for this year has been to help the Acceleration Agenda succeed and thrive within these public schools. As this agenda was put into place, the superintendent and her cabinet went to many lengths to ensure their plan would create a school environment that would help Hartford students succeed. By talking with each school and their surrounding communities, Narvaez and her team were able to come up with a three step plan to ensure success within the schools. Their focus was on improving leadership, creating powerful relationships between home and school, and focusing on instruction strategies. Within the meeting today Narvaez was able to share how the Acceleration Agenda had impacted these six schools throughout the year. Within these schools there was a clear reduction in absences and dropouts as wells as an increase in math scores throughout all six schools. While these are all significant improvements, Narvaez also wanted to put an emphasis on how the teachers within the schools have taken action to improve their leadership and instruction skills within the classroom. The teacher’s’ goals were to create a classroom environment in which each student felt equally supported. This improvement created a classroom where each student has a very specialized and specific teaching plan. These plans are based off of each students strengths and weaknesses surrounding academics, social interactions, health, and home life.

The proposed solutions offered by the Superintendent and her fellow administrators for the inefficiencies faced by Hartford’s Public School system seemed promising. The focus on student-centered learning and improved, individualized instruction for students with achievement-based needs may well be met within the near future, and we suspect that the HPS system is in good hands. The “Acceleration Agenda” may have initially sounded like a numbers-obsessed scheme to save the hides of administrators, but the student focused approach really exhibited a collective desire to help Hartford’s children see improvements in learning styles and teaching techniques.

Mini Documentary Acceleration


Home Educators Advocate and Show their Appreciation at CT State Capitol

Posted on

Emma Palmieri

Ed Journalism Assignment


On Wednesday, March 23rd I attended CT’s Home Educator’s Day at the state capitol eager to get a glimpse into the illusive world of homeschooled students.  Even as an Educational Studies major at Trinity College I do not often encounter or interact with homeschooled students or those educating them.   The event was organized by families and organizations across the state, including The Education Association of Christian Homeschoolers (TEACH), Connecticut Homeschool Network (CHN), and the National Home Education Legal Defense (NHELD).   I was eager to speak with individuals from all three groups or at least gain some information on their motivations, why there is such a large christian homeschool presence, and (as many of them had experience with the public school system) why they now actively advocate for homeschool instead of, for example, public school reform.

The day persisted was scheduled into several events which included meeting with legislators, presentations by homeschoolers, and activities for the children attending.  I arrived during the “displays and presentations” portion of the day, where different organizations, families and homeschool networks were presenting their work and achievements as well as advocating and pitching homeschool to those who may be interested or on the fence.   There were about 10 displays, most of which belonged to a christian homeschool network known as Classical Conversations or TEACH, another christian faith based homeschool organization.  Several of the other displays belonged to a caterer distributing free cookies (to show appreciation/spread awareness for homeschooling), the CT Homeschool Network, and NHELD who were distributing information on homeschoolers’ rights and how to handle social workers if you should encounter one.

The women working the Classical Conversations table were the first to approach me. Most of their displays were filled with art or science homework and projects completed by homeschooled children or teens.  I explained that I am an Educational Studies major at Trinity College interested in learning about homeschool, but because I was eager to hear their sales pitch, I also explained that I am a parent with a child who will be of kindergarten age next year.   Both of the women I spoke with had been homeschooling for 7 years, and their children had never been to public school.  Why homeschool? I asked.  Their responses were intertwined with their faith based motivations.  They wanted a “more realistic” and domestic experience for their children than public school provided, and  also to cultivate good morals.   When I asked how the faith based approach influences their curriculum, one response was: “We do teach science, but we also teach that God created us, he is the center of the universe.  We recite the 10 Commandments every day.  Stuff like ‘thou shalt not kill’, we do that every morning.”  She also explained that they educate their children at home every day, and meet collectively through the Classical Conversations network once a week to discuss progress and catch up.  The women explained that they receive some training through the network through home-educators workshops, and that they are encouraged to purchase curriculum materials via the Classical Conversations organization.  My final question for the women was how a low income family with two working adults or even a single parent family could afford to homeschool their child, the women I spoke with did have admittedly biased responses as they both had husbands who worked full time for livable wages while they stayed home to homeschool their children “You just make it work, I guess” was the response of one woman, the other nodded in agreement.  I thanked them for their time and information.

Because I arrived during the displays portion of the day, I unfortunately was not able to speak with a legislator about recent accomplishments of homeschoolers.  Through some brief research, though, I discovered homeschool is on the rise.  Homeschool is legal across all 50 states (though some do have different laws/regulations) and by 2011, roughly 3.4% of all school-aged children were homeschooled.  Connecticut alone is estimated to have about 24,000 homeschooled students.  While Connecticut’s numbers are not unique (many states also estimate this number of home-schoolers), more populated states such as California and Florida record an estimate of between 100,000-200,000+ students electing homeschool over public or private institutions.  I am grateful to have been able to attend Connecticut Homeschool day at the state capitol to learn about home-educators as well as for the information I was graciously provided by representatives of Classical Conversations, TEACH, CHN, and NHELD.


In the Concourse Lobby with Displays by Homeschoolers and organizations behind me.  

Helpful links:

The Home Schooled Take the Capitol… to Thank Their Legislators

Posted on

As state Senator Joe Markley begins his opening remarks, eager parents and students brainstorm various questions to ask about both his life and his work. Senator Markley completed his first full term at the age of 27. He describes his youth at the capital being his biggest setback. As one of the younger senators, one of his constant struggles was voting against certain things. “I worried that I would be blamed for saying no; therefore, I constantly said yes”. Currently completing his second term, Markley feels that he is at an advantage compared to his fellow peers. Having experienced the election process at such a young age, Markley encourages younger youth to consider the life of a legislator as a career. Therefore, instead of having to constantly convince legislators to make moralistic decisions, have them come in with desired characteristics- “You don’t win by having a good argument, rather change the people that are up here”. Senator Markley concludes his opening remarks by taking a few questions and inviting people to enjoy the capital for the day.

As the day continues, the parents of TEACH, or The Education Association of Christian Homeschoolers, gathered much like they do every year at the Capitol building. The main organizer said in her speech that they have come to be known as the “cookie people” to the capitol staff. Each parent brought all of their students to demonstrate all that they’ve been learning, to pick up new teaching strategies, to connect with other homeschooling parents, and to thank the legislators that have been advocating for them.

Many of the parents who were present in the Capitol Building were members of one of the many Classical Conversations communities. Classical Conversations is a Christian homeschooling network that offers a plethora of resources to homeschooling parents and their homeschooled children. They hold meetings where students from different families and ages can come and learn together under one parent. Those meetings (frequent or infrequent) serve to create the community aspect many homeschooling parents feel that their students miss out on when they choose to educate them at home. Their students make new friends and thus new partners in learning. They also offer tutoring sessions for homeschooling parents so that all parents (both new and veteran teachers) have the opportunity to stay up to date on new strategies that have been proven effective.

 As we transitioned into the next section, “Excellence in Education” presented by Classical Conversations, we were able to take a closer look into lessons of a “successful” parent-tutor in the Classical Conversations community. In the middle of the room, students begin to sing songs about everything from math to history. The youngest kid singing couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old but could recite a list of squared and cubed numbers as well as their twelve year old peers.There was a sense of pride in their ability to demonstrate their lessons without fear. It was equally present on the faces of the parents watching excitedly in their seats, and on the faces of the students participating. Parents who didn’t have children in the demonstration were equally as thrilled. Afterall, this was exactly what the yearly trips to the capitol had been designed to do. To reassure new and old parents that this was working and that it could work all the way until their children graduated as long as they had the right tools.



Homeschoolers Making a Presence– CT Home Educator’s Day at the Capitol

Posted on

Home Educator’s Day was held on the 23rd of March, 2016 at the Connecticut State Capitol where families who are homeschooling their children gathered to show and share their experiences and successes, and express their appreciation toward their legislators for their work.


In Connecticut, this was the third time Home Educator’s Day was organized. However, Home Educator’s Days are held all over the country with thousands of families attending workshops, presentations, and meetings.

Home educators with their children and people considering homeschooling had the chance to become better informed about homeschooling, to get current information about political issues, to get to know some of the legislators via short scheduled meetings, and even to take a tour in the Capitol.

Families from TEACH-CT, CHN (Connecticut Homeschool Network), CT-CHEER (Connecticut Cooperative of Home Educators East of the River) and NHELD (National Home Education Legal Defense) came to meet their state representatives, and got engaged in the daily activities.

Vice President of TEACH-CT and the organizer of the event Donna Parson emphasized the importance of the presence of people on Home Educator’s Day. She stated “we want to have a presence…There is a stigma about homeschooling…Some of them [legislators] have an idea what they [homeschoolers] are like but never really met them…if we are here, they can meet them here, and you can talk to them, and see that they are normal…You never know how this will affect them [the legislators].

She also added that many homeschoolers who come and make an appointment with the legislators realize that legislators are also people, and they are interested in their concerns. “Homeschoolers are constituents as well,” said Vice President TEACH CT Donna Parson. State Senator Joe Markley claimed at the beginning of the event that “Hopefully people can see some legislators. They should know that they are approachable. Don’t feel intimidated by anyone.”


Each state has their own laws concerning homeschooling, and home education is legal in Connecticut. Parents have the right to provide instruction to their children, according to Connecticut General Statute 10-184. Parents do not have to file any paperwork if they want to provide home education for their children. However, if their children are enrolled in any public school but the parents decide to take them out of the school, they have to write a letter of withdrawal. In addition, there is no obligation on the part of the parents to make their children complete standardized tests, however, it is their responsibility to provide the necessary education to their children via either teaching them or asking friends, relatives to instruct their children, or hiring tutors.


To express their gratitude, homeschoolers gave out free cookies to the legislators. Vice President TEACH-CT Donna Parson said “we were perceived as the cookie people…now we want to be the homeschoolers cookie people.” She added “We want to make the legislators know who we are.” All in all, the point of the day was to raise awareness of homeschooling and change the stigma that is associated with it, and maintain the homeschoolers freedom.



Useful links

Community Comes Together at Hartford Board of Education Meeting

Posted on

We arrived at M.D. Fox Elementary at 4:45 PM and headed to the auditorium where this month’s Hartford Board of Education meeting was being held.  A crowd was already gathering at its closed double-doors. A safety officer guarding the door informed us that they would not be opened until 5:00 pm. At 4:50 the doors were opened. Everyone shuffled in with papers in hand, filled with speeches, data, and open letters. Dozens of members from the Hartford Federation of Teachers, a chapter of American Federation of Teachers, packed in. Each of them sported a white t-shirt adorned with the HFT logo emphasizing their presence. One hung a handwritten sign over her neck that read, “HARTFORD COMMUNITY SHOUT: HARTFORD PUBLIC SCHOOLS DISTRICT IS CUTTING ART OUT.” Attendees lined up at a small folding table accommodating two microphones to sign up to speak. The opportunity to sign up was eliminated once the meeting was called to order by vice chair Beth Taylor, an usual move according to regular attendees noting that meetings typically run for hours. 

Typically, these meetings consist of one or two dozen people. This one filled nearly every seat in the auditorium. The meeting came at the brink of proposed layoffs due to budget cuts and the consolidation of the upper and lower schools at Bulkeley High School’s located on Hartford’s South End. Jobs in the school’s lower school could be eliminated. Luis Delgado, a staff member at Bulkeley was the first to speak at the meeting and set the tone of displeasure, frustration, and confusion of succeeding speakers by declaring that there was a “Trump-like attempt to build a wall to divide us,” referring the school community and the district. Jane Russell, School Governance Council co-chair and a parent of three children who each attended Bulkeley High School expressed concerns over what she felt was a lack of transparency between the board and the council. “Make decisions with us, not to us,” was her request. According to her, budget changes were not voted on by the governance council.IMG_20160315_183003 (1)

Levey Kardulis, the head custodian at Bulkeley pointed out nonessential expenses by the school district. One example he made was the location of the school district’s administrative offices, “paying rent at the G. Fox building,” located in Downtown Hartford where the cost of rent is notoriously high. Operating in a building downtown instead of in one of the vacant properties owned by the district was money that could be going elsewhere. A statement that resonated with many teachers who claimed that their schools lacked necessary implements such as computer labs and library printers.
Another school represented by meeting attendees and speakers was Martin Luther King Elementary located in the city’s North End neighborhood. The building has been in Hartford’s North End since the 1920s. It was Thomas Snell Weaver High before its renaming in the 1970s and members of the community have built ties there. Closure for renovations will require the students to be relocated to a temporary location at the newly renovated West Middle Elementary School in the city’s Asylum Hill neighborhood, a move many have welcomed. However, many in the community fear that instead of a makeover, the school may close for good. One parent stressed the school’s dilapidating physical structure and pointed out the lack of transparency between the school’s community and the school district, a theme that was widespread throughout the evening. As she pleaded for a meeting between the superintendent and parents, twenty community members marched to the front of the auditorium to stand in front of the board wearing green ribbons, in solidarity with the parent speaking. “Yes or no?” She asked again. The answer was yes.

Compensation for Connecticut’s Early Childhood Educators

Posted on
Me in front of the meeting room in the LOB
Me in front of the meeting room in the LOB
The calm before the storm- the meeting was very well attended.
The calm before the storm– the meeting ended up being very well attended.

The Education Committee Hearing held on Monday March 7, 2016 featured many interesting and engaging testimonies on a variety of pressing issues facing the Education Committee in Connecticut. The hearing was newsworthy on many accounts, including discussions about special education and the controversial S.B. No. 380 Act, which would allow for teacher evaluations to be completed without factoring in student performance on exams.

Among the significant Committee bills present on Monday’s full agenda was House Bill No. 5557, an act about the recruitment and retention of early childhood educators. The purpose of the bill is “To establish an early childhood educator compensation schedule for early childhood educators that ensures the retention and recruitment of qualified educators, secures a standard of living that meets such educators’ needs, and reflects the true costs associated with quality standards for early childhood care and education programs.” The bill obliges The Office of Early Childhood to present a new plan for increased compensation as the state moves towards requiring more highly educated teachers in the coming years.

Section 10-16p of H.B.No.5557 necessitates that by 2017, 50% of “designated qualified staff members” (DQSMs), other wise known as lead teachers, have their bachelor’s degree and that by 2020, 100% of DQSMs have a bachelors degree.
Commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood, Myra Jones-Taylor, testified on behalf of her department and described some of the scholarship opportunities they are able to offer early childhood educators in obtaining higher degrees. In 2015 the Office of Early Childhood was able to allocate $968,800 towards helping roughly 250 educators with degree attainment. In the Office of Early Childhood’s Plan to Assist Early Education State Funded Providers to Degree Attainment and Increased Compensation, they cite evidence of the positive impacts that employing well educated teachers has on early learning through encouraging more literacy, developing better student-teacher interactions, and more appropriate instruction.

However, Ms. Taylor acknowledges that without increased compensation, scholarships alone will not be enough to retain early childhood educators. Vice Chairman Robert Sanchez, who cited the consistently low wages received by early educators, and called on the Office of Early Development to make meaningful changes, aggressively pursued this point. The average early childhood care worker receives on average only $10.44 per hour, which is less than half of what a female elementary school teacher can expect to earn.
While Commissioner Jones-Taylor agreed with Representative Sanchez’s critique of the current situation, she did call attention to the paradox that increased compensation creates for early childhood education, explaining that without an increase in their budget the Office of Early Childhood is forced to decide between increasing wages of educators, but limiting the number of children the Office can serve, or keeping wages stagnant and continuing to serve more children. “I do have serious concerns about the fiscal impact of this legislation,” said Taylor in her testimony, “To ensure providers have the ability to pay these higher required wages, the OEC would have to raise the per-child rate to providers. With no additional new funds expected in this fiscal climate, the OEC would serve fewer children.”

When questioned by Representative Sanchez about “unspent funds” that can be tapped into, Ms. Taylor responded that legislation passed in 2015 now allows for up to $1 million of unspent School Readiness funds to be used for scholarships. However, Jones-Taylor warned against using these funds to adjust the pay structure, in her response to Representative Sanchez, because the numbers fluctuate year to year.

Nonetheless, Jones-Taylor and the Office of Early Childhood demonstrated their commitment to finding a solution to the problem of increasing compensation and retention among early childhood educators. The Office of Early Childhood is launching a Cost of Quality Study to better analyze the costs and benefits associated with excellent early education while also addressing better wages for the educational actors. “The OEC believes the best course of action is to review the results of the Cost of Quality Study before placing a new mandate on providers we cannot afford in this new economic reality,” concluded Ms. Jones-Taylor, “We will continue to develop strategies to ensure we have a robust pipeline of talent into the field and incentives to retain them.”

They Have Come This Far

Posted on
Myself outside the hearing room with C4D activist and student Alison.
 Outside the hearing room with C4D activist and student Alison

As political candidates argue over the role and rights of undocumented immigrants, the Connecticut General Assembly’s Higher Education Committee heard public testimony on SB 147 AN ACT ASSISTING STUDENTS WITHOUT LEGAL IMMIGRATION STATUS WITH THE COST OF COLLEGE.  The bill is sponsored by Representative Haddad, a member of the Higher Education Committee and Senate President Martin Looney.

The bill proposed would further the mission of a recent statute that grants in-state tuition to undocumented students that attended at least two years of high school in Connecticut. This bill would further the assistance it gives to undocumented students acknowledging that many undocumented students cannot afford the in-state prices and need institutional aide. Many students came from Connecticut Students for a Dream testified to the burden of college tuition and the need for resources available to all other in-state students. Students spoke to the limitations they face when deciding to go to college because of the lack of resources available to undocumented students.

The Executive Director of LPRAC, Werner Oyandel, made a moral argument backed with an argument to address the common opposition of spending tax-payer dollars on undocumented students. Oyandel’s testimony identified that the institutional aide is revenue f

Executive Director of LPRAC, Werner Oyanadel, testifies on behalf of S.B 147

rom the college and not covered by taxes. He argued that all students contribute and that undocumented students should have the ability to access the necessary resources to attend college.

Senator Looney, the Senate President and sponsor of the bill, testified and made similar arguments to Oyandel. Looney called the bill in his testimony, “compassionate fair and pragmatic” as well as economic “CT invested in K12 and nurtured educated and it makes no sense to cut off now, when we know students need higher education beyond high school.” Looney emphasized the economic argument and Higher Education Chair Representative Willis agreed by mentioning a recent study saying that “States going to move ahead in economic policy are states that have welcoming policies.”

With the senate president and the leadership backing this bill, it should be a bill destine to pass in both the house and senate. Even major stakeholders such as UCONN, support the bill and provided written testimony open to financial aid being made available to undocumented students. Why did it not pass when previous legislation was proposed last year? I asked a group of students around me, all in frustration openly shared that budget hold ups prevented the bill from going to the House floor, even though it had passed in the Senate. So what is next for a bill that has support and no clear vocal opposition?

The bill will need to make it out of committee and then passed in both the House and Senate. For students both in high school and college, it must be done now. Dozens of students both undocumented and documented came in support of a bill that would allow undocumented students, many of which have lived in Connecticut almost their entire lives, to have the financial opportunity to seek higher education. One student left the meeting with a message that is often told too many times by undocumented students. Joseline came to America with her parents when she was less than a year old and as she grew up was faced with the looming implications of being an undocumented student. Joseline is now in college, but understands that she is lucky to have the financial opportunities that many of her peers and fellow activists do not have.

Like most education reforms, here lies another of students and families looking for a seat at the table and power to have the same opportunities as other students living in Connecticut. As partisan politics paint citizens like Joseline as an illegal or undocumented, legislators in Connecticut are looking change the narrative and create financial opportunities for students that have the ability to go to college, but need financial assistance. Undocumented students have come this far in many ways. They have gotten through high school graduations, granted in-state tuition, the next step is institutional financial aid. Undocumented activists and advocates have made the argument and now will wait for the political game to unfold to see if S.B 147 will pass or die in a holding pattern like last year.


Debating over the children’s appearance during permanency hearing

Posted on

Debating over the children’s appearance during permanency hearing


On 23rd February, the Children Committee Hartford discussed about whether the committee should pass S.B. No 180. Bill 180 states that “To enable children twelve years of age and older who are under the custody of the Department of Children and Families to have a more prominent voice during permanency hearings, to require youth advisory councils at certain child care facilities, to require the department to provide foster care family profiles to foster children and to solicit feedback from certain foster children to better recruit, train and retain high-quality foster parents.”1

During the public hearing, on one side state representative Noreen Kokoruda, Sarah Eagan, state committee advocate, Bianca Rey and Zoe Stout all believed that Bill 180 was a very necessary and important bill which could be a life changing, potentially. On the other side, the commissioner of Department of Children and Family, Joette Katz and few Representatives raised some different voices.

Sarah Eagan, state committee advocate, wanted to ensure that the children had the opportunities to meaningfully participate in the meeting or hearing if that’s what they want to do.

According to Bianca Rey, junior policy fellow of Connecticut Voices of Children, “S.B. 180 made Connecticut a leader in this nationally. Youth should be engaged as early as possible in determining their own future while transportation to the hearing could be a challenge for a child who is about 12 years old. So we really do encourage you to support this bill because it really is the key to meaningful and full-youth engagement than just youth-name engagement only.”

On the other side, Joette argued that she didn’t oppose to this bill while it shouldn’t be mandating. Sometime children’s lawyers may feel differently from their participation and may go through a waiver process which could be complicated. Also Barbara Claire, legal director of Department of Children and Families, stated that usually these parents are at the hearing and they might discuss about the abuse or neglect that the child had gone through. The children should choose whether they want to go to the hearing, rather than mandating. In her testimony, she also stated that it caused a significant fiscal impact of transportation while Noreen opposed that “I know it’s a significant fiscal impact. But sometimes dollar spent are the right dollars.”

Another debate between Zoe Stout and Representative Kelly Luxenburg was about how the youth were notified to the court proceeding and how willing they were to go to the courts by themselves. Zoe answered that youth should be notified fourteen days ahead the permanency hearing. However, the problem was the notice from the court usually were sent to DCF office, rather than actually going to the youth themselves. She also claimed that at least most of her clients wanted to go to the court, not only to say what they want to say, but also what people say about them. Kelly also questioned what if there was sensitive information in the court room that the youth shouldn’t hear. Zoe explained that firstly, the youth can be excused at any time from the court. What’s more, she believed that “people sometimes were over-sensitivity. Youth have lived it. They know better than any of us in the room what they have experienced at home.”

During the hearing, there were two girls who showed their supports to Bill 180 since both of them have been through the hearing process. Lishkaly Padilla who is 17 years old never got involved into any hearing and felt her voices were not heard by DCF. She had gone to a foster family where she was treated badly. So she suggested that written foster family profiles should be given to children before they moved to a new home which could make them feel more comfortable. Ronaelle Williams, a 20-year-old girl, had been presented at one hearing which she had a chance to talk to the judge herself. She believed that children should have a say and their voices mattered.


Community College Student Tuition Increase to Provide for Campus Safety?

Posted on


Shouldn’t all college campuses have a form of security? Should campus safety officers be armed? Why it is that only college campuses with residences deserve campus security guards?

At a public hearing held yesterday, February 18, 2016 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, CT, these were a few of the questions being asked.

What was the topic of discussion? Higher Education and campus safety, a topic, according to Representative Robertta Willis that has been “unresolved for ongoing years.”

Me at the LOB
Me at the LOB

Many of the topics that were brought to discussion by the president of Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, Mark Ojakian focused on the safety of Community College students and his belief that all community colleges within the state should be equipped with post certified police force officials. Ojakian states that providing Community colleges with armed security will reduce in response times of local police if any incidents were to occur on campus.

This possible proposal, if passed, would provide approximately 11 community colleges with armed security officials. However, cost was one of the main questions on many of the representatives’ minds. Representative Robertta Willis gave approximations to the number of armed guards that would be need. She states that approximately 70-100 officers would be divided among all 11 community college campuses. Representative Juan Candelaria inquired as to whether college tuition would increase were this proposal to be pursued. He indicated that an increase in tuition could lead to multiple minorities being unable to afford higher education. Being of Latino descent, Representative Candelaria made it clear that tuition increase would lead to “…having less people who look like me, afford college.”

Mark Ojakian responded by informing all representatives and the public, that there would be no increase in college tuition if armed forces were to be added to community colleges. He did, however, state that it would be up to each college to decide whether or not they would want to implement armed forces to their campus.

It appears that the majority of students currently attending community colleges are in support of the implementation of armed campus safety officials and, generally, of at least an official presence on campus to create a more secure learning environment. There is no doubt an inequality in that students attending four year residence colleges and universities are given the comfort of an armed presence and begs the question of discrimination against students attending community colleges.

President Ojakian’s three prong plan focuses on providing community colleges with armed security, enforced insight on mental health, and assessing each community college campus. He does state that it would be at the choice of each college to decide if they would like to provide the funds necessary for all these assets. He does suggest that a strong focus on Mental health be instituted into each community college campus and highlights that post certified officials will have the opportunity to provide assistance to students who require special services.

If student tuition funds would not increase, where will these funds to input armed security onto community college campuses?

Inside the hearing
Inside the hearing