SR Reporting on SB1002

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Overwhelming Support Presented on Bill to Create Community Schools 

 On the morning of Monday, March 4th, 2013, the Education Committee held a public hearing at the Connecticut General Assembly regarding Senate Bill 1002, An Act Concerning Community Schools: If passed, this bill would mandate that each school district designated by the legislation must nominate two elementary schools and one high school within their district to act as full service community schools, beginning 2014. Such community schools would serve the purpose of uniting community programs and organizations to provide, “comprehensive educational, developmental, family, health and wrap-around services during non-school hours for students, families and community members,” as stated by Werner Oyanadel, the Acting Executive Director of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.

Support for Senate Bill 1002 was presented from both national and local perspectives. Shital C. Shah, the assistant director of the American Federation of Teachers, noted teacher’s accountability of a student’s success, while stressing that, “research shows that family and community ties are essential in order for schools to educate our children.” Shah went on to state that SB 1002 would, “build the bridge between [schools] and the community so together they [can] address the barriers and challenges our students and families face on a daily basis.” The testimony of Steven Hernández, the Director of Public Policy and Research for the Connecticut Commission on Children, provided a local perspective on the positive bearings SB 1002 could generate. Hernández believes that the implementation of community schools will assist some neighborhoods of Connecticut in “breaking cycles of poverty through education and healthy development.” Specifically, when outlying the benefits the services a community school could potentially provide, Hernandez affirms that these schools would ensure that, “the basic physical, social, emotional, and economic needs of young people and their families are met.”

Others who testified in support of SB 1002 include Lori Pelletier, Secretary-Treasurer of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, and Susan Weisselberg, Chief of Wraparound Services for New Haven Public Schools. April Goff Brown, the Director of comprehensive youth services department of Catholic Charities, testified in favor of SB 1002, offering the suggestion of tailoring specific community schools to modified levels of engagement varying by communal needs. Melodie Peters, the President of AFT Connecticut, an affiliate of AFL-CIO in which Peters is the Vice President, stated that the bill should be passed because “we [AFL-CIO] do believe it does take a village, and if primary needs of family and children are addressed, the more receptive children will be.” Peters identified the central issue as the lack of opportunities faced by many families, and stated that the establishment of Community Schools would, “provide needed services to students and families at these schools.” Namely, those who testified in favor of the bill believed that the services the implemented schools would provide are necessary for the academic success of students. The availability of “wrap-around” services will increase the academic success of students by creating opportunities that would eliminate the poverty, hunger, lack of health care, and other obstacles in communities that are directly correlated with academic failure. It is commonly said throughout the education system that a student who is hungry cannot focus on a lesson, and community schools evoke this ideology.

Though little opposition to the bill was offered, senators on the Education Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly did ask questions pertaining to the legality and ethics of SB 1002. Morally, Senator Andrea Stillman, though in agreement with the bill, asked the question of parental involvement. She noted that she came from an underprivileged background where English was not the language she had spoken at home. Stillman questioned whether these programs would be ethical in “imposing on the parental role” by requiring a significant level of government involvement. Specifically in regards to nutrition, Stillman commented on the imposition of those outside of the familial unit (teachers, nurses, even government officials) and questioned where parental roles should begin and end. Legally, State Representative Andrew Fleischmann brought into question the specific text of the legislature, and inquired about how the bill seeks to order districts to deem current public schools as new community schools, compared to creating new facilities. Fleischmann mumbled, “I’m not sure how you’re interpreting the text that way,” when Oyanadel sought to explicate the bill’s proposal to “encourage” districts to appoint schools rather than “forcing” this selection.














More Funding= More Diversity: Addressing the Issue of Racial Imbalance in West Hartford’s Magnet Schools

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More Funding = More Diversity

Addressing the Issue of Racial Imbalance in West Hartford’s Magnet Schools

By Amanda Gurren and Emma Hayes

The Connecticut State Board of Education Assembles

HARTFORD, CT–On Wednesday March 6th, the Connecticut State Board of Education assembled at the Capitol Building in Hartford, Connecticut. Members of the Board, including Commissioner Stefan Pryor, opened with kind words in remembrance of a colleague, Ellen Camhi—a member of the State Board of Education since March 2011. Camhi was regarded as having “a fierce commitment to providing opportunities that would result in significant improvements to academic achievement for all students, including those who need greater assistance.” After kind words and memories were shared amongst the Board, a brief time was allotted to members of the audience. They were then given the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding pressing education issues of the Connecticut public school system. Invitations were extended out for the Board to attend. Concerns of escalating racism in the schools were voiced and emphasis was placed on the need to close the student achievement gap across the state. Members of the West Hartford Board of Education then came to the floor to address the racial imbalance in the Florence E. Smith STEM School and Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford. The meeting continued as scheduled.

The West Hartford Board of Education along with the district’s superintendent passionately began proposing their plan to promote racial diversity in two of their magnet schools, with the hope of approval from the State Board of Education. The eyes of the West Hartford Board of Education members lit up with great hope for the community as they began to explain their proposal. The audience was asked to direct their attention to their right, where a plasma television screen fiercely projected a simple yet efficient power point and in essence, the vision held for the future of West Hartford.

The Board of Education Listens to Proposal to Decrease Racial Imbalance in Magnet Schools

The reason for this meeting  was due to a report received by the Connecticut State Board of Education on May 17th 2012. The report revealed that the Florence E. Smith STEM school and Charter Oak International Academy were deemed racially imbalanced. The Connecticut State Board of Education subsequently asked the West Hartford Board to come forth and explain ideas to fix the racial imbalance within the schools. The West Hartford Board accredited their failure to overcome racial imbalance in their magnet programs to the lack of available magnet slots in the respective schools. Their vision for West Hartford is that all of the schools reflect the rich diversity found in the community as they achieve at the highest level. In addition they expressed their hopes to start at pre-school, confident in the belief that the earlier the youth embark upon education, the more of an impact education will have upon the children.

Similarly, the vision they have for Charter Oak International Academy is that of a magnet where students from all over the area are eager to attend due to its unique educational offerings—“The school that everyone wants to attend,” a member of the board exclaimed with utmost enthusiasm. The board smiled in agreement. The representative continued, voicing his hope that the school will be composed of an expressive, curious, collaborative, and creative student body with an enhancement of academic achievement.

The proposal is to increase the proportion of magnet students to approximately half the student population of each school by increasing classroom space. The West Hartford Board proposes to add onto Charter Oak’s building, a luxury Smith does not have due to lack of space. Yet they propose to set aside fifty spaces at Charter Oak to accommodate transfer students from Smith. Specifically in attempt to draw students from other attendance zones, the West Hartford Board intends to expand out-of-school activities and gifted level instruction for all grades. They also propose having math acceleration for kindergarten to fifth grade students as well as the option for eighty students to enroll in a pre-kindergarten program.

The West Hartford Board is thus requesting grant funding for the purpose of school construction in accordance with Section 10-286h of the Connecticut General Statutes, which allows construction reimbursement for schools deemed as “diverse” by the state. Although both magnet schools are technically considered racially imbalanced in the eyes of the state, the section says “If one or more schools under the local board’s jurisdiction is racially imbalanced and such board has demonstrated evidence of a good-faith effort to correct the existing disparity in the proportion of pupils of racial minorities in the district, as determined by Commissioner of Education”, a district is suitable for the grant.

The West Hartford Board appeared incredibly eager to begin the project and expand both schools’ influence over the community of West Hartford. Their vision, however, cannot become a reality without the proper funding. They express their acknowledgment of the racial imbalance, but draw everyone’s attention again to the plasma screen television and begin reading down the bulleted list at the steps they have taken thus far. They argue that they already have extended the distinctiveness of the offerings at each respective magnet school—International Baccalaureate (IB) at Charter Oak and STEM at Smith. Additionally, the board has increased the marketing effort for both magnet schools, in hopes of attracting a larger and more diverse applicant pool. Although there has been a recent improvement in results, the numbers will not get below the 25% threshold with the current approach alone and thus, more funding is a vital component for the success of their proposal.

Hartford Office of Talent Management Seeks to Close Student Achievement Gap

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On Tuesday, March 5, the Hartford Board of Education gathered in the library of Hartford Public High School to hold a workshop meeting.  At roughly 5:30pm, the meeting commenced with a brief introduction and expression of gratitude from the Chairman, Matthew K. Poland, to the parents, teachers, and other observers who filled the room.  After discussing the School Climate Data Review, the Board transitioned to the Talent Management Report.  This report, led by the Hartford Office of Talent Management, aims to significantly improve Hartford public schools by employing energetic and talented educators with the intent of closing the present student achievement gap.

      Headed by the Chief Talent Officer Jennifer Allen, seven representatives from the Hartford Office of Talent Management began their presentation. She explained that as part of Hartford’s school reform initiative to close achievement gaps among students, the Human Resources Department was converted into the Office of Talent Management (OTM) in October of 2010.  As stated in the handouts available to the guests, the purpose of the OTM is to “ensure that each school is led by an effective leader and that each leader has the support to develop and retain highly qualified teachers from recruitment to induction and ultimately through their career path development”.  Allen stressed that their office aims to seek extremely intelligent and effective teachers, with a special focus on retention. The OTM will not simply look at the mechanics but at what they can offer these teachers to help guide them towards attaining greater student achievement.  She then introduces the five departments of the office, which she calls the “buckets” for the “deliverables”, or in other words the catalysts for their accomplishments.

The five departments of the Office of Talent Management include: Recruitment, Staffing, Professional Development, Performance Management, and Information Management.  Each objective was explained by a different representative of the OTM, all with different goals and intentions.  Tasha Cannon, Coordinator of Recruitment, after having already met with 44 prospects as educators for the 2012-2014 school year, noted that the most challenging and important part of her task is convincing these intelligent and qualified prospects to actually apply for positions as teachers in the Hartford public school system.

As someone who was educated in Hartford school systems, Natasha Durrant, Director of Staffing, had a unique interest in creating a culture that allows people to grow, learn, and connect in many ways.  As she explained, her job entails keeping up efficient and effective employee relations, or simply providing custom service.  One of her goals included “increasing the satisfaction of our human capital managers (principals) to 95% or better”.  The current rate of satisfaction is 85%.  After Board member Richard F. Wareing questioned how satisfaction is measured, Durrant replied that this evidence is concluded through multiple surveys given to the principals.   She noted that the current rate is 85%, and after being questioned by the Board member Richard F. Wareing how satisfaction is measured, she replied that they conclude this evidence through multiple surveys.

Joanne Manginelli, Director of Professional Learning, commented that her job is to ensure the retention of effective teachers and leader as well as assess what the children are learning and to implement an instructional core that is “supported by a rigorous curriculum… that addresses the needs of the diverse learners within the Hartford Public Schools”.  She stated, “we want to retain our ‘irreplaceables’”, or their highly valuable teachers.  Similarly, the Director of Performance Management, Scott Nicol, pointed out that one of the most important aspects of student performance is to retain teacher effectiveness. Also, increasing the number of classroom observations will help measure the credibility of a teacher and make sure he or she is effectively teaching the students.  With more accurate measurements of teacher performance, students will benefit from more effective methods of teaching and in turn be more likely to perform well in the classroom.  The most significant measurement of performance is the increase in the number of classroom observations.  Compared to last school year, when the number of required observations was 1,000, the number this year is 4,000.  They plan to require 5,000 by the 2013-2014 school year.

Guillermo Garcia, Director of Information Management, spoke about the last of the five departments.  His department’s objective is to convert the employee life cycle into an information life cycle, which would collect, process, maintain, disseminate, and archive all of the OTM’s data.  They want to create a data warehouse, which will be set up as a reporting tool to allow information from different departments to be integrated and linked.  These enhanced reporting capabilities would provide increased feedback on what needs improvement.

To end the entire presentation, Allen, the Chief Talent Officer, restores her turn with the microphone and quickly summarizes the priorities, or as she calls them the “deliverables” of the OTM.  She emphasized the need to “integrate culturally responsive pedagogy into the core instruction”, and explained how the office is “working on building a diverse talent pipeline”.  Her method of “grow your own” relates to the concept of attracting educators with Hartford roots, like the OTM’s very own Natasha Durrant, to come back and teach.  This idea is also heavily stressed in the informational video, which is more like a sales pitch, on the homepage of the Office of Talent Management’s website.

During the “questions” segment after the presentation, the OTM representatives met a bit of criticism and uncertainty from the Board of Education members.  In particular, a moment of extreme tension was felt by everyone in the room when the Chairman, Poland, expressed his disdain for the term “human capital” by naming it his pet peeve and saying it “leaves me feeling stone cold… do not call our people ‘human capital’… seems like we’re doing this for numbers and metrics, not for people…doesn’t feel right”.  His chastisement was met with Allen’s awkward understanding and follow-up defensive remark, “I hope you wouldn’t think that’s our attitude about working with people”.

After several questions regarding the rate of attrition for principals, the result of potential continuous attrition of educators, and the strategy for underperforming teachers, Manginelli vaguely responded with a strategy that included making sure these underperforming teachers have what they need to move forward and progress and to make certain that principals are participating in this process of increasing teacher performance as well.  She also noted a strategy she called “peer coaching” where educators from different schools and districts could meet and discuss ideas and methods of improving their performance.

Although this discussion did not end in a concise manner where definitive action was decided upon, the presentation and the questions asked by the Board of Education helped clarify the main goals of the Office of Talent Management for the years to come as well as the means of attaining these goals.  Manginelli pointed out that the OTM is looking forward to working toward developing a baseline, which will not begin until the 2013-2014 school year is in session.  Even though there were some discrepancies with the implementation of the Office’s goals, it is a promising attempt at future educational policy reform in the heart of Connecticut.

Hartford Public Schools call for Accountability among Parents, Teachers, Students in School Climate Review

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At 5:30 pm, on March 5, 2013, we attended a special meeting of the Hartford Board of Education; the meeting was presided over by Dr. Matthew K. Poland, former Chief Executive Officer of Hartford Public Library. Other members of the Board of Education who were present included Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, Dr. Christina Kishimoto and Hartford Mayor, Pedro Segarra. The public session opened 15 minutes late, and members of the Board were seen scurrying to their seats after a closed meeting in the back of the library (the meeting was held at the Mark Twain Branch of the Hartford Public Library located at Hartford Public High School).

Dr. Poland greeted everyone and urged the first presenters to take their seats at the front table in order to begin the meeting. The first presenters were from the Office of Pre-K-12 Education (Hartford Public Schools Central Office). The lead presenter was Jonathan Swan, Assistant Superintendent of Pre-K-12 Education and Sarah Horkel, School  Leadership Support Coordinator from the Office of Pre-K-12 Education.


Mr. Swan opened the meeting by introducing his team and some interesting findings from the School Climate Surveys that were implemented throughout the District. Students, teachers, parents and administrators took the survey to give honest feedback which would gauge:


“the perceptions of the school through multiple lenses…” as Swan explained.


The presenters went on to explain tremendous consistencies in many statistics that the survey evaluated, including, parent participation  the survey, where Hartford Schools has matched the previous year’s 80% benchmark target.

Ms. Horkel introduced the alarming trends  that some of the surveys pointed to in several schools throughout the district. In some of the district’s target schools (lower-performing schools), students were more likely to respond negatively to a question regarding peer culture: this pointed to the fact that students experience bullies or other negative interactions with peers more frequently in these types of schools (not a problem that magnet and charter schools in Hartford experienced as frequently – as indicated by the surveys).

After Ms. Horkel brought this concern to the table, Dr. Poland with a rather astonished look on his face asked for more clarification. He explained how this was a pressing issue that should be addressed further. It was clear that several members on the Board (by their expressions and mannerisms) were not fully content with the presentation that the Office of Pre-K-12 Education was giving them about the peer culture in Hartford Schools. Mayor Segarra and Chairman Poland suggested a more comprehensive analysis for this issue, including a deeper look at where the children who took these surveys resided (Hartford students v. suburban Choice parents).

Members of the Achieve Hartford! committee, who partnered on this survey, continued to share their information about the 2013 Report on School Climate and Student Connectedness in Hartford Public Schools. Achieve Hartford is a local non-profit organization that works to attain high levels of achievement from students and increased parent particiption in Hartford schools. They mentioned how the participation numbers for parents are relatively low and discussed a need to get more parents involved in the survey.

Review from the Board of Education brought up questions of parenting and more specifically how well parents understand their children’s schools; the discussion is that parents rated their schools much higher in safety and fair treatment as opposed to their children who on average rated the schools about a point lower. Some of the most important questions in the parent survey were about whether the child is safe at the school and whether the child is treated fairly at the school. The responses to the survey were scored on a 1-5 scale with 5 being the highest. Results for the parent survey showed that on average parents rated school safety at 4.2 and peer climate at 4.3. In comparison students rated their school safety at 3.4 and their peer climate at 3. The Board of Education made it a point to focus on what might be getting lost in translation between students and parents and what can be done to alleviate this problem. No particular answer to this problem was posed at the meeting but all parties involved agreed that they should look further into it.

Board member Richard F. Wareing pointed out that in order to move forward the next step for the Office of Pre-K-12 Education would be to find out why the three subgroups (staff, students and parents) had different responses on the survey. If the Achieve Hartford committee is able to follow up and discover why there are such significant differences between the perceptions of teachers, students and parents then the Board of Education will be able to put together new plans that will help Hartford schools.

The main goal of the Report on School Climate and Student Connectedness in the Hartford Public Schools was to gather more information about how school participants actually feel about their environment. The results show that students have a fairly low opinion of their schools but the results should also provide a renewed motivation among parents and teachers to do their best to address these issues.

To learn more about Achieve Hartford please visit


Opening Education Policy to High Schoolers

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A Day on the Hill is an incredible event of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE). The event allows for superintendents, school administrators, and students to hear from and talk with state legislators about issues surrounding education policy.

The event included remarks by Govenor Dannel P. Malloy, Senator Andrea Stillman, Representative Andy Fleishmann, and Senator Toni Boucher. These legislators play a large role in the realm of education. Senator Stillman acts as the Senate Chair of the legislature’s Education Committee as of January 2013. Fleishmann serves as Chairman of the Education Committee and Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Elementary and Secondary Education. Senator Boucher is the Senate Ranking Member of the Education Committee and of its Higher Education Committee as well as acting as a member of the General Assembly’s Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee.

After the morning briefings and remarks, participants walk to the capitol. In the online brochure, this time is marked as “Education Funding Rally.” Interestingly, that title is not on the agenda of the group. Instead this timeframe is marked as “March to the Capitol.” The students “marched” to the capitol from across the street at the Bushnell with intentions of touring while lobbyists talked to legislators. This action consisted of lobbying rather than a true “rally.” From 1:00-1:30, the agenda is marked “Student Conversations.” It is  between the march and a scheduled capitol tour that I come upon five senior girls from John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, CT.

In the lobby of the capitol building, groups of two to five people are engaged in conversations. NBC Connecticut news staff walk past in a hurry. Further in the lobby, a large group of high-school aged students are seated at tables. I approach a table of business-dressed teenage girls and ask about the event. After some introductions, they each agree to be interviewed and photographed.

The girls recall the discussion topics from that morning. They explain that it was a long morning with a range of topics covered. Each girl seems to remember a different aspect as they all interrupt each other. “The governor talked about the budget” “-and school security, after you know, Newt-“ “They talked about special ed.” The scattered recollections of these high school seniors demonstrate the vast coverage of the event, but also what aspects stood out to them.

Gonzalez handed me her packet to leaf through. An itinerary is followed by biographies of each of the legislators present at the event. The last two pages identify bills that the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education is currently following. I point out a few and these seniors do not seem to remember which ones in particular were discussed at the Bushnell. The budget seems to be the most prevalent discussion, according to these participants in particular. The “Education Funding Rally” title of the time slot seems to make sense despite its absence from personal itineraries.

Looking through the various CABE bills, two directly reference the issues of budget; one addresses implementation while the other discusses the Department of Education reporting an annual budget. Other concerns include innovations in schools, alternative programs, English-language learners, and the achievement gap. The two that impact the structure and implementation of budget concerns were listed. Looking into the Connecticut General Assembly site, the bills and their status are as follows.

Connecticut House Bill 6357, an act implementing the budget recommendations of the Governor concerning education, consists of 52 pages, available on the Connecticut General Assembly website ( This bill was introduced and referred to the Joint Committee on Education February 7, 2013 and discussed at the public hearing February 15, 2013.1

Connecticut State Bill 998 AAC was introduced and referred to the Joint Committee on Education February 27, 2013 and discussed at the public hearing March 4, 2013.2This bill requires the Department of Education to report annual budgets of regional education service centers to the Connecticut General Assembly.

These bills require looking into for an understanding. The bills may have been directly referenced at the briefings at the Bushnell, but the particular high school seniors I talked to could not refer to them. While they could not point out the specifics of the bills, their understanding of educational policy and its impact, they agreed, was bettered by their attendance at A Day on the Hill. I asked them of their interest in educational policy in their futures.

“I want to be a teacher,” Laccone answered. “I am definitely interested in it,” Biggins stated, “in policy.” The five girls seem bright-eyed and new to the field. As seniors, a new chapter is just beginning for them. They each tell me which college they are attending in the fall. Their plans for future involvement are open-ended. A teacher had selected them from their high school to attend the event. Overall, the event opened the eyes of these high school seniors to the complexities of educational policy and its impact.


1 Connecticut General Assembly. (2013, March). Bill Status  (Governor’s H.B. No. 6357). Retrieved from

2 Connecticut General Assembly. (2013, March). Bill Status  (Raised S.B. No. 998). Retrieved from

West Hartford Board of Education Looking for Support for Their Plans for “Unique Schools”

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On March 6, 2013 the Connecticut State Board of Education met in the State Office Building in room 307 at 9:30 AM. This meeting began a little different than normally due to the unexpected passing away of one of the members of the board, Ellen Camhi. After the usual pledge of alliance there was a moment of silence in memoriam of Ellen followed by a speech by the chairperson of the board, Allan B. Taylor, commemorating Ellen’s honor. Taylor remembers Ellen as someone who “cares deeply and passionately about public education.” But the commemoration of a board member was not the only unusual activity of the Board today.

After the commemoration of the memory of Ellen Camhi, the meeting proceeded through the agenda. Rather than running straight through the agenda, the board skipped around from number II, Public Participation, to number VIII A, Items Requiring Action: West Hartford Plan to Increase Racial Diversity In its Unique Schools, causing a little confusion for a first timer at the meeting and making it a little harder to follow. However, it was easy to figure out what the topic being discussed was based on the presentation with the help of the printed out agenda.

After the public participation presented, the board jumped right into the issue number VIII A, which was “West Hartford Plan to Increase Racial Diversity in its Unique Schools.”

Members of the West Hartford School District along with one of the founders and a politician dealing with the “unique schools” Charter Oak and Smith in the West Hartford district were presenting their plan for the future with these schools. Charter Oak and Smith were granted “unique school” status by the Commissioner of Education. In the “Regulations to Implement the Racial Imbalance Law”, a “unique school” is defined as “an interdistrict or intradistrict magnet, local or state charter, lighthouse, regional vocational agriculture, regional vocational-technical, alternative, or special education school or other school designated by the Commissioner which offers specialized programs or provides for the voluntary enrollment of students.”[1]

The Racial Imbalance Law was passed to help increase the racial diversity of schools, and requires schools to have a certain percentage of minority students. However, the status of Charter Oak and Smith as “unique schools” makes them exempt from the Racial Imbalance Law. Despite these exemptions, the presentation at the Connecticut State Board of Education meeting today displayed that both Charter Oak and Smith schools will be at 61 percent, which is higher than the 41 percent district average.

The new plan that the West Hartford Board of Education presents is possible because the schools, Charter Oak and Smith, now qualify as diversity schools.  According to West Hartford News, “a Diversity School enrolls a percentage of minority students that varies from the average district minority population plus or minus 25 percent, according to the board.”[2]

Furthermore, this legislation provides access to more money as well as the possibility for up to 80 percent state reimbursement for construction.[3]

The new plan that West Hartford has planned will hopefully increase the racial diversity in its unique schools, Charter Oak and Smith. In addition to the increase in diversity, the West Hartford Board of Education claimed to have plans to create build a new building, which would allow the school to accommodate more students, to improve its marketing, as well as its programs such as a more expansive pre-k offering.

After the presentation made by members of the West Hartford Board of Education, the chairperson of the Connecticut State Board of Education, Allan B. Taylor, opened the floor for questions, starting first with questions purely dealing with the facts about the school before moving on from there. Surprisingly, many members of the Connecticut State Board of Education were unsure of what defined a school as a “unique school” and Attorney Laura L. Anastasio, who is a member of the Division of Legal and Governmental Affairs who works with the West Hartford Board of Education and was on panel for the presentation helped to clarify these confusions.

Finally, Board member Joseph J. Vrabely Jr. asked the presenters to clear up some of his confusion, most importantly being “what exactly is being asked of the Board?” Laura, once again took the initiative to answer this question. Laura first acknowledges the uniqueness of the situation that West Hartford is embarking upon. There are no other schools in the state of Connecticut that are considered “unique schools”, Charter Oak and Smith School are the only two. Therefore, there is not a plan filed in Racial Imbalance Requirements Statue nor is there much documentation on how to proceed. Therefore, the West Hartford Board of Education is “asking for support rather than formal approval.” They are hoping that by having the Connecticut State Board of Education, institutional support, that it will help them win support over the Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

By having no precedent, the West Hartford Board of Education on what the correct procedure is for insuring that their plan for the future of Charter Oak and Smith School can move forward without any delays or obstructions.

With the support of the Connecticut State Board of Education, the West Hartford Board of Education hopes to cover all of its bases. Furthermore, the West Hartford Board of Education expects that if the town of West Hartford or any other organization tries to interfere with their plans for Charter Oak and Smith School that the support from the Connecticut State Board of Education will help to alleviate these problems promptly as well as prevent them from ever arising.

[2] Kathleen Schassler, “New law allows for millions for West Hartford ‘Diversity School’ construction,” West Hartford News, October 12, 2012, accessed on March 6, 2013,

The 2013 School Climate Report: A New Perspective for the Hartford Board of Education

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The Hartford Board of Education meeting in session. (Photographed by Victoria Smith Ellison)

On Tuesday March 5th, the Hartford Board of Education held a workshop during their meeting to present survey findings that were included in the draft of the “School Climate and Student Connectedness in the Hartford Public Schools” 2013 Report. The survey was designed to gather perceptions of school climate and measure the sense of connectedness that students feel within their schools. It was adapted from the American Research Institute and was administered this past December and January to students in grades three through twelve, parents, and school staff. The survey was made available in eight different languages, online and in print versions.

Hartford Public Schools teamed up with Achieve Hartford!, a third party education reform non-profit organization that focuses on bringing awareness to education issues, increasing parent engagement, and school accountability efforts. Last year’s data results were not sufficient enough to provide adequate feedback due to lack of participation from students, parents, and staff. However, due to the lessons learned from last year’s efforts, the preliminary results from this year’s improved survey and administration provides a substantial amount of data for the board. This information will allow the board to continue making efforts to improve school conditions and enhance students’, parents’, and teachers’ experiences.

This year’s data shows significant improvement in participation among all participant groups across the board. Matthew K. Poland, Chairman of the Hartford Board of Education, was critical of the results stating, “the data and increase in participation provides great information, but there is a need for deeper analysis of why the numbers are so low”. This year’s participation goal was set at 90 percent. Only one of the four groups of survey participants actually met the goal. In fact, survey participation for students in grades three and four increased from 58 percent to 95 percent, which exceeded the goal. Students in grades five through twelve saw an increase from 63 percent to 85 percent participation, and school staff saw an increase from 52 percent to 87 percent.

There was a huge focus on increasing participation this year, but the board was also very interested in the actual responses to the survey questions. Although there was an increase from 29 percent to 50 percent parent participation, they have the lowest participation for the second year in a row. Parent responses were discussed the most because of the low participation and the actual responses were surprising to the board. Parents were asked a series of fourteen questions that were not detailed in the report. The data shows parents who completed the survey felt positive about the schools that their children attend. On a scale from zero to five, zero being disappointed and upset and five being completely satisfied, parents rated an average of four point three towards their children’s school. The most surprising finding was the average satisfaction rating for parents whose children attend the district’s three lowest performing schools- Milner, Burns and America’s Choice at SAND was above four. This made some of the board members skeptical of the data and sparked questions for further analysis on parent’s perceptions of Hartford schools.

Moving forward, the board wants to explore what drives parent satisfaction, and if there is a correlation between school performance and parent satisfaction. In response to these questions, the superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, Christina M. Kishimoto stated, “We did talk about two components. One is that we have targeted focus group sessions to see how parents themselves are describing the quality of the school and see what indicators they are using. The other is looking at which time of the year the school is discussing with the parents the school’s performance and what level of detail in order to look at theses two items.” These findings were very surprising because the data shows a disconnect between student and parent responses on similar topics.

In considering the data collected in the draft of the 2013 Report on “School Climate and Student Connectedness in the Hartford Public Schools”, the Hartford Board of Education was pleased with the results of participation and the improved administration efforts from individual schools. In the future, the board suggested that Achieve Hartford! considers more ways  to increase participation to meet the goal. The board also wants them to carefully evaluate the data because of the prevalence of inaccurate data and missing information in this year’s report. The final report is not available yet, but be sure to check Achieve Hartford!’s website when it is officially published to read it. The next Hartford Board of Education meeting will be held at 5:30 pm on March 19, 2013 at America’s Choice at SAND (Address: 1750 Main Street, CT 06120).


Are we finally heading in the right direction with student centered financial aid?

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Governor’s Scholarship will direct funds to the neediest students first as it shifts state-funded financial aid from being institution centered to student centered. Armed with a 21 page Briefing Book, the Office of Higher Education (OHE), led by their Executive Director Jane Ciarleglio, broke down Governor Malloy’s proposed policy shift on financial aid into a palatable, comprehensive plan before the Higher Education subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee on March 5th.

Under Governor Malloy’s proposed scholarship program, the three programs currently in existence: Capitol Scholarship Program, Connecticut Independent College Student Grant Program (CICSG), and Connecticut Aid for Public College Students Program (CAPCS) will be streamlined into one program that has one single set of goals. Ciarleglio stressed that “at this point we are trying to make one single program with the same goals. One single way that people will be assessed on what your need is. This will direct funds to the neediest students first.” The goal is to have all students treated the same regardless of what institution they are attending.

As the state-aid program currently exists students were never assured the same award from differing institutions as aid was determined by the delta between Cost of Attendance (COA) and Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as explained by Mark French, from the Financial Aid department of the OHE. Under this arrangement, cost of attendance will not be factored in meaning that the Governor’s program is just based on need.

The committee interrupted with questions constantly during the presentation as the “lingo” of financial aid and all the acronyms involved are dizzying.   Representative Walker asked for clarification on what “COA stands for?” indicating that she was unclear on some of the language used. Ironically, this is one of the points the OHE was attempting to get across- that financial aid as it exists on the state level and federal level is confusing, convoluted and lacking in transparency to students.

While they can only deal with state aid, their hope is that by creating this uniform system it will give students a base to work off of. Students will be flat funded under this program, meaning regardless of where they choose to go they will receive the same amount from the state.

Representative Fleischmann raised concerns that this flat funding may not incentivize students to move up and asked “are we creating an impediment to this ladder?”. The ladder he was referring to is the process of transitioning from either high school to higher education or from community college to a 4-year school. Ciarleglio emphatically stated “NO, this is not an impediment as students will actually know their award and this policy change directs the limited state funds to be used for direct educational costs”. Direct educational costs are tuition and fees, which these awards are limited to being used for.

She continued on to say that “the current programs were designed to encourage access to higher education and are funded and awarded based on institutional needs and goals. Because they are based on institutional priorities, they pit institutions against each other for state funds and their use of state funds cannot be measured in any consistent manner to meet state-wide results requirements such as the RBA. The policy change moves the programs to a single set of goals for access, retention and completion that are student centered.” The proposed program seeks to achieve retention and completion by providing “incentive awards” to students who are on timeline to graduate in two or four years (from community colleges and four year schools respectively) and who exceed the minimum satisfactory academic performance. This plan also includes a time limitation on how long you can receive the funds- 3 years for a 2 year degree and 6 years for a 4 year degree, which hopes to increase completion as this cap previously did not exist.

State aid only represents 9% of the available financial funding for students, this plan hopes to “make best use of that small money for the most needy kids” and in turn alleviate the debt burden for these students. Most of the committee was shocked that state aid represents such a small portion of funding available to students. In 2011-2012 47% of aid came from institutions themselves, 39% was federal aid and the remaining 5% from private funders.

Although initially it was indicated that awards will go to full-time, degree-seeking undergraduates at Connecticut non-profit colleges and universities. Representative Willis indicated that the Governor had indicated that part-time students will be included in these programs also during the course of the meeting.  This alleviates one of the many critiques of the plan, as funding only full-time students was strongly opposed when the proposal was first introduced.

While the proposal seemed to make sense at the end of the hour long presentation State Representative Roberta Willis, State Representative Victor Cuevas and State Representative Toni Walker still expressed having concerns about how these changes will play out in students receiving the funding they need to attend college. More explanatory sessions like these will occur in the future as more questions will arise regarding the state of financial aid in our state.


State Senator Beth Bye and myself


Rachael is a Trinity College IDP student. She is majoring in Educational Studies with a concentration in civic engagement in community colleges and how policy must change to reflect the shifting roles of community colleges in our new economy.   She is a proud graduate of Norwalk Community College.

Community Rules for Community Schools – Establishing schools tailored to neighborhood needs

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HARTFORD, CT – On Monday, March 4 members of the Connecticut legislative body and local citizens alike met at the Legislative Office Building for a public hearing hosted by the Education Committee to discuss Senate Bill 1002 (SB 1002), a piece of legislation that the Committee introduced on February 27, 2013 that will establish community schools throughout Connecticut. The Coalition for Community Schools defines community schools as “both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources.” The community school model emphasizes a ‘bottom-up’ approach, relying on the participation and contribution of stakeholders – parents, educators, and local citizens – to create the best possible school for a given geographical area. These schools will aim to better the educational experience of students through a variety of comprehensive services that extend beyond classroom instruction. The strategy behind these schools involves a focus on not only academics but also students’ safe passage to and from school, students’ health and their home environments.

Public Hearing for SB 1002

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Chairperson Dr. Benjamin Foster took the floor as an expert in public education to provide his opinion on the benefits of community schools. He argued that these schools reaffirm minority students’ long-term goals and provide a well-rounded education that is not directed solely at the passage of state tests. “Tests alone, I repeat, tests alone will not gauge the psyche of our students and their aims and aspirations” he explains in support of SB 1002. At this time there are many different facets of education that are currently widening the achievement gap between students. Foster cites the “digital divide, healthcare, prenatal care, parental employment” as examples of issues that, on their faces, seem unrelated to education but are crucial.

There is a strong need for what Dr. Foster calls “cultural competency, the comprehension of others’ values” in order to establish a more harmonious learning environment and more effective discussions and lessons in the classroom. Dr. Foster explains that these community schools ought to adopt African American history “as a regular part of the curriculum” to be taught throughout the entire school year, not just with special emphasis during the month of February. He also called for the adoption of Latin American history into the regular curriculum. These measures, according to Foster, will increase cultural competency and enhance the learning experience for minority students at the new community schools.

Toward the end of his presentation, Dr. Foster provided recommendations for the Education Committee and the teachers’ union. He calls for more options for parents and students by way of improved schools, parent universities, and “mandatory economic literacy ensuring that our students understand how our economic system works.” Dr. Foster believes that the creation of community schools in Connecticut school districts will provide these advantages to local citizens.

The major benefit stemming from the creation of community schools, Dr. Foster explains, is that they will “provide our parents and students with more options.” Dr. Foster illuminates the fact that “there may be a musician, there may be a scientist, there may be a carpenter, or whatever, with that same student that scores low on the tests.” He states very firmly, “all of our kids have intelligence.” Unfortunately, at present, not all of our kids have equal opportunities and for that reason Dr. Foster is in favor of SB 1002.

Werner Oyanadal joined the discussion, representing the Latino & Puerto Rican Affairs Committee (LPRAC) as their Acting Executive Director. He also came to the hearing to voice his support for the community school model and SB 1002. Oyanadal calls not only for full-service community schools to be opened, but also for early learning programs that will prepare students from an early age. He referenced the massive achievement gaps among students of different racial groups; the achievement gaps in Connecticut are some of the highest in the nation. He expressed his hope that community schools would begin to close those substantial gaps.

According to Oyanadal, minority students experience major problems outside the classroom that prevent effective education, one of the most powerful being hunger. Community schools would provide all students with a wide range of services including longer school days and the offering of meals to students, which wouldl have a very positive effect on the students and their neighborhoods. He calls for schools to ask how they can get involved with the local community on a deeper level. Oyanadal states that after an evaluation of the surrounding neighborhood that a community school “becomes a beacon in the community” because it will provide the specific services that a given local population needs.

Senate Bill 1002 has been introduced with the hopes that the community school model will be established in the State of Connecticut. Proponents of the bill suggest that this new model of education will provide students with innumerable benefits and invaluable support that will take them straight through to college graduation and a successful future.

The Climate Report

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When the Hartford Board of Education sat down this Tuesday, March 5th, to conduct a special meeting they planned on spending most of their time discussing the contract approval of Parent Academy, an initiative committed to improving Hartford’s communities. The meeting was considered special because it was held in addition to the Board’s monthly meetings, primarily to discuss Parent Academy. However, roughly fifteen minutes after the event commenced at Hartford’s Public High School, it was clear that the Board had additional serious issues to address.

Board members discuss Achieve Hartford! while the audience follows along.

According to a new survey developed by the American Institute of Research and administered in HPS by “Achieve Hartford!”,  the social climate amongst Hartford Schools was something that deserved attention.  The study, in it’s second year, was reporting annual findings. While parents and school administrators believe that school climate has improved over the last year, the Board found the students perception of school climate to be unsettling. In comparison to the 2012 survey, peer climate Board member Richard Wareing, who was visibly upset over the reports findings, immediately asked the Achieve Hartford! team, “Why do so many youngsters feel that school is not a good place to be?” No one in the school’s packed library had an answer.

Although many questions over school safety remained unanswered during the meeting, one thing that all the board members could agree on was the obvious disconnect between student and adults’ perceptions on school safety.  There were two categories designed to measure the social climate, peer climate and respectful climate. Peer climate referred to the students’ perception of their day-to-day interactions amongst each other, while respectful climate was through the eyes of the adults (staff and parents). One specific example came from surveys covering grades 3-5. It was found that 43% of students saw an improvement in peer climate, a 4% increase since 2012. At the same time 82% of adults saw interactions amongst students to have improved, a 6% increase since last year. A 2% difference may not initially seem significant, but if that trend increases for a period as short as 5 years, a 10% disparity between the actual social climate and perceived social climate will have emerged.

In discussing possible explanations for the differing views of students and adults, Board member Richard Wareing offered, “In terms of school safety, the data suggests that the further you get away from the hallways, the better it looks.  I’m curious to see what the adults are basing their perception on.”  But that wasn’t the only thing the board was curious about; they also wanted an explanation for inflated percentages of survey participation in several public schools throughout the state.

While no one completely undermined the contributions of Achieve Hartford! in their quest to restore the Hartford Public system to health, several questions were raised over the validity of the surveys they conducted.  Several Board members agreed to one glaring weakness of the surveys: inaccurate participation rates.  For example, Achieve Hartford! reported that Hooker Environmental Sciences Magnet school’s 3-4 grade participation percentage was raised ten points, from 96 to 106 percent.  But how is that possible?  Chairman of the Board, Matthew Poland, wanted to know how 106 percent of the student body could have participated in the survey?   In their response to the Chairmen’s concern over the legitimacy of the study, the Achieve Hartford! team suggested that the inflated participation rates were due in part to both unfinished and retaken surveys, a flaw resulting from keeping the surveys so anonymous.

Many students, parents, and media members appeared engaged by the presentation. This second adaption of the American Institute of Research’s study, despite some flaws, was one that under correct guidance, had potential to become a powerful tool in the belt of Hartford educational reformers. Board Chairman Matthew Poland described the study as, “a very telling one, and it tells that work has to be done to understand what is happening within our hallways and why it isn’t a good place to be with your peers.” Members of Achieve Hartford! demonstrated how it can be used by a high school senate to dig deeper into the climate of a given school by placing reason to the alleged findings. The team continued to say that the ultimate mission of the survey would be to illustrate how parent involvement has increased as a means of engagement rather than through their perceptions. “Almost in the sense of customer satisfaction,” added one member. Although the findings of the survey produced many different reactions amongst the board members and the community, all the participants of the meeting walked away with the shared enthusiasm that through the involvement of Achieve Hartford!, the Hartford Public School system can and will develop better relations amongst the networks of students, parents, and teachers- it’s just a matter of time.

Stephen Goniprow ’14 and Robert Ugolik ’15 are full-time students at Trinity College in Hartford, CT that have taken an interest in the local movement for educational reformation.

Praying for Improvement: Reuniting Church and State

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On Wednesday, February 28, the Christian Activities Council in conjunction with Hartford Public Schools hosted a community forum “… about the important role the faith community can play in education”.  Unconventional times call for unconventional measures.  Despite the traditionally perceived threat of a merger between church and state, Dr. Christina Kishimoto calls upon faith based organizations to promote Hartford Public School initiatives to improve student achievement.   An event room at the Hartford Seminary on Lorraine Street was two thirds full with community organizers, parents, and educators.  Reverend Edwin Ayala, Executive Director of the Christian Activities Council and Dr. Christina Kishimoto, Superintendent of Hartford Public Schools worked together to facilitate the discussion and respond to audience commentary.

When Dr. Kishimoto took the floor, she gave a touching account of her childhood experiences in church.  She grew up in a South Bronx housing project to immigrant parents, neither of whom had a high school diploma.  Dr. Kishimoto recalls, “For my family, church played an important role in navigating schools.”  For her family, religion was a catalyst for academic success.  She says that ultimately she, her mother, father, and brother attended college at the same time.  She attributes her family’s scholastic achievement to their strong ties to each other and to their church congregation.

“I’m putting the Superintendent hat aside”, she says.  “I am now speaking as a resident about how my faith shaped the way I see the world.”  She speaks passionately about the importance of prayer in her household.  She confesses that what keeps her up at night is knowing that there are children growing up without strong values or family ties.  Dr. Kishimoto asserts that those ties and values can be found in religious organizations.  She asks the question of the evening, “How do we come together in an organized way to bring what faith based community can bring?”.

Reverend Ayala exclaims, “As people of faith, we are stories people.  We need to share stories of success in Hartford Public Schools.  We could preach and share signs of hope with our congregations”.

The room buzzes with excitement.  Reverend Ayala suggests that church leaders can promote academic success within their congregation by asking to see student report cards after church services.  Dr. Kishimoto chimes in and volunteers to visit churches and speak with church members in middle and end of student grading periods.

Captain Brian Thomas from the Hartford North End Salvation Army makes a plea for more volunteers to help with homework during their after school program.  He has only 3 or 4 volunteers for the 20 grade school children currently enrolled.  A gentleman in the audience asks if churches would be willing to recruit congregation members to join Big Brothers Big Sisters.  An idea is born and all seemed to be in favor.  Dr. Kishimoto informs the audience that Hartford Public Schools is already in contact with Andy Fleishmann, President and CEO of Nutmeg Big Brothers Big Sisters, and she welcomes the churches’ help in supporting their mission to provide Hartford Public School students with strong mentors.

Over the course of the two and a half hour long forum concerns were voiced, ideas were spun, connections were made, and hope was sparked.  Within the city of Hartford, religious organizations abound.  Dr. Kishimoto is working with them to include Hartford students in their outreach efforts by providing support to neighborhood parents and services to their children.

If Dr. Kishimoto and Reverend Ayala are able to garner the active support of Hartford’s churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues, students will stand to gain tremendously.  Religion may be a key to redemption for Hartford Public Schools, after all.

Karen is a Trinity College IDP student majoring in Educational Studies.  She is a graduate of Weaver High School and a Hartford resident.

Sheff Movement Discusses Plans for the Future

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HARTFORD, CT- On Saturday, February 16, representatives from the Sheff Movement: Quality Integrated Education for All Children, held a monthly meeting at Capital Prep High School in Hartford. Gathering in the library, the guest list included several citizens from surrounding Hartford towns such as Avon and West Hartford, administrators from local magnet schools, and even two students from a local magnet school along with their parents doing a history project on the Sheff v. O’Neill court case.

Ambar Paulino and Alex Conaway At the Sheff Meeting (Photographed by Jack Dougherty)

Starting off the meeting at 9am, Elizabeth Sheff, a parent who was principally involved in the 1989 case, began to speak on the agenda of planning a legislative forum in April hosted by the black and Hispanic caucus to highlight the academic achievement for those students who attend “Sheff schools”.  Currently, the issue is that there aren’t enough schools in the Greater-Hartford area that please the motives of the Sheff movement; which are to be high-performing and support school integration. Staff coordinator and attorney Phil Tegler, mentioned that a bill signed last May agreed that the failing schools are to be provided with special funding and support, as well as advisory groups made up of the parents to help guide to a turnaround process. With $25 million for capital investments in high quality school models and $16 million aimed for low-performing schools, still there is little support for required diversity.

Sheff raised the question, “Why open new schools? Just build upon those who are already successful.” To answer this, statistics  were brought into the picture: many of the magnet schools get nearly 2,000 applicants a year, and out of that vast number only a mere 20 students get accepted. These parents of Hartford and surrounding suburbs are interested in their kids going to a school with a diverse education, however there is not enough space, therefore opportunities are limited.

This past year the Breakthrough II School located in the Blue Hills neighborhood of Hartford  was asked to be a magnet school, in which a lottery was supposed to be held for May but was switched to September. Out of 800 applicants there were only 85 spots to be filled. Principal Tammy Cassile mentioned that a lot of frustration was shown from the parents because many applications were rejected, and due to the changing of the lottery some kids had to remain at their district schools.

As the Hartford area anticipates the possibility of opening new magnets schools for the 2014-2015 school year, the winter edition of the Integrated Voice Newsletter informs the readers that just, “a simple beam of sunlight through huge classroom windows can shed light on the possibilities of the students and the town”.

Robert Cotto of the Sheff Movement, began to discuss the possibility of the implementation of a dual-language immersion program. Cotto, a representative of the Hartford Board of Education began to explain that there were many different types of Dual-language immersion programs, but that they would want to replicate the 2-way language programs which were offered in some states like Utah and North Carolina. He mentioned that the program would host native English speaking children and native Spanish speaking children in the same school, learning from a curriculum that would be taught half a week in Spanish and the other half in English. He stated, “Best research suggests that a two-way language immersion program benefit kids in all subjects, including African Americans.”

Susan Eaton, author of The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial, also noted that this program has been sold successfully as an economic development model. She went on and suggested that the Hartford Board of Education does not need to look at other state models to start a dual-language program. The crowd at the meeting agreed, and Cotto backed up Eaton’s claim by stating that there are successful schools within the reach of our very own state.

Sheff suggested that the focus of the two-way language immersion program be on the state in comparison to just the Hartford School district.

“People need to learn a different language, it calls for success,” Sheff said. Many members agreed to the fact that learning a second or even third language would be a successful tool, especially one that can and should be used in the workforce.

Jack Dougherty, Associate Professor of Educational Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, CT proposed an event at Trinity, which would aim to bring awareness about this dual-language immersion program. He stated that by hosting this event at Trinity, the Sheff Movement would ultimately increase awareness on and off campus.

Sheff happily agreed and suggested that by inviting professors, other interested advocators and even people from the legislative branch of Education, the Sheff Movement would be bringing this idea to the surface, and ultimately starting a revolution. She concluded the meeting by mentioning that engaging the youth in such events would also be beneficial because the Sheff Movement wants to create leaders and advocates for educational equality.



Budget Concerns Addressed by Education Committee, Issues Raised

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On Friday, February 15, the Education Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly held its first public hearing of the new year in the Legislative Office Building, room IE. The room was packed with various members of the media and concerned citizens, and the agenda was full; Representative Andrew Fleischmann and Senator Andrea L. Stillman ruled over the hearing and were responsible for the proceedings. It began a few minutes after 11 am with the promise that it would be an important day for the future of Connecticut’s children. The first bill up for review on the agenda was H.B. No. 6357, entitled, “An Act Implementing the Budget Recommendations of the Governor Concerning Education,” which was presented on behalf of Governor Daniel P. Malloy by Ben Barnes, Secretary of the Office of Policy Management.

Members of the Education Committee listen to the governor's recommendations.

The bill includes 28 different sections, all of which are the Governor’s budget recommendations to be implemented by July 1, 2013.  Myra Jones Taylor, Director of Early Childhood Planning, and Stephen Pryor, the Commissioner of the State Department of Education accompanied Secretary Barnes on the stand. Taylor declared the Governor’s proposal to be one of the boldest and most comprehensive plans attempted by any state. Each speaker was only allowed three minutes to make their case, a task that proved difficult due to the complexity of their proposals.

Barnes spoke first about Bill No. 6357 and provided the committee and audience with a brief summary of the more important components of the governor’s education funding initiative. He began by discussing the governor’s education mission that focuses on looking towards new ways of cutting costs while simultaneously raising the quality of Connecticut schools.

One of the implementations the governor is seeking to execute, which sparked a large amount of controversy amongst the committee, is the radical re-shifting of transportation funds in various school districts across the state. Section 13 of the bill states that, “The Commissioner of Education shall, within available appropriations, establish a regional transportation grant program that awards grants to local and regional boards of education that coordinate and share the provision of public school transportation services.” For complete access to the governor’s budget recommendations, visit this link:

Barnes’s proposition prompted the committee to ask him several questions because of the sensitive nature of transportation amongst Connecticut public schools. Some sort of system is required, by law, to get children to and from school everyday, though it has always consumed a large amount of the education budget. Representative Fleischmann commenced the series of questions directed at Barnes, Taylor, and Pryor.  His biggest concern with the changes to school transportation was based on how this government decision would affect the various towns and school districts.

He raised the question of effectiveness and efficiency, voicing the possibility that this cut in transportation might not be seen as a cost-effective way to approach issues concerning government spending and budgeting within the education sector. Barnes was quick to defend Fleischmann’s point by stating that it is more of a transitional measure meant to ensure that money allocated to classrooms and improvements in curriculum would continue to be accessible to schools.

When it comes to improving education at a state-wide level, there has been an ongoing discussion over where money should be going, and who needs it more.  The governor’s proposal is meant to radically shift the dispersal of money within the education sector in the hopes that the quality of instruction within Connecticut schools improves in a significant and noticeable way.

Other committee members who appeared weary of this radical change soon echoed the concerns posed by Fleischmann.  Senator Stillman directly followed her co-chairman and urged Barnes to expand on his proposition.  She stated that she was most concerned that this would be viewed as a one size fits all approach to this sensitive and controversial topic. She further emphasized her point by highlighting the troubles that have recently existed in Montville, Connecticut, a small town located in New London County.  It is currently losing transportation and has been struggling with how to adjust to budget cuts while still ensuring that all students are able to get to and from school.

This example was used to demonstrate the variability that inevitably exists in a state such as Connecticut, where each region encounters its own challenges within its public school system. As Stillman stated, the issue of transportation costs has always been a very big issue, and clearly needs to be addressed by the committee.

It was clear that the initiatives posed by Barnes were unprecedented due to the copious amount of questions directed specifically to him regarding transportation cuts. Senator Toni Boucher, representing Connecticut’s 26th district, asked him to clarify, once again, what exactly the governor’s budget recommendations were attempting to do. She then followed up this question by inquiring as to whether there were currently any two districts who already had a shared transportation contract in an attempt to cut back their costs.

This was one of the few moments Barnes appeared uneasy; he quickly shuffled through his notes and then responded in a quiet, muffled voice that he was not aware of any such thing. After pausing for a few seconds, he was able to recover and again emphasized the two most important components of these changes: various private school students could still have access to transportation if they needed it, and though costs would be significantly cut, all towns would still have access to aid from the state. This system, as Barnes continuously reinforced throughout the hearing, would just be a “new way of doing transportation.”

The committee’s decision remains unknown as of now, but will no doubt be revealed to the public soon. Despite the ample amount of debate and discussion the governor’s recommendations caused, it is reassuring to know that the fate of Connecticut’s children is taken seriously by state-elected officials.