“The bottom line is, the students I work with wouldn’t be in school at all if their only option was a traditional school,” Wallingford Alternative High School teacher Vicki Gustavson told educators at a recent CEA workshop on alternative and adult education programs.
Gustavson was one of the five alternative educators and CEA members on a panel who told their colleagues that alternative schools can be a saving grace for many students. Alternative schools that students can choose to go to, rather than schools where students are placed without consent, give students a crucial opportunity to finish high school when they are not successful in a traditional school environment.
Laura McCargar, the author of the report Invisible Students, who also presented at the workshop, said, “The reality is, different kids need different experiences in school.”
In addition to Gustavson, panel members included Robert Melillo, Alternative Center for Excellence, Danbury; Rick Rumsey, Putnam Alternative Learning System; Bill Scalise, president of the Connecticut Association of Alternative Schools and Programs; and Steven Craig, Alternate Learning Center, Killingly. These alternative educators have all dedicated their careers to doing as much as they can to help sometimes overlooked students through high school and on to graduation.
Gustavson said that the three teachers and 30 students in the Wallingford program are “like a family.” She described working with her students as “one of the most joyous jobs ever.”
Some students get lost in the shuffle of a traditional school with larger class sizes and hundreds or thousands of students in one building, said Gustavson. “Our kids truly appreciate the smaller, family atmosphere. We don’t have discipline problems 99 percent of the time because they’re much happier at the alternative school—they choose to go there,” she said.
Gustavson said her school has the same academic rigor of the regular high school and requires all of the same courses for graduation. The atmosphere is very different though, and the teachers have to be flexible with how they accomplish required course work.
“All of the teachers are multi-certified,” said Gustavson. “I teach math and English for grades 10 through 12. We individualize programs in different ways to accommodate students’ needs.”
Even in a larger program like Danbury’s, Melillo said, “We each wear multiple hats. There are times during the day when I take off my social studies hat and put on a social worker hat.”
“Sometimes the students don’t need someone with a counseling degree as much as they just need someone to listen and offer parental advice,” Melillo said.
The flexibility of an alternative program can be the key to getting a student to graduation, Melillo said.
Scalise said, “We’re not trying to fix these kids. For most of the students, we’re not getting them back to the high school—they really need a different environment to succeed.”
If you teach at an alternative school or program, the Connecticut Association of Alternative Schools and Programs offers resources and meetings for alternative educators. Find out more at their website, caasp.org.
Bridgeport School Superintendent Paul Vallas is breaking the law by not allowing teachers, parents, and community leaders to participate in the educational process as outlined in state statutes, according to a complaint filed by the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) with the State Department of Education today.
The complaint details specific violations of state law regarding School Governance Councils, Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-223 j.
CEA filed the complaint on behalf of Bridgeport teacher and President of the Bridgeport Education Association Gary Peluchette.
The Connecticut General Assembly created School Governance Councils to involve the community, parents, and teachers in the educational process across the state, but Peluchette says that’s not what’s been happening in Bridgeport.
“The beneficial purpose of School Governance Councils has been largely ignored by Bridgeport Public Schools and Superintendent Vallas. The complaint cites numerous violations of state law that need to be addressed and corrected immediately,” said Peluchette.
According to the complaint, state laws were violated because the following happened with members of School Governance Councils. The councils:
- were not given an opportunity to review the fiscal objectives of the draft budget for the school and provide advice before it was submitted to the superintendent
- did not participate in the hiring process of administrators
- did not work with school administration to develop and approve a school compact
- were not involved in developing and approving a written parent involvement policy outlining the role of parents in the school
- had no involvement in analyzing school achievement data and school needs relative to the improvement plan for the school
- did not assist the principal in making programmatic and operational changes for improving the school’s achievement
- have not been made aware of their authority, nor have they been given opportunities to exercise this authority
“These are just some of the examples of the flagrant disregard Bridgeport Public Schools Superintendent Vallas has shown for School Governance Councils and state law,” said Connecticut Education Association President Sheila Cohen.
Cohen added, “School Governance Councils have a successful track record of engaging parents, teachers, and community members in important school activities and providing collaborative support to improve student achievement. These opportunities and the benefit of state laws must be afforded members of the Bridgeport school community.”
Schools in Connecticut will soon have a new option for providing various educational and social services to students, families, and community members. An Act Concerning Community Schools passed the Connecticut House today, has already passed the Senate, and Governor Malloy is expected to sign it into law.
The bill allows any public school to adopt a Community Schools model, and lists the model as one of the choices available to turnaround schools in the Commissioner’s Network.
Speaking before the legislature’s Education Committee in support of the bill, CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg said, “Schools today need to be lighthouses of hope for all members of the community. Thriving community school models show progress because they fully address all the needs of the students, parents, and the community as a whole.”
Senate President Don Williams supports the community school model as a different and vitally important approach to turning around public schools. He told the Education Committee that the model “focuses all the programs we consider extras,” including meal programs, healthcare services, special education, and English as a second language.
“This is a great model that will help us build on reforms created last year,” said Senator Williams.
The community schools model has been proven effective in various communities across the country, including in California, Washington, Cincinnati, Syracuse, and Washington, D.C.
Educators from around the state have been meeting with their legislators this spring to talk about the issues that matter to them. One issue that continues to be of concern to teachers is funding for the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund.
Teachers from Regional Hebron, Andover, and Marlborough (RHAM) High School met with their legislators recently to explain why the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance fund needs to be funded properly. Senator Cathy Osten and Representative Pam Sawyer listed intently to the teachers, including Pete Joseph, Mary Rose, Amy Schiller, and Amy Farrior.
If you’re interested in setting up a meeting with legislators in your district, contact CEA Political Action Coordinator Conor Casey.
Teacher of the Year Says Best Evidence of Good Teaching is Found in the Hearts and Minds of Students
“What all of us teach is understanding. Understanding of the world around us and the people in it,” Connecticut Teacher of the Year Blaise Messinger told delegates at the CEA Representative Assembly Friday night.
Messinger, a former actor, both amused and inspired the nearly 400 educators. The Cromwell fifth-grade teacher encouraged educators to focus on their job—making a difference in children’s lives—rather than the tasks that have to be done but can sometimes overshadow the work that is ultimately more important.
Watch excerpts from Messinger’s speech below or here.
In her remarks before the CEA Representative Assembly this Saturday, CEA President Sheila Cohen reflected on some of the historical events that hold special significance for the Association. One is the Bridgeport teachers’ strike, which helped shape Connecticut’s binding arbitration law. She also did not hesitate to call attention to the efforts of the current teaching force to ensure the best education possible for Connecticut’s public school students.
Watch an excerpt from Cohen’s remarks below.