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Posts tagged ‘Connecticut’

An Open Letter to State Legislators

“Increasing property taxes for residents is not the comprehensive solution Connecticut needs to balance the state budget. We need a budget that works for all of us,” a coalition of ten organizations, which includes CEA, has written legislators.

Proposals to balance the state budget by shifting costs to cities and towns don’t sit well with Connecticut voters. The coalition of education organizations and groups representing cities and towns is urging legislators to reject these proposals.

Join us. Contact your legislators.

Tell your legislators to oppose any plans that will shift the cost of teacher retirement contributions from the state to cities and towns. A cost shift will lead to higher local property taxes and cuts to much-needed services in our communities.

Read the coalition’s open letter to legislators.

SBAC Validity Linked to Use and Purpose; SDE Unveils New Growth Model

masetery exam comm

The state’s Mastery Examination Committee met today to discusses purposes of student assessment and the state’s new growth model.

At a meeting of the state’s Mastery Examination Committee today, committee members discussed the purpose and use of standardized tests.

“One of the real things that occurred in the last era was a misuse of the state exam,” Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell said. “It created an over-focus on the exam itself and a narrowing of the curriculum in some cases to the things that were assessed.”

Don Williams, CEA director of Policy, Research, and Reform, pointed out that education researcher James Popham has strongly cautioned against misusing standardized tests designed for one purpose to fulfill a completely separate purpose.

Popham writes that the validity of a test, such as SBAC, which is designed to evaluate school and district performance, is rendered invalid if it is used for purposes not fully supported by evidence. Read more

Activities for Kids Over Winter Break

SleddingWinter break is almost here, and if you have children of your own at home you may be looking for some ideas to keep them occupied. Here are just some of the events, activities, and places in Connecticut you might want to check out with your kids, grandkids, or nieces and nephews. Read more

Educators Provide Recommendations for Teacher Evaluation System

Is Connecticut’s new teacher evaluation system being implemented effectively? Should there be regional efforts to boost the system’s chances of success? And are there improvements that need to be made in the next session of the Connecticut General Assembly?

These are some of the questions being quietly studied by a small legislative subcommittee with a big reach. It’s called MORE Commission and it is charged with coming up with regional solutions to today’s pressing issues.

More’s Education subcommittee met this morning in Hartford. The working group heard how the evaluation system is progressing in school districts in Windsor and Litchfield, and what must be done to improve upon it, including allowing more flexibility, more training, and a greater focus on teaching and learning, not paperwork.

“It can’t be a gottcha system,” said Debra Wheeler, superintendent of Litchfield Public Schools. And it can’t be “a cookie cutter format,” Wheeler continued. “We need more flexibility than the Connecticut guidelines provide.”

Windsor teacher and CEA Professional Issues Coordinator Lisa Bress said the new evaluation system is an extremely time-consuming process, one that some educators feel distracts them from their ability to spend ample time with their students in the classroom. “We need to focus on improving teaching and learning rather than paperwork and compliance,” said Bress.

Subcommittee member Representative Chris Davis, agreed, “We want our teachers focusing on teaching and students not on documentation.”

“To make continuous improvements, we need to hear the voices of the teachers impacted by the plan, and take time without penalty to make necessary improvements and provide additional resources,” said Bress.

Training and evaluation

The state model requires a three-hour orientation process for teachers, but both Litchfield and Windsor provided additional training. Wheeler said her district spent a tremendous amount of time in the goal-setting process so teachers could understand what is expected of them and how they would be evaluated. She recommends districts “spend more than the allotted time helping teachers understand the process.”

Bress said her school district took extra steps during last year’s pilot program, including providing eight days of training, and other initiatives to make sure teachers felt trained and comfortable. Despite the district’s best efforts, implementation was still fraught with problems.

“We were being evaluated during a pilot period using a system that hadn’t fully been implemented or had the bugs worked out yet,” said Bress.  This year is better, according to Bress, but she feels bad for districts that didn’t participate in the pilot. “They are being evaluated while learning the system and that’s stressful and counterproductive. There should be a moratorium on punitive aspects of evaluation while teachers are given the opportunity to learn in a pilot year. That would be a benefit going forward.”

Bress said the new system lends itself to the TEAM or coaching model, and, in her district, she met with teachers on a weekly basis to collaborate and discuss differentiated instruction and how to meet goals and provide professional development that will help teachers improve their practice.

Bress and others suggested a regional pool of available complementary evaluators that districts could tap into to reduce the burden on districts and principals. Bress said there’s a big difference between a coach and an evaluator, and she doesn’t believe in having colleagues be complementary evaluators. Instead, she suggested using retired teachers or other qualified and trained evaluators.

The subcommittee will consider today’s recommendations and will create a list of education issues it will present to the legislature next year.

WDRC’s Brad Davis Supports CEA’s Sandy Hook Memorial Sculpture: It’s Emotional, Passionate, and a Tremendous Gift to the State

CEA Vice President Jeff Leake and Marilyn Parkinson Thrall, the artist creating the CEA Sandy Hook Memorial sculpture, were guests on the Brad Davis Talk of Connecticut Radio Show on WDRC this morning, discussing the latest on the memorial sculpture.

“It’s going to be a tremendous gift to the state, all of us, and the country,” Davis told his audience. “It’s going to be loved and cherished because it’s about children and teachers.”

Davis said he was touched and moved by photographs of the bronze sculpture that memorializes the heroism and sacrifice that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“It’s very emotional and passionate,” he told his listeners. He said he “just lost it,” when he first looked at the photograph of the sculpture that includes four life-size bronze figures—a teacher and three children—on a circle of stone, surrounded by a circular stone wall. Thrall says the design captures the innocence of youth and evokes a “trusting feeling.”

CEA’s Sandy Hook Memorial sculpture memorializes the heroism and sacrifice that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

CEA’s Sandy Hook Memorial sculpture memorializes the heroism and sacrifice that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

During the live interview at 9 a.m., Davis, whose mother was a teacher, encouraged his listeners to go to www.cea.org to see the photograph of the sculpture for themselves.  “If my reaction is any indication, it’s going to be very emotional,” he told his viewers.

Leake, who is president of the Connecticut Education Foundation, said, “We are pleased and honored to work with Marilyn and to create this lasting memorial to the teachers and children directly impacted by the tragedy, as well as teachers and children all over the state and across our country.”

Teachers in Connecticut and across the country have been very generous and supportive of the fund. Donations to CEA’s Sandy Hook Memorial and Scholarship Fund are still being accepted.

Donations can be made at www.cea.org, or checks payable to the Connecticut Education Foundation may be sent to

Connecticut Education Foundation
Sandy Hook Memorial & Scholarship Fund
Capitol Place, Suite 500
21 Oak Street
Hartford, CT  06106

Talks are under way regarding a permanent home for the memorial in Newtown or Hartford. CEA plans to unveil the sculpture before the first anniversary of the mass shooting at the school.

Click here to listen to the interview on WDRC Radio.

Teachers of the Year on Why Recognition Matters

This weekend over 100 teachers around Connecticut will be talking about an inspiring ceremony that honored them for their commitment to their students and school communities. At last night’s ceremony at the Bushnell, some of the state’s Teachers of the Year shared why they think it’s important to recognize great teaching.

Connecticut's 2013 Teachers of the Year

John Mason, Avon Teacher of the Year

The individual recognition is nice, but it’s the process that really makes me value the Teacher of the Year program. As a school community, we get the chance to step back and really reflect on what’s most important in teaching and what we value as teachers.

This isn’t a best teacher award as much as it is identifying someone who can represent the good things that are happening in teaching and learning today.

Jonathan Budd, Region 9 Teacher of the Year

Teaching is a profession that is undergoing a lot of complex change. We know that there are hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of really outstanding teachers in this state. Focusing on them as individuals really gives the public an opportunity to see what the teaching profession is like and the excellent work that goes on every day in our public schools.

Kathleen Boland, Trumbull Teacher of the Year

Teachers do so much on a daily basis with the children whom we teach, but sometimes we’re shy about being recognized. It’s nice to have that acknowledgement every once in a while though. That’s because we sometimes don’t see the results of our work until years down the road.

Justin Mirante, Southington Teacher of the Year

I think it’s important for educators to be recognized publicly because there’s often a negative portrayal of teachers in the media. Really there are a lot of great things happening in the classroom, and there are many wonderful teachers out there who make a difference. Occasions like this ceremony get that out into the public eye and recognize teachers’ accomplishments.

Hurricane Sandy Shows Teachers to Be a Special Breed

Westport teacher John Horrigan had six trees come down on his property, including one on the roof of his house, but he’s focusing on what his  school community needs to do to move on.

Teachers are education professionals. They’re also caring individuals whose concern for their students and communities seems like a 24/7 job. Add to that mindset a disaster like Hurricane Sandy, and teachers’ concern is at one of the highest levels ever.

Take Bridgeport teacher Samantha Rosenberg who says, “It’s in our nature to think of the children first, even if we’re confronting the same power loss, flooding and damage.”

Rosenberg continues, “All I can think about are my students and whether they are safe and sound.  Had my colleagues and I been told earlier in the week that it would take this long to get power fully back in the city, we could have found ways to help. For example, I would have gone to help out in the shelters and make sure our students and their families were okay.”

Westport teacher John Horrigan had a tree land on his house during the storm, along with five others that landed in his yard. His focus, however, is on the larger community. “For people without financial resources or access to transportation, it’s very hard,” he says.

Horrigan adds that the stress that storms bring is especially hard on youngsters. Some of his town’s students live close to the beach where homes experienced major property damage and flooding. “It’s very tough on the kids,” he says.

One of the basic tenets of school communities is: We must look out for one another. Horrigan is doing his best to do that; he’s going  to a local college to access the Internet to reach out to his community— those who are lucky enough to have a charged cell phone or working Internet service.

Retired Branford teacher Mary Ellen Grantland  is quick to point out that her home’s damage “is nothing compared to what some others are going through.”  Just like last year during Tropical Storm Irene, Grantland’s house has flooded. Grantland has lived in Branford for 40 years however, and isn’t ready to consider moving. Her commitment to her former students and her shoreline community will remain for years to come.

With Connecticut utilities reporting that the state should have full power back by next week, teachers’ attention is more and more focused on how to best move on. What are your concerns about having lost instructional time with students, since school was closed due to the storm? Is there some action your school district should take to support you and your students?

Should teachers ease back into their instructional routine, taking time to listen to youngsters’ concerns?  Once you’re back in school, what will you do to enable students to talk about their storm experiences and then refocus them on the academic work at hand?  How will you use youngsters’ recent experiences as potential teachable moments?

Stonington teacher Michael Freeman says it’s hard for teachers to plan around a huge interruption like Sandy. But he adds that the plain fact is that students are expected to learn more and at a faster pace than ever before in our history. Against that backdrop, he urged his students last week before the storm to do as much studying during the bad weather as possible. He promised them: “There will be a test when you return.”

Perspectives on Connecticut’s Achievement Gap: Stratford Teacher Gives Students Tools to Face Life’s Challenges

Connecticut’s 2011 Teacher of the Year Kristen Record says that the achievement gap is her reality every day.

“I live the achievement gap. It’s my reality, every day.”

That’s what Kristen Record, Connecticut’s 2011 Teacher of the Year, told a crowd of 100 people at the Hartford Public Library today, where she was one of the keynote speakers at the CT Mirror Forum “Perspectives on Connecticut’s Achievement Gap.”

Record, who teaches physics at Bunnell High School in Stratford, says she doesn’t only teach “good students, but all levels of students—from students from affluent two-parent households to students from homes with single parents who work two jobs to make ends meet.”

Stratford is diverse and teaching is challenging

“I’m not perfect, but I do my best and make a difference in the lives of my students,” she says.

But there are many aspects of students’ lives that impact their learning that she and other teachers just can’t control, including absenteeism.

“Anyone who tells you that a student’s grade is an indication of the effectiveness of a teacher does not understand the complex realities of public education,” says Record.

Watch an excerpt of Record’s speech.

She says teachers understand the work they do is important and that it can have a profound effect on children’s lives.

“I know I make a difference, and it’s a difference that matters,” says Record. “A lot of teachers in Stratford make this same kind of difference.”

Record points to several programs that are helping to close the achievement gap in Stratford, including two CEA and Stratford partnership programs: Power Hour and Real Dads Forever. Both programs are geared toward getting parents more involved in their children’s education.

“Parents play a crucial role in closing the achievement gap and initiatives like Power Hour and Real Dads Forever, help to foster collaboration between schools and families,” says Record.

The physics teacher believes students learn from their relationships, and that the relationship between a student and teacher must go beyond the content of the classroom lesson of the day.

“No matter where kids come from, they want to be successful at something.  Our role as teachers is to help them figure out what that something is,” says Record.

2013 Teacher of the Year Says Teaching Is All About the Connection

Blaise Messinger, a fifth-grade teacher at Woodside Intermediate School in Cromwell, was named Connecticut’s 2013 Teacher of the Year this morning.

Passionate.  That’s the word fellow teachers use to describe Blaise Messinger, a fifth-grade teacher at Cromwell’s Woodside Intermediate School and Connecticut’s 2013 Teacher of the Year.

Educators, family, friends, and students gathered for a ceremony at the school today, where State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor introduced the state’s newest teacher of the year.

“We are here to celebrate a great teacher, and Connecticut’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, Blaise Messinger,” said Pryor.

Messinger, a former actor, began his teaching career in Los Angeles in 1998, after seeing the impact excellent teaching had on his son Ethan, who has autism.

“I realized what an excellent teacher can do, not just for the students, but for the families,” said Messinger. “I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to be able to make a difference in the life of a child and that child’s family.”

He’s been teaching for 14 years, eight of them in Cromwell.

Messinger believes that “good teaching is not about data, test scores, or teacher evaluation schemes, but about connecting with the students and making learning fun.”

“All children are aching to learn,” he said. “I believe that the key to unlocking the joy and wonder inherent in all students comes down to the relationship between me and that student, and the environment created in the classroom to nurture that bond.”

His students agree. Five girls who were in Messinger’s fifth-grade class last year, and who participated in his nomination for Teacher of the Year, spoke at today’s ceremony.

“He made learning fun, and made us excited to go to school every day,” said Gabi Gentile.

Julia Lemmon said he brought acting into the classroom. “He’s the teacher of every kid’s dreams,” she said. “He wasn’t just a role model for me, he was an inspiration—my favorite teacher—and I’m never going to let him go.”

Messinger wants to celebrate all that’s right in teaching today.

“Teaching is a team sport, and while I’m thrilled to be the most valuable player on the team, it’s what the team accomplishes that’s most important. I am very grateful that every day I get to do a job that I love.”

Messinger succeeds 2012 Teacher of the Year David Bosso, a social studies teacher in Berlin, whose term concludes at the end of the year.

ECS Task Force Discusses Conditional Funding, Transition to a New Formula

With only three months remaining before it’s due to issue a final report, the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Task Force met yesterday to discuss recommendations from its subcommittee examining new funding formulas.

The formula subcommittee is currently collecting data on different formula variations and is developing a set of objectives to assess the formulas. The subcommittee plans to present a few of the best options to the entire task force in the coming weeks.

The ECS Task Force is charged with developing recommendations for ways to change how state funding is divided up by school district. “We need to intentionally prepare for some of the concerns that might arise from the legislature,” said Task Force Co-Chair and Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Ben Barnes.

“We want to make things fair, but there may well be examples of individual communities who don’t feel treated fairly,” Barnes said.

He added that the task force has to consider how it will manage towns’ transition from what they’re getting now to what they will be getting under a new formula.

Meriden Superintendent Mark Benigni pointed out that, despite the politically delicate nature of education funding, there weren’t a lot of arguments in the legislature about the towns selected to be Alliance Districts and receive additional state funding. “We know where the twelve poorest communities in the state are,” he said. “If those communities aren’t at the forefront of our new formula, something’s wrong.”

Former Commissioner of Education Ted Sergi said he thinks the state should consider folding categorical grants, like those to Priority School Districts representing the poorest communities in the state, into ECS using the conditional funding model.

Sergi said that, in his role as a consultant for the State Department of Education, the hardest part about reviewing Alliance Districts’ applications for additional state funding was wanting to know how the districts spend the additional millions in state aid they receive.

Senator Andrea Stillman, co-chair of the task force, reminded the task force that there will be fiscal constraints they have to consider.

Barnes said, “I hope we can structure the formula so that we have 50 to 100 million additional dollars a year to put in. I hope we have a formula that, under those constraints, can be phased in.”

Stillman said that if the legislature has education as a priority, “We’re going to make an effort to find the resources.”

At its next meeting on October 15, the task force will hear from additional subcommittees, including the special education subcommittee looking into ways to more equitably fund special education programs in Connecticut’s schools.