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Posts tagged ‘Connecticut’

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.