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Posts tagged ‘phil apruzzese’

Helping Students Succeed by Listening to Teachers

On January 3, CEA released an education plan that includes reforming the teacher evaluation process and replacing tenure with a streamlined dismissal process for underperforming teachers.

At a news conference at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, CEA shared A View from the Classroom: Proven Ideas for Student Achievement — a comprehensive education reform plan developed by teachers.

“There’s no greater asset to improving our public schools than teachers. Teachers are in the classroom every day; they know what is needed to prepare students for the economic challenges ahead. We are proposing specific ideas that can make a real difference to improve education for Connecticut students,” said CEA President Phil Apruzzese.

CEA Executive Director Mary Loftus Levine said, “We cannot build a strong local economy in Connecticut unless we have high quality education, and we cannot have high-quality schools without adequate funding, small class sizes, and involvement of parents and communities to transform local schools that need help.”

She continued, “Teachers will do their part — we propose creating an evaluation system for teachers that uses multiple indicators of quality teaching, and we propose developing a streamlined dismissal process to remove underperforming teachers.” The plan also includes far-reaching proposals such as creating partnerships among communities, parents, teachers, and students to transform chronically low-performing schools with methods tailored to each school; requiring schools to provide health and social service supports to disadvantaged youngsters.

Apruzzese said, “Teachers lead classrooms, and our voice is necessary to ensure meaningful education reform. We want to create the conditions to make teaching a respected, supported profession. We look forward to engaging in a positive, collaborative dialogue with lawmakers, parents and everyone who’s interested in improving the quality of our public schools and preparing our students for tomorrow’s challenges.”

The CEA news conference was held two days in advance of Governor Malloy’s statewide forum on education reform at Central Connecticut State University that included education leaders from around the nation and state.

Governor Rell Signs Sweeping Education Reform Legislation

Governor M. Jodi Rell poses with education leaders following a signing ceremony May 26 at Hockanum School in East Hartford where she signed into law a new comprehensive education reform policy bill. With the governor are (l. to r.) Connecticut Federation of School Administrators President Roch Girard, CEA President Phil Apruzzese, CEA Executive Director John Yrchik, State Commissioner of Education Mark McQuillan, Education Committee Co-Chairs Senator Thomas Gaffey and State Representative Andrew Fleischmann.

CEA leaders were among invited officials at a signing ceremony today at Hockanum School in East Hartford.  Governor M. Jodi Rell signed into law a comprehensive education reform policy bill passed in the final days of the 2010 legislative session.

The legislation, Senate Bill 438, An Act Concerning Education Reform in Connecticut, covers an array of issues designed to provide new chances to boost student achievement. The new law increases the minimum credits required for high school graduation from 20 to 25 and gives greater emphasis to math, science, and world languages, beginning with the Class of 2018. It also requires every student to complete a “capstone project” – an independent demonstration project.

The legislation was crafted by a working group that included CEA representatives and other stakeholders in the education community, including the co-chairs of the General Assembly’s Education Committee and the state commissioner of education.

“As a genuine partner, CEA tapped the knowledge and experience of teachers during this legislative process,” said CEA President Phil Apruzzese, who attended the signing ceremony. “We are pleased that teachers had a voice at the table and that CEA could make a difference in shaping the final omnibus school reform package.”

The governor called the legislation a product of “bipartisan” effort. “By having all of the interested parties – educators, teachers unions, parents, students, legislators, and others – together at the table, we ended up with a far stronger result than any individual effort could produce. This is bold, visionary reform – and we are making it happen together,” Governor Rell said.

The new law also enhances Connecticut’s chances to secure up to $175 million in federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant funding that rewards states for taking bold steps in education reform. Connecticut will file its application for the next round of RTTT grants on June 1.

Stakeholders Come Together to Discuss Next Steps for RTTT

It’s expected to be over a month before Connecticut policymakers can separate fact from fiction regarding why the state was not named a finalist in the Race to the Top (RTTT) competition for large sums of federal funds.

“There’s much speculation, but we really won’t know precisely why Connecticut was not chosen in this first round of funding until the U.S. Department of Education sends written feedback to the state education commissioner in mid-April.  For now, I want to commend everyone involved in the application procedure, especially our many local associations who signed on to the application,” says CEA President Phil Apruzzese.

Shortly after the announcement came from Washington today that Connecticut was not a finalist, the co-chairs of the legislature’s education committee called stakeholders together at a news conference to announce that “education summits” would commence to ensure that Connecticut’s spring application for the second round of RTTT funding would be even better than the first.

State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said, “We will win the next round.  We have to go even farther.”

CEA Executive Director John Yrchik participated in the March 4 news conference, saying the round one application was “very comprehensive.”  Only 15 out of 40 states were declared finalists for the first round of funding.

Yrchik explains, “The RTTT application gave guidelines, but there was tremendous uncertainty about exactly what would drive federal decision making.  As Connecticut prepares its second application, there is much to talk about because we must use the best research-based strategies.  The beauty of the process is that in the weeks ahead, all the stakeholders can come together to develop what is best for our state.”

At the news conference, McQuillan responded to allegations that there were 120 questions left blank on Connecticut’s RTTT application.  “This is inaccurate.  It’s a misperception about our application given the directions we were given from the U.S. Department of Education,” said McQuillan.

Senator Thomas Gaffey and Representative Andrew Fleishmann, co-chairs of the Education Committee, say the following are just some of the areas that they expect stakeholders to focus on during the education summits and other meetings in the weeks and months ahead: comprehensive high school reform; the TEAM (Teacher Education and Mentoring) program; data systems linking teachers and student achievement; and alternative routes to certification for teacher leaders.

Watch the complete news conference, divided into two parts, below.

Governor’s Budget Continues to Disappoint

Governor M. Jodi Rell talked much about the economy and job creation in her annual State of the State today, but offered few specifics. Public education, a critical element in putting the state’s economy on a strong footing, got short shrift.

For the second year in a row, the governor proposed eliminating a highly visible, research-based school reform model for improving urban public schools (CommPACT Schools). While not providing even one dollar more in state education aid for municipalities, the governor’s budget adds $5 million more in funding for charter schools and $25 million more for magnet schools.

“We are dumbfounded that the governor has turned her back on the CommPACT Schools initiative,” says CEA President Phil Apruzzese. “Stakeholders from superintendents to parents, schools administrators, and teachers came together to support this effort to close the achievement gap in Connecticut schools. Our effort has received national attention. If Governor Rell gets her way, years of work will be placed in jeopardy.”

In distinguishing between CommPACT Schools and charter schools, Apruzzese went on to say that “the CommPACT Schools initiative seeks to turn around schools that are having difficulty. It works with existing teachers and administrators in a structured process of change. Charter schools, on the other hand, always have to start with a new group of students, a new faculty, and a new administration.”

Adds Apruzzese, “The real challenge we face in closing the achievement gap is to improve results in schools where there are problems. If we don’t attempt to do that, we’re not being serious. The governor’s failure to fund this effort makes no sense.”
The CommPACT Schools initiative – which was launched in 2008 – has attracted corporate and foundation financial support from AT&T, Balfour, the NEA Foundation, and others that will disappear if the governor’s proposed budget cut is adopted or public support is reduced.

Another major disappointment in the governor’s budget is that it maintains the same level of funding for the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant in fiscal year 2010-2011 as in FY 2009-2010. State aid for this education grant was reduced by 14 percent in last year’s budget and backfilled with federal stimulus dollars.

Says Apruzzese, “The governor is continuing the troubling budget sleight of hand that she started last year with the short-term federal stimulus money. She is setting local schools up for a whopping $270 million hole in ECS funding when the federal funds dry up in 2011.”

In addition, holding ECS grants to last year’s level does not even allow local school districts to deal with even moderate inflation without having to raise local revenues or cut expenditures. The governor has continued her pattern of gradually reducing state support for local public education.

“It’s troubling,” says Apruzzese. “The effects are likely to be the continued elimination of teaching positions, reduction in education resources, and the end of programs that serve Connecticut students. Where does it stop?”

Thousands of CEA Members Sign Petitions Opposing Health Care Excise Tax

These petitions are among the hundreds delivered to members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation – signed by more than 10,000 teachers – on December 22 that urge lawmakers to oppose a proposed excise tax on health care benefits.

CEA delivered hundreds of petitions signed by more than 10,000 teachers to members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation today.  The petitions urge lawmakers to oppose a proposed excise tax on health care benefits.

The U.S. Senate’s version of proposed health care reform legislation includes an excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” health care plans, such as the plans that cover  teachers and their family members.

The petition drive involved local Association presidents, building representatives, local political coordinators, and CEA UniServ staff throughout the state. The drive — which collected the signatures in just three days — was organized to inform Connecticut’s representatives in Washington that while CEA and its members strongly support health care reform, they adamantly oppose the excise tax on health care benefits.

CEA President Phil Apruzzese says CEA and its local Associations could have collected even more signatures if there had been a longer time period to circulate the petitions.

“Given the short time frame and the large number of teachers who signed these petitions, this sends a strong message to our representatives about why we object to the excise tax and the serious impact it will have on teachers,” says Apruzzese.

“If the excise tax remains in the final bill that is approved and signed into law, it will place an unacceptable burden on our members – with approximately 40 percent being affected in the very first year.”

The petition called taxing health care benefits  “bad public policy” that would force employers to cut back health care benefits to avoid the tax or pass the new tax onto employees.

The petition noted that there are other options to pay for health care reform. For example, the proposed health care reform bill passed by the U.S. House funds health care reform by making large employers pay toward their workers’ coverage and adds a modest surtax on the wealthiest Americans.

“We are urging our representatives to ensure that the funding mechanism for this much needed health care reform is not in the form of an excise tax,” says CEA Executive Director John Yrchik.

For more information on the consequences of an excise tax on health care benefits, read the column by John Yrchik and Phil Apruzzese on page two of the December/January CEA Advisor.

Hear State Education Commissioner on Race to the Top

Involvement encouraged in Race to the Top

As the state scrambles to meet a January deadline to get local school districts to sign on to the State Department of Education’s (SDE) proposed education reform plan for funding under the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant, CEA held a special meeting for local Association leaders to meet with State Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan.

At the December 17 meeting, McQuillan explained the state’s RTTT application process, what it means in terms of funding to districts, and what the grant could mean for teachers. The state must submit its application by January 19 to be eligible for $175 million in federal grants.

The commissioner said the grant would allow Connecticut to move forward on some significant education reform proposals, such as the high school reform plan proposed last year but never approved because of state budget problems. According to the commissioner, a  “reconstituted” high school reform plan is part of the state’s RTTT grant.

In addition to McQuillan’s presentation, the meeting was led by CEA President Phil Apruzzese, CEA Executive Director John Yrchik, and key CEA managers. They and the commissioner encouraged local Association leaders to get involved in a dialogue with districts that decide to participate in the RTTT grant.

At the same time, CEA leaders urged local Association officers to make sure that if they participate that any rights protecting the Association or its members are not waived or overridden.

Apruzzese and CEA Director of Policy and Professional Practice Mary Loftus Levine are among representatives of key public education stakeholders who have been involved in the state’s RTTT application process. They serve on the SDE’s External Partners Advisory Committee that has met since late summer.

The December meeting in Cromwell was the first opportunity for local Association leaders to hear directly from the commissioner about the implications and goals of RTTT. After covering the components of the RTTT application, McQuillan answered questions by some of the 80 local teacher leaders attending the meeting.

Districts that agree to work with the state and participate in the RTTT grant must implement all or significant portions of the state’s reform plan that will be submitted as part of the grant application. Participating districts will be required to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will hold them accountable for meeting the goals, timelines, budgets, and targets specified by the state.

Districts that decide to participate in the state’s RTTT plan must submit a signed MOU to the state by Monday, January 11.The MOU is binding on the district and at a minimum must be signed by the superintendent and the board of education chair. The Association is more likely to be involved with — and shape — the program if it also signs the MOU.

One thing to consider is that RTTT is a competitive grant program. The federal government has established a point system to decide which states may get money based on certain things.

Connecticut gets more credit in this competitive grant if the agreement also includes the signature of the local Association president. However, in each school district that decides to participate, the local union president is not required to sign the agreement.

The bottom line is that deciding whether to sign on to the grant is a decision that each local has to make for itself. Locals have to evaluate how children’s education might improve and what their members might gain.

McQuillan said that, while there is a lot of apprehension about the state’s reform plan being proposed under the RTTT grant, Association leaders should be at the table to “shape the dialogue in a positive way.”

CEA Legal Counsel Ronald Cordilico spoke to local leaders about how they can effectively participate and collaborate with their  administrators on RTTT but still maintain and uphold teacher collective bargaining rights and rights protected by state statute.

Cordilico said local presidents and teacher members can serve on district committees, subcommittees, and ad hoc groups with administrators or board members, “but they cannot make any agreements that bind their Association.”

He urged local Association presidents – as representatives of their members — to be “precise” about their roles and those of any members who participate on committees, such as RTTT. “The role of the Association representatives on any committees should be clearly defined and explained to both the Association committee representative and the administration.”

Cordilico added that any committee agreement must be submitted to the Association as the bargaining agent, separate from the committee. The Association’s officers should then meet separately, pursuant to its local constitution, to decide what action to take.

“Get any agreement in writing. Don’t rely on informal conversations,” he stressed.

Apruzzese encouraged local leaders to take an “active role” in any and all committees or arenas where RTTT programs are developed and implemented. He said local Association officers can also help by  educating and engaging members in discussions about the state reform plan in the RTTT grant.

Yrchik said RTTT is an opportunity for teachers and the Association to assume an advocacy role in making decisions that will shape education policies and programs.

“Teachers have long wanted a say in education policy. We once hoped that collective bargaining would give us a say in the education policies that affect classroom teachers, but it hasn’t. RTTT is not an ideal situation, but it does look for our approval. There is a sea change coming in education,” he said. “RTTT is one place where we can make ourselves visible to our members and to the public about education policy.”

CEA will continue to provide information on RTTT as the process develops. Members and local leaders who have questions about RTTT should contact Mary Loftus Levine: maryl@cea.org