Gov. Dannel P. Malloy visited West Hartford's Tuesday evening as the second stop on his state-wide Education Reform Tour.
"How many people in the room agree that we need to improve education in the State of Connecticut?" the governor asked when he arrived. Virtually everyone raised a hand.
A capacity crowd was on hand for the Town Hall meeting, with the auditorium filling rapidly more than 30 minutes before the governor's scheduled arrival. The Fire Marshal was on hand to maintain the size of the crowd at the auditorium's capacity of 366, and numerous people were reportedly turned away.
Attendees included state and local elected officials, school administrators, parents, students, and a large and very vocal contingent of teachers.
Malloy began by outlining his Education Reform Package, which includes the following principles:
- Enhancing families’ access to high-quality early childhood education opportunities
- Authorizing the intensive interventions and enabling the supports necessary to turn around Connecticut’s lowest-performing schools and districts
- Expanding the availability of high-quality school models, including traditional schools, magnets, charters, and others
- Unleashing innovation by removing red tape and other barriers to success, especially in high-performing schools and districts
- Ensuring that our schools are home to the very best teachers and principals – working within a fair system of performance-based evaluation and professional development, that values skill and effectiveness over seniority and tenure
- Delivering more resources ($50 million in ECS), targeted to districts with the greatest need – provided that they embrace key reforms that position our students for success
Malloy's proposed six-point plan focuses heavily on improving underperforming districts, and some elements of the plan, particularly those centered on teacher evaluation and tenure, were challenged by the vocal contingent of teachers, several of whom were randomly selected to ask questions of the governor.
"What is the expected outcome of tying teacher compensation to evaluation?" asked Sean Fuss, a teacher in Glastonbury.
"In every profession other than academics there is a relationship. Exemplary service, in any profession, should be honored," the governor said. "What we're really trying to do is implement those standards that the unions already agreed to."
In response to another question about not considering increased education as a factor in teacher compensation, Gov. Malloy said, "We're not in the business of collecting degrees that have not been applied. If you're not a good teacher, why should we pay more just because you have a degree?"
Scott Minnick, a Glastonbury teacher who is also a member of the East Hampton Board of Education, compared the education system to a tripod comprised of teachers, families, and students.
"You're trying to repair the tripod under the assumption that one leg should carry more weight than the other two? How will focusing on the 'leg' that is the teachers fix the socioeconomic problem?" Minnick asked.
Gov. Malloy, who said he fundamentally disagreed with Minnick's assertion, argued that his six principles were not all about teachers. "We are doing wonderful things for many of our students, but we are also letting down a significant number of them," he said. "You can't deny that we have low performing school districts."
East Hartford High School teacher Joe Bernabucci wondered how using standardized tests as a measure for teacher evaluation would "enrich students' quality of education."
Malloy did not back down. "This is the evaluation system that the teachers' unions negotiated through a two-year process," he said. Connecticut, according to the governor, will rely on standardized tests as a measure to a much lesser degree than many other states do. "Should we just maintain the status quo?" he asked.
Malloy conceded that using standardized tests as the only tool for measurement is not perfect, but said it is is used "In absence of a better way to do it ... Tests reflect, at least to some extent, achievement," Malloy told Hartford teacher Emily Wright. "And I guess that's the answer," he said.
"If you're a good teacher, you're only going to do better under this proposal. The status quo can not be the answer," Gov. Malloy reiterated.
Malloy's Education Reform tour will continue Thursday in Torrington. For up-to-date information about dates and locations, visit http://governor.ct.gov/educationtour.
Charter Oak Academy was deliberately chosen as the venue for Tuesday's Town Hall meeting to show off the great things that are happening at the magnet school. As an intra-district magnet school, enrollment at Charter Oak is available through lottery to students throughout West Hartford, with transportation available to those who live beyond walking distance. The school's initial focus as an international academy was a factor in the drive to obtain certification for the highly-regarded program, which was celebrated last spring.
Enrollment for the magnet school lottery is available from now through March 23.