Friday, May 9, 2014

Connecticut's Misguided Pryor-ities in Education - Thoughts For Teachers and Hopes for Tomorrow

Norman Rockwell (Graduation - Boy with Teacher)
This is a very rough draft of a much larger piece that still needs to be written. I am in the habit of writing late at night so that my daily posts make it in time for a.m. coffee. I woke up this morning, however, and said, "Man, it must be National Teacher Appreciation Week." I have been  busier than usual applauding the excellence of public school educators this week, so my rhythm and routines are off kilter. That is why I am sipping coffee this morning and thinking before I go to New Haven Public Schools and celebrate teachers there!

Yesterday, I received an email from a woman in Bridgeport who thanked me for the small Op-Ed I wrote in recognition of teacher artists. In her words,
"This is the first time I've seen appreciation in a long time. Administrators and teachers in Bridgeport have been beaten to the pulp. No one heard our voices when Paul Vallas came and gutted out the entire infrastructure. There is no structure left. Mayor Finch, Stephan Pryor, and Governor Malloy continue a blind-sided campaign to privatize our district and to continue to take away resources. They don't invest in us. Each year we get less and less from them and we're demanded to do more and more."
While visiting schools this week, I heard similar remarks, including some from veteran teachers who came to Bridgeport City Schools (note: these are stellar educators with a passionate zest to teach - it is a calling). Many reported their intrinsic desire to work in an impoverished community in support of excellence for young people in their district. These are teachers who give 10 to 12 hours a day to their students, many of whom call them 'Mom' and 'Pops.' Students come to these teachers to learn and they see them as mentors who can make their lives better. One man said,
We used to have support in the district. In fact, we were building momentum before Paul Vallas arrived and everyone enjoyed coming to school. No, it was far from perfect, even then, but there used to be professional development that supported the work we hoped to do. We knew our population was not easy. That is why we worked diligently to build a community. We worked with parents, neighborhoods, leaders, officers, and social services to problem-solve how to best serve the kids. The tide turned around four years ago. All the hard work was lost. Every bit of support was stolen. In its place came 30 pound textbooks without training, the Common Core State Standards, teacher evaluations, and an anti-public school wrath. I'm a Democrat, but I fear across the nation we have put monsters into office. Their thinking is that private, highly educated and connected businesses are best suited to serve our community. They don't see the institutional racism in this. Our kids deserve professionals in the classroom, not young idealists with six weeks of training or militant classroom procedures designed with test-only instruction. 
I must comment, however, that there is hope. Several emails I received talked about the souls of young people and the need to bring heart back into schools. Yesterday, I also received an email from interim Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz asking if she could share my OpEd with teachers in the district (of course - that's why I wrote it). Later that afternoon, too, I learned that the district has asked several stellar teachers to meet and think ahead for the 2014-2015 school year. The plan? To design professional development for teachers and their needs (now that is a shift from the last few years). It is in complete contrast from what I've witnessed since moving to Connecticut in 2011.

I welcome others to begin brainstorming with me new thinking for the Nutmeg State that is proactive, intelligent, and celebratory. In this sense, I wonder about next steps that we must take to counter the misguided Pryor-ities of Dannell Malloy. In 2012, Fairfield University brought Stephan Pryor to campus. I was new to the state and didn't quite understand why public school educators were full of so many questions for the Education Commissioner. Several posed questions to him that were poignant and direct. After the session, my colleagues and I remarked how we've never seen anyone avoid questions so proficiently. He successfully circumvented their concerns in a high-speed, nonchalant way. Since, I think many of us in the State have learned  why this is - educational Pryor-ities in this administration have never been to support teachers as professionals. In this view, public school teachers are an enemy to the State. That is dangerous politicking, indeed.

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