NORWALK, Conn. A strong and competent superintendent holds educational staff accountable. In turn, they are held accountable by a well-functioning board of education, who in turn holds a strong but (hopefully) sincere union leadership accountable. All three must work together in order to be focused on the success of the school district and city.
Its pretty safe to say that over the past 10 years, Norwalk has suffered alternatively from a lack of leadership or competency from its superintendents to a board of education that was at best lassie faire to an administration that, at its worst, was dysfunctional, vengeful or incompetent.
Lastly, local politicians have been forced to pay lip service to a super-structure that they have no direct control over because the state Legislature has not seen fit to pass any education reform that might: 1) drive more adult accountability at local school district levels or 2) manage state dollars equitably (think ECS funding ).
Did you know that the city of Norwalk wont even have a seat at the negotiating table this spring when school staff employment contracts come up for negotiation?
The headline in The Hour , about a month ago, regarding the superintendent considering a leave of absence demonstrates how the status quo in this town can eat good people up and spit them out. Between the board of educations lackluster support on both sides of the political aisle (after having hired her!) and the 20-plus years of threatened union leadership wanting to keep their political hold, superintendents have become human pinatas .
There are only about 10 individuals, strategically positioned and protected by collective bargaining or contracts in this district, that are wreaking havoc in the sandbox, throwing sand in the face of the most simple of education reforms.
Things like: school climate surveys, the school calendar and teacher of the year are just a few examples of their resistance. The school climate survey was our new superintendents attempt to give approximately 1,400 staff and 5,500 families an opportunity to express their opinions on their local schools a wonderful first for this city.
The change in school calendar was directed at increasing instructional time in the classroom prior to state testing and giving students an opportunity to meet real heroic veterans instead of sleeping in on Veterans Day. Finally, the teacher-of-the-year program was directed at recognizing the qualities and attributes of an honorable and critical profession.
The three simplest issues at the core of education reform for Norwalk look to: 1.) adult accountability and transparency; 2.) increased academic rigor; 3.) closing the achievement gap. And guess what its happening.
Our top 25 percent of students test on par with our wealthier, leafy suburbs. Our African American and Hispanic students test better than the state. There is a new common core curriculum coming in 2014 to 48 out of 50 states and Norwalk will be ready/ More kids are taking honors and AP classes.
Yes, we still need to do more to help the average student but that issue is not unique to Norwalk.
Parents and the community have an opportunity next month to vote in political leaders and board education representatives who will continue to make education reform a priority in Norwalk.
As we go into this election season, Norwalk residents must also be held accountable for the educational situation that has evolved in this city, and the rest of this country. In Norwalk, alone, in the last election, a little more than 13,000 voted in the mayoral contest.
The board of education candidate with the most votes got a little less than 6,000. Thats only 20 percent and 10 percent respectively, out of the 50,000 registered voters in the city. This degree of low voter turnout is amazing when one considers that:
? Education accounts for nearly two-thirds of Norwalk's city budget
? Everyone in the city contributes their tax dollars to the school budget whether they have children in the school system or not they should want it to operate successfully
? Norwalk's desirability as a place to live is greatly impacted by the effectiveness of its school system, and ultimately, residents home values are impacted, too
As Norwalk public schools continue to make progress in student achievement, it's important that our educational leaders the administration, the board of education and the union be held accountable and act civilly and responsibly toward each other, using data and facts as we move forward with education reforms. Healthy school districts have educational leaders who work together for common goals. When they do students win, our neighborhoods win and our city wins.
So, let your voice be heard, attend the candidate debates starting this week and get out and vote Nov. 8th.
Look for those candidates who will reach across the aisle and get to work. Good things are happening in education in Norwalk and they must be given the fertile political ground to continue.
- Lisa Thomson, co-founder, REd APPLES of Norwalk
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