Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor's home was within two blocks of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I've seen what can happen when people rally in response to a disaster," Pryor said Monday during a MetroHartford Alliance forum that was co-hosted by the education reform group Achieve Hartford! and sponsored by Travelers.
"Plans led to progress."
Pryor served as president of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. in the aftermath of 9/11. He told the roughly 100 people at the Hartford Club on Prospect Street that he also traveled to Haiti after the catastrophic 2010 earthquake to offer help rebuilding the schools.
Pryor's talk -- a defense of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's school reform package in the state legislature -- argued that Connecticut needed a revival, too.
"There is a quiet -- and an invisible, to many -- disaster in our midst in this state. ... There are schools where the mix is so wrong, for whatever reason," Pryor said. "No one individual is to blame and there are exemplary professionals even in the lowest-performing schools. Don't get me wrong.
"But there are schools that are simply failing, and they're failing persistently. ... And we just can't stand for it. It's not right. And it also deeply injures our economy."
Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, Saint Joseph College President Pamela Trotman Reid, former Education Commissioner Theodore Sergi and business executives were among those who attended Monday's event, which was aimed at the business community.
Pryor called the state's educational system the ultimate "investment."
Malloy promoted his reform plan at a forum last week in Hartford and plans to speak at the Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford Tuesday night as part of a statewide tour to promote the proposals, including changes to teacher tenure and certification that teachers' unions have criticized.
Pryor told the group that professional development is key to a new, proposed system of evaluating teachers.
"It is "not about 'gotcha.' It's not about dismissing teachers, first and foremost," he said. "For the vast majority of teachers, it's about improving practice."
On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a report card that ranks states based on standardized test scores, Pryor noted that Connecticut has the country's worst achievement gap and is outscored by neighbors such as Massachusetts and New Jersey on eighth-grade math.
"Come on, folks. We can beat New Jersey," Pryor said to some laughter. He was Newark's deputy mayor for economic development before leading the Connecticut Department of Education.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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