About 1,000 public school teachers cheered and held up signs with messages such as "STAND UP FOR EDUCATION" Monday evening, as their union leaders pushed at a State Capitol rally for passage of an education bill rejecting key elements of Gov.Dannel P. Malloy's proposed reform package.
"Most of what the governor has proposed attacks teachers and our profession, and does little to close the achievement gap," said President Phil Apruzzese of the Connecticut Education Association, which represents 43,000 teachers in the state.
Apruzzese criticized Malloy's original bill for tying teachers' evaluations to their tenure and potential loss of their certification. He addressed Malloy, who did not attend, rhetorically: "It is a fact, and, Governor, let's be clear" — a frequent catch-phrase of Malloy's — "that lumping teacher evaluation tenure and certification won't — won't — help our students. … What's at risk if education reform is not done right? The future of educational and economic opportunity in our state will be lost."
Informed of Apruzzese's comments Tuesday night, Malloy's senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, said in an email: "Everything the Governor has proposed — including having evaluations with consequences — has emerged as a best practice in other states. And teachers in those states have been supportive of these changes because they know a strong evaluation system strengthens their profession."
Occhiogrosso added: "Lost in all the hysteria of the past few weeks is that this Governor took a lot of heat last year for proposing a revenue increase. He did that, in part, to help fill a $270 million hole in local education funding. By filling that hole he saved the jobs of thousands of teachers — by one account, approximately 5,000 teaching jobs. That's just one example of the value he places on public school teachers."
Although Malloy wasn't at the rally, three key Democratic legislators — Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, House Speaker Christopher Donovan and Sen. Andrea Stillman, co-chairwoman of the legislative education committee — spoke at the microphone on the Capitol's north steps to express solidarity with the teachers on reforms.
Stillman's committee came out last month with a modified version of Malloy's proposals that the teachers say is fair to them — such as sending tenure reform to a study panel rather than acting on it immediately. Stillman said she and fellow lawmakers listened to suggestions that teachers sent in countless emails.
Stillman paused, and a voice called out: "You rock!"
"You rock, too!" Stillman called back, drawing cheers.
Malloy has called the education committee bill inadequate, and his top political lieutenants have been meeting privately with Democratic legislative leaders who control both chambers to negotiate a compromise bill.
Among areas being discussed are: the rollout of a school turnaround plan that would create an education commissioner's network of low-performing schools that would receive concentrated attention; and a proposal to link the new teacher evaluation system to decisions on tenure and dismissal.
Lori J. Pelletier, secretary-treasurer of the ConnecticutAFL-CIO, got an exuberant reaction when she shouted into the microphone: "We've got two weeks left in this legislative session [to pass the bill], and our heroes like Senator Stillman, Senator Williams and Speaker Donovan need all of you! They need all of you to stand up every day! So from now until May 9, stand up — stand up for education, stand up for kids!"
Listening in the crowd was Roger Templeton, a 28-year-old math teacher at East Lyme High School. Asked what message he hoped the rally would convey, he said: "Teachers need to have more of a say in how this whole process is done. … Teachers need to give their input as to what's effective, so that we can all work together and collaborate to really achieve the same goal." That would be better, he said, than "somebody dictating to us what they think works — when they need to have somebody who has the experience to give some insight as to what works."
Of Malloy, Templeton said: "He has good intentions with trying to improve education. I just don't think he's going about it the right way."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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