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Jun 242011
 

Below is a letter that was sent to the BoE, Superintendent, Union Heads and Mayor PRIOR to Thursday night’s Special BoE  Meeting to vote on which administrative positions to put back into the budget.

I just read in the Hour where the BoE is reconsidering putting back middle management administrative positions at the expense of teaching positions in the classroom, when we really don’t know what enrollment and class sizes will look like (by school) until August.  Teaching positions should be placed ahead of any middle management positions.

For example, if the Middle School AP Position was to be reinstated (and I understand we would have to move someone into the position(s) as they have been vacated) then BoE members must be prepared to JUSTIFY the need for a second AP.  According to the NPS Operating Budget, Nathan Hale functioned with one AP, and a student population of 632 this year and with 615 projected for next year.  West Rocks had 670 students this year and 653 projected for next. year. The net student difference of 33 students for 2010-11 and the projected difference of 38 students next year does not seem to warrant the additional expense during these tough economic times.

I completely understand why Roton has one AP.  But I share with Dr. Moore the inconsistency as to why the BoE chose only to cut the second West Rocks AP position and not the Ponus AP position as well?  As the mother of two middle school- aged children, wouldn’t middle school students better benefit from smaller class sizes in math and language arts where discipline problems start, and not AFTER THE FACT, in the disciplinary role of the AP position?

When will the BoE start looking at improving the outcomes of student academic achievement instead of giving into the status quo and the way and/or staff positions of the way we have always done things?

I have sat in DDDMT meetings for 3 years and listened to the non-sense about SRBI and how teachers can take care of the wide learning disparency inside the classroom.  I have also heard at the same time,  high school principals talk about middle school students NOT being prepared for 9th grade.  What about all the remedial courses that high school students take at NCC after graduating high school?

Insanity is defined as doing the same things over and over again hoping for a different outcome.

I have absolutely NO problem if the BoE was to allow both West Rocks and/or Ponus to keep the AP funding but direct it to something like a dedicated reading specialist or math intervention specialist or whatever Dr. Moore and Ms. Sumpter deemed most necessary from an academic standpoint, in order to best serve their student populations.  I want to make it perfectly clear, this is not about trying to take money away from either of these two middle schools.

It’s about getting the BoE and the union heads to figure out which building level POSITIONS are the most effective in driving up student achievement. I fail to understand how a second AP fulfills that role.  More middle management for discipline is not the answer.  More academic focus on the kids who need it in the classroom is!

I implore the BoE and union leadership to turn these troubling economic times into an opportunity to begin to try different things to drive up student achievement and to think outside of the box.

Respectfully submitted ,

Lisa Thomson

Jun 172011
 

Due to the comments space limitation with Moina’s blog,  Norwalk Net, I have responded to questions/comments posted by Lisa DR in response my earlier comments  about the Supt. Dr. Marks, union leadership and the Board of Education.

Dear LisaDR,

VISION/REFORM/UNION SUPPORT

I am not privy to all of Dr. Marks’ plans.  I’m a parent not a member of NPS staff.  But here’s what I’ve observed as someone who chooses to stay informed. The fact that much has become  transparent, is progress in and of itself.

1)       Started the budget committee process with all stakeholders last fall.

2)       Sent out survey to parents regarding calendar changes by front end loading time in the  classroom to earlier in the year to minimize the disruption in the fall. NOT SUPPORTED BY THE UNION.

3)       Initiated a parent and staff survey by school to solicit input (will be interesting to see what that reveals.)

4)       (While not perfect) implementing a Teacher of the Year Program to recognize a profession that has sadly lost its reputation over the years (DISCLOSURE:  I’m the daughter of a retired public school teacher and communicate with my mother regularly about the current state of education.)  NOT SUPPORTED BY THE UNION

5)       Replaced the  Director of HR and CFO so we can get a better handle on personnel issues that have resulted in costly  lawsuits to this city (no doubt diminishing programs for our kids) and cleaning up our finances.

6)       Reached out to the business community for innovative grants and funding for things that our taxes are not covering (i.e. early literacy, curriculum reviews)

7)       Proposed  ideas for cleaning up  Norwalk’s middle schools (that’s where we have most of our attrition) and creating  academic magnets across the 4 schools (WILL REQUIRE UNIONCONTRACT CHANGES, WHO KNOWS IF IT WILL BE SUPPORTED)

8)       More collaboration with Norwalk Community College at the high school level (NOT SUPPORTED BY THE UNION)

Since coming to Norwalk, Dr. Marks has had to deal with personnel after personnel issue and the budget.  Does anyone mention the kids …no?  It’s all about the adults and what THEY want.  Implementing the vision thing is challenging when you have 1) a graying population in Norwalk not necessarily vested in education financing 2) rising health care costs at the expense of curriculum and programs.  Norwalk needs to think outside of the box.  I was saddened to see much of the staff that spoke in public BoE meeting simply advocating for not- cutting- their- own positions, rather than putting forth recommendations in a terrible economy.

WHAT TO GIVE THE UNION IF THEY HAD MADE CONCESSIONS?

We have 10% unemployment as a nation and we rank behind most of the industrialized world in math and science.  Our NPS staff are the second highest paid in the state and we are a district in need of improvement.  Educators across this nation have air tight contracts that do not allow for effective teachers to be recognized nor ineffective ones to be let go.  To me that equals mediocrity.  Union issues are national in nature. Did you see Waiting for Superman.  Norwalk is no exception.

As for the 2012 Budget, according to the allocations in the original budget dated December, 2010,  Norwalk saw an increase in NPS wages of + 2.32%,  and insurance and other benefits costs  of +8.38% at the expense of Supplies and Materials  decreasing by -2.48% and Equipment by -13.83%.  Our taxes actually went up by 3% to pay salary and benefits,  while the allocation towards our kid’s books and technology went dramatically down.  At this juncture, it is difficult to figure out what more we can give the unions.

CENTRAL OFFICE:   If you were at one of the BOE meeting on June 7th, you would have heard me advocate for the elimination of the Dir. of Elementary Ed and some of the AP positions.   State laws allow for no action or measure on evaluations for Principals or Teachers…so what’s the point?  Besides in an economy like this, with painful cuts, it’s all hands on deck…or should I say all hands into the classroom.  I also advocated for Dr. Marks to be allowed to re-organize central office as she deems fit in order to better support the classroom.  She will however, need approval from the BoE on any recommendations she makes.

BoE MEMBERS AND REFORM.  I throw my hands up and say I honestly don’t know what to do.  As an unaffiliated registered voter, I am friendly with members of both political parties.  But here are my observations:   1) It’s a thankless job for those who seek it; 2) You have BOTH political parties pulling the strings on members and potential candidates. 3) Personality and style differences abound; 4)There has been no training for these folks to oversee a 150M+ budget;  5) Ideology bumps up against practicality; 6) Years and years of Stockholm Syndrome exists – where in many cases many BoE members have gotten too cozy with  administrators, especially when staff and BoE members have  been around  for decades.    7) And finally, from what I can see, a town of people who sometimes just like to fight.

The current structure seems to have insured a stalemate and with that status quo.  Perhaps charter reform is what the city needs?

Not originally from Norwalk,  I am constantly amazed at how this town prefers to plot and scheme and  fight amongst itself and air its dirty laundry to our surrounding wealthier suburbs (who incidentally aren’t without their own educational  problems…just look at Greenwich!)  I’ve tried to be respectful but forthright in my personal observations of what goes on in this district and have not hid behind anonymous signatures…thus putting myself  in the firing line.  My public comments  about the two major union heads is based upon MY direct interaction with the two of them as an involved parent.

Finally, US education is in a real pickle at the moment and its going to require a combination of legislation, student based funding and teamwork to move things forward…not just for Norwalk but for the country.  Activism is not for the faint of heart.  Sadly, my sons will come of age in a country that will be 2nd in the world to China and with an educational system that is in need of a drastic overhaul.  Governor Malloy has promised REFORM for Connecticut in 2012. It can’t happen soon enough for our great City.

Jun 112011
 

The following  letter was sent to the Norwalk  BoE on  Friday June 10, 2011.


Dear Norwalk Board of Education Members,

In light of the current issues that face the education profession these days, reformers across the country are promoting more mayoral control and/or involvement regarding school boards, as a way to introduce more stable and focused leadership, set higher standards, promote vision and oversight, better coordinate schooling with other after school activities and city agencies that support children and families and finally jump start much needed change.  Isn’t that what Norwalk needs?  I don’t know?

In my three years of educational activism, I’ve been frustrated by the lack of teamwork that has been consistently demonstrated by the BoE, regardless of the last election results, neighborhood or political affiliation, race or economic background.  It’s a crapshoot as to how ANY of you will vote on ANY particular issue.

 

While many things impact the City of Norwalk, many believe that education represents the CORE of its future vibrancy. While the economy and budget cuts can be cited as the source of some of our woes, money alone is NOT our problem.   Deservedly, we have the second highest paid teaching and administrative staff in the state (behind Greenwich) with purportedly the best benefits in the country.  But, we also have players in key positions, whose influence stretches back decades.  Finally, we have a BoE, in which no matter who gets elected, can’t seem to come to any consensus on anything managerially of substance.  The result for Norwalk’s children is status quo!  As parents, residents and taxpayers, what are we to do?

Lack of teamwork, usually produces no plan and no plan usually means a lack of public confidence!  As each of you prepares to vote on budget cuts for next year and some of you prepare to run candidacies this fall, please be ready to answer the following questions from parents, taxpayers and the electorate going forward?

  • We have over 11,000 students, of which over 40% are on  free and reduced lunch-  what policies  have you supported that drives a rigorous curriculum for ALL  given the challenges of our diverse community?
  • We spend nearly two thirds of the city’s tax base on education with 80% going towards salaries and benefits for NPS employees. How have you voted to hold NPS employees accountable for the job they are doing or do longstanding friendships, over the years get in the way?
  • We get short changed at the state level in terms of adequate student-based funding?  Have any of you ever spoken with our local state officials or gone to Hartford to stand up for our City?
  • We struggle under labor contracts that hinder true education reform, not just in Norwalk, but across the country.  Will you be ready next year when we re-negotiate contract work rules that reflect the 21st century or will you support the status quo because it’s the path of least resistance?
  • Local schools drive local real estate values. Do you believe that your BoE governance inspires young families to move into a graying Norwalk?
  • Will local businesses or corporations invest in Norwalk, based upon the future skill sets of NPS children?
  • Gang and violent crime is up.  Are these criminals from outside of Norwalk? If so, are they the former children of our district that have not been given the educational skills necessary to succeed in life?

The diversity that makes Norwalk a vibrant city versus a sleepy suburb is what attracts and keeps people here.  But a city like ours needs both civic leadership and a BoE that is prepared to work as a team and address the challenges that face us. While your public service is laudable, you need to ask yourselves why you ran for the BoE in the first place.  Do your colleagues know what your goals are?  Do you meet with each other or discuss substantive issues before you appear in public forums?   Do you fight to raise Norwalk standards or simply fight with each other?

Going forward, please put partisan, neighborhood and NPS politics aside, work together and with the NEW Superintendent  you hired,  to figure out how best to restore the confidence of this great community.  Maybe then, greater tax dollars will follow.

Lisa Thomson

Co- Founder, R.Ed.  APPLES

www.redapplesnorwalk.org