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Jul 052011

I’d like to comment on the evaluation that the BoE conducted and the report card that NFT President, Bruce Mellion presented, as part of Dr. Marks’ one year evaluation and that The Hour reported on last week.

First, it’s progress in and of itself that 1) the BoE assessed the new Superintendent after her first year on the job and 2) that the teachers union was able to post a survey to its members and make it public to the press.  It would have been helpful however, to have seen the actual survey categories.  Also, where was the principal and administration survey from NASA?  I could be wrong, but wasn’t a level of management skipped here?  Aren’t the building level principals and assistant principals the ones who most directly interact with teachers?  Has Mr. Ditrio chosen to defer to Mr. Mellion or will NASA also be publishing its own report card on the new superintendent?

But speaking of surveys, results are pending for another one conducted this past spring.  Dr. Marks, with the help of NPS staff, parents and the community compiled a list of questions for parents and staff on a host of issues ranging from: student progress, school leadership, atmosphere, safety, technology access, etc.  Results are due this fall.  (Note:  The Superintendent did include the NFT President in its compilation.)

As a parent, in this district for the past 7 years, it’s interesting to note that union leadership really hasn’t had anything nice to say about any superintendent since the days of Dr. Sloane.  Recently, I met Dr. Sloane and asked him about his beloved reputation and practically anointed saint-hood from staff.  He very modestly chuckled, and while he appreciated the accolades, I got the distinct impression that NPS staff’s hearts had grown fonder of him over time.

Sadly, I think the term LEADERSHIP, particularly as it applies to U.S. education these days, is a bit of an oxymoron.  Over the years, the U.S. had managed to carve education up into so many pieces, that it’s hard to keep track.  With over 14,000 public school districts across the country, and 193 in our small state, has a super structure been created that has left us forgetting  WHO is in charge of WHOM, particularly when one takes into account both federal and state agencies, unions and district/school matrix management?

To place into context,  both the BoE evaluation and  NFT teacher survey regarding Dr. Marks, it  might be a good idea to recap our own district management structure and the votes that have determined who leads, so as to better understand who really takes orders from whom ?

First, you have 9 members on the Board of Education.  In the November ’09 BoE election, there were approximately 42-49K registered voters. In analyzing the voter data, 5911 votes reflected the average number cast for each of 8 candidates, who were running for the 4 at large seats.  Barely 1244 votes separated Steve Colarossi, who received the highest and Shirley Mosby who received the lowest.   Isn’t it a shame that more residents didn’t participate in the process?  Anyway, the BoE hired Dr. Marks last summer and she reports to them.  While Dr. Marks is the leader of the school district, she does get a little help from her friends.

As NASA Union President, Mr. Ditrio leads 58 principals, assistant principals and central office administration and has for over two decades.  He was recently re-elected by his members last month, after a tie produced a run-off election.

As NFT President,  Mr. Mellion leads the 902 teachers in this district and does an excellent job protecting the rights of his teachers, which is probably why he’s been consistently re-elected  by them for the past two decades.  But, as a parent, taxpayer and activist, I do take a little issue with the fact, that Norwalk taxpayers contribute $40,000 towards his salary, yet have absolutely no say in how he conducts his business for his teachers and ultimately the children or residents of Norwalk.

More tangentially, but just as important,  Norwalk residents must also add to the  leadership mix, our state representatives  in Hartford, like Senator  Bob Duff and Representatives  Larry Cafero, Gail  Lavielle and Chris Perone and Terry Wood.  Go on line at www.cga.ct.gov/ and check out their positions on education and how they voted on the myriad of education bills this past legislative session.

The next time somebody mentions LEADERSHIP and education in the same sentence, be clear about which leader they are referring to, because to me it is NOT altogether clear.

However, maybe one day, the 85,000 residents in Norwalk will unite.  Perhaps local businesses looking to hire graduates, or senior citizens looking to the next generation to contribute to society, or the African American, Hispanic and White communities, whether renting or owning their homes and with or without children in this district, coupled with ALL of the great teachers and administrators who live and work in Norwalk will come together and acknowledge the need for education REFORM.  It’s not just one person that waves their magic wand and fixes our schools.  It will take all of us. It’s going to be incredibly painful to change from the way things have always been.  But change we must.

So, when an educational survey comes your way, or it’s time for you to vote; pay attention, participate, and let your voice be heard.  That, in and of itself, will be progress, because IT WILL take a village.

Lisa Thomson