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Jan 282013
 

The following Letter To The Editor  was written by Susan O. Wallerstein,  Ph. D.,  a retired educator and former Asst. Superintendent in the Greenwich Public School district.  The letter appeared in most if not all of  the local papers including:  The Hour, The Norwalk Daily Voice and Nancy On Norwalk.  The letter highlights the importance of getting the search process right for the selection of the next superintendent in Norwalk.

To the Editor:

Several weeks ago the Board of Education appointed a committee, including representative community members, to assist with the superintendent search. Recently the professional search firm hired by the BOE launched an online survey which gives everyone a chance to weigh in about the 10 most important superintendent characteristics. As a long-term “district in need of improvement,” the stakes are particularly high both for the Board’s selection process and for the person they choose as our next superintendent. History suggests the Board should be looking for an experienced change-agent. Since some Board members may not continue after the November 2013 elections, laying a strong foundation for success during the selection process can help reduce the ways politics and other distractions may undermine a new leader’s effectiveness. Here are a few lessons learned from my experience:

Engaging the community in the search is necessary but not enough. Frankly, the list of top 10 desirable superintendent characteristics doesn’t differ much from any one district to another. That said, of course it’s important for people to believe they have a voice and for Board members to both listen and hear.

Board members are responsible for hiring the superintendent and making a commitment to that person’s success. The Board must show its confidence in the new superintendent through actions and words, both public and private. This sends a powerful message throughout the community that it is not “business as usual.”

There ARE highly qualified candidates interested in coming to Norwalk. These people may have non-traditional career paths and different educational backgrounds and degrees. What they will have in common is a passion for public education and the ability to back up their experience with proof. (Frankly, there’s not much on the Proact list of superintendent characteristics that speaks to accountability or transparency.)

Experienced leaders do their homework and ask lots of questions. They will want to know the specific challenges that need to be dealt with to transform a system of schools in need of improvement into a high performing school system. Among other things they will be interested in the budget: Is the proposed 2013-14 budget a realistic starting point for multi-year planning? Or does it reflect a one-year salary freeze coupled with the shift of some ongoing operating costs (Common Core curriculum) to the capital budget? I have seen many outstanding, experienced superintendents from other states flounder if they haven’t done their homework about how things have worked historically in Connecticut.

Excellent leaders insist on being evaluated. The best will spell out the terms and conditions required for them to be successful. They will ask whether the Board is ready to let the superintendent lead and what Board members’ views are about governance vs. management. The confident, enlightened ones may even suggest tying their performance to compensation! These candidates know that if the Board and the superintendent aren’t on the same page about where the district needs to go and what it will take to get there (this is not about money), it’s unlikely we’ll ever get there.

Outsiders thinking about applying want to know if there is a favored internal candidate. Unless they believe the school system is open and honest about the search process, many will decline to apply. Many area districts make it clear up front whether an acting or interim superintendent may be a candidate for a permanent position. Of course this can change but it’s always better to start with all the cards on the table.

Susan O. Wallerstein, Ph.D.

Jan 222013
 

Last week, the Norwalk Board of Education (BOE) launched an online survey, developed by the Illinois-based search firm, PROACT.  It is asking respondents to identify various attributes when selecting the next superintendent.  Open to both residents and parents, the survey is part of the Board of Ed’s promise to reach out to the community for input.  The survey can be found on the home page of the the NPS website or by clicking here.  Super Survey

Below is the proposal that PROACT provided to the BOE last fall.

ProAct Proposal

 

Jan 222013
 

During the Summer, 2011 the Thomas B. Fordham Institute conducted a national study on the strength of teacher’s unions and their role in shaping or reshaping education policy.  The Executive Summary is outlined below and the full  report can be found here. 20121029-Union-Strength-Full-Report

Executive Summary

In recent years, debates over school reform have increasingly focused on the role of teacher unions in the changing landscape of American K–12 education. On one hand, critics argue that these unions, using their powerful grip on education politics and policy to great effect, bear primary responsibility for blocking states’ efforts to put into place overdue reforms that will drive major-league gains in our educational system. Such critics contend that the unions generally succeed at preserving teacher job security and other interests, and do so at the expense of improved opportunities for kids.

On the other side, we find union defenders who stoutly maintain that these organizations are bulwarks of professionalism in education, that their power is greatly exaggerated, that their opposition to misguided reforms is warranted, and that they couldn’t possibly account for achievement woes—considering that highly unionized states perform at least as well as any others (and better than many) on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and other indicators.
This debate has taken on an international aspect, too, as critics of U.S. reform initiatives (and defenders of unions) point out that teachers are unionized all over the world, including nearly all the countries that surpass us on comparative achievement measures such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Both sides agree that, for better or worse, teacher unions look out for teacher interests. This study sheds light on how they use politics to do this, by measuring teacher union strength, state by state, more comprehensively than any other study to date.

It sought answers to three questions:
1. What elements are potential sources of a union’s strength (i.e., inputs)?
2. How might unions wield power in terms of behavior and conduct (i.e., processes and activities)?
3. What are signs that they have gotten their way (i.e., outcomes)?

We do not limit the answers to those questions to routinely-studied channels of union strength such as membership density and bargaining status, though we do include those. We also include such other measures as alignment between state policies and traditional union interests, union contributions to political campaigns, and the impressions of union influence held by knowledgeable participant-observers within the states. We chose to focus on state-level unions rather than local ones, because the state organizations are apt to affect education policy on a large scale.

OUR APPROACH
To gauge union strength at the state level, we gathered and synthesized data for thirty-seven different variables across five broad areas:

Area 1: Resources and Membership: Internal union resources (members and revenue), plus K–12 education spending in the state, including the portion of such spending devoted to teacher salaries and benefits.
Area 2: Involvement in Politics: Teacher unions’ share of financial contributions to state candidates and political parties, and their representation at the Republican and Democratic national conventions.
Area 3: Scope of Bargaining: Bargaining status (mandatory, permitted, or prohibited), scope of bargaining, right of unions to deduct agency fees from non-members, and legality of teacher strikes.
Area 4: State Policies: Degree of alignment between teacher employment rules and charter school policies with traditional union interests.
Area 5: Perceived Influence: Results of an original survey of key stakeholders within each state, including how influential the unions are in comparison to other entities in the state, whether the positions of policymakers are aligned with those of teacher unions, and how effective the unions have been in stopping policies with which they disagree.

Using these data, we rank the relative strength of state-level teacher unions in fifty-one jurisdictions as compared to one another (fifty states plus Washington, D.C.). To do this, we score the state separately on each of the five areas and rank the states according to those scores. We then average the five area scores and re-rank the states accordingly.

 

Jan 012013
 

One of our co-hosted Book Club and Community Conversation events  held last January was with Peg Tyre,  Newsweek reporter and author of  The Good School.  Below is an exurb from her book as published on Salon.com.   Also included are many thought provoking  comments from the public  both in agreement and disagreement on this topic.

http://www.salon.com/2011/08/06/good_school_excerpt/

 

 

http://www.wallis.rochester.edu/WallisPapers/wallis_10.pdf

Jan 012013
 

Low reading scores are a major contributing factor to Connecticut’s largest in the nation achievement gap and Norwalk also suffers low reading scores for its Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) student population and English Language Learners (ELL.) The following article  addresses how colleges and universities teach teachers to teach reading.  Teachers who come out of two highly selective programs — Teach for America and the Neag School at the University of Connecticut — have strikingly better scores on the state  Foundations in Reading Test that assesses their ability to teach reading than other schools in Connecticut.

The Foundations in Reading Test is major initiative in Connecticut’s efforts to close the achievement gap is to improve students’ reading skills, particularly in the early grades. In the fall of 2007, a Reading Summit was held with private and public advocates for children to coordinate state efforts to improve childhood literacy. This summit established as one of its recommendations that Connecticut require a test for prospective teachers in the teaching of reading.

Beginning on or after July 1, 2009, teacher candidates in Connecticut applying for an Integrated Early Childhood, NK–3 Endorsement (endorsement #113) or Elementary Education Grades K–6 Endorsement (endorsement #013) will be required to take and pass the Connecticut Foundations of Reading test, a test of reading instruction knowledge and skills administered by the Evaluation Systems group of Pearson.

http://blogs.courant.com/rick_green/2011/04/how-schools-teach-reading-what.html

Click here to learn more about the Foundations In Reading Test.