Feb 242013

The Norwalk BOE heard a status readout by CREC (Capital Region Education Council) on progress made by Norwalk’s Special Education Department  in terms of staffing, operations and expenditures.  It also examined actions taken by NPS since its 2008 evaluation.  The presentation is below:



Click below to listen to an audio of the BOE Meeting that night.





For more information on CREC, click below:





Feb 082013

Connecticut is not the only state trying to clean up its public education system.  A NY Times article provides an brief overview of the reforms that the neighboring, New York Education Reform Commission has identified.  Extending the school day, breaking an academic calendar, tied to an agrarian culture, consolidating school districts and having teachers pass a type of ‘bar exam’ similar to the ones doctors and lawyers must pass before they enter the profession are just some of the recommendations.

To view the article click below :


To view the report click below:

EducationReformCommissionReport- NY

Feb 032013

The Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) has completed the Parent Survey (feedback) portion of the new PEAC evaluation process for teachers and principals.  The new evaluation process for teachers will be comprise of:

  • Teacher Classroom Performance and Practice 40%
  • Parent  or Peer Feedback 10%
  • Student Growth and Development 45%
  • Whole School Student Learning Feedback 5%

The new evaluation process* for administrators will be comprised of:

  • Student Learning 45%
  • Leadership Practice 40%
  • Stakeholder Feedback 10%

* I don’t know why it doesn’t add up to 100%

Below are two links that connect you to a bank of questions that the CSDE  has developed and that school districts can select from.




To understand more about the parent and community component of the new process. Click on the link below.



Feb 032013

Another Meaning of Accountability and the NPS Budget By Lisa Thomson

Do we ask the right questions when reconciling public spending with student achievement? Do we know what we spend on the 3Rs? Do we understand per pupil expenditures at the elementary, middle or high school levels when parents get pitted against one another other over which positions or programs to cut, add or restore?  Do we know how much is spent on Special Ed and whether it’s effective? Finally, do we know what we spend on a per pupil basis for sports, music or other extra-curricular activities, when we talk about Pay to Play? 

I would argue we don’t.

What we do know is that parents’ want a quality and consistent K-12 experience for their children and taxpayers want a school district that reflects student achievement and that maintains a town’s reputation and property values.

But what’s going to happen in the future, for example in Norwalk, when next year’s salary freeze is lifted for teachers? What about the double digit increases in health care premiums? What about the debate regarding which side of the ledger some employee post benefits and pensions sit? How will these increasing costs impact the way we educate students, compensate school staff, or bill taxpayers?

The proposed $164 Million budget for 2013-14 reflects an average cost of $15,000 per student, based upon projected enrollment figures of 10,962. The chart below represents my simplified summary, taken from the Superintendents Operating Budget Book.

My concerns over the budget, stem from wanting to understand how much is spent on core academics versus other shared services and how it ties back to student achievement?  At the moment, it’s tough to quantify.  Just for fun, I examined the regular classroom teacher line item of $63.3M and equally divided it by 5 subjects (i.e. math, science, language arts, social studies and electives) and then further divided that figure by the number of students in the district. I came up with only $1154 spent per child on individual academic subjects. When contrasted against other costs, it was alarming!

In 2010, Marguerite Rosa wrote, Educational Economics, offering explanations why education funding has become so convoluted.  Chapters entitled Fuzzy Math, Who’s Really in Charge of Education?, When Political Agendas Collide, Driving Blind, What Does All This Mean For Schools, A Wicked Problem, A Multi- Dimensional Solution gives you a sense of the complexity.  If you read this book, you’ll see that I’m not just picking on Norwalk. Our budget is symptomatic of a state crisis, better still, a national crisis, when elected officials, willing to kick the demographic financial can down the road are complicit with the educational establishment’s historical budget creation process, based upon past practices and nominal alignment to student achievement. This approach, coupled with the inverted baby-boomer pyramid of expenses is smacking up against the next generation’s ability to get an education, close the achievement gap, prepare for college or get a job. It’s not just visible on the balance sheet, but in our neighborhoods, if one drives past former schools turned nursing-retirement homes dotted along Broad River, Strawberry Hill and Gregory Blvd. and Allen Road.

But demographics aside, when examining the budget from a core academic standpoint, it illustrates as a nation, how we’ve strayed from spending money on the nitty-gritty fundamentals of reading and writing and our nation’s test scores reflect it. Until districts more directly link budgets to student achievement, whereby staff, training, qualifications, technology and other resources are tied back to the basics, students will under-perform and educators and politicians will bear the wrath of parents and taxpayers.

Connecticut’s reputation for being the state of steady habits has left us with 169 school districts that carry the burden of 169 different contracts for health insurance, transportation, technology and a host of other  expenses that are killing local municipalities and cannibalizing the classroom.  We need to unravel the costs that make up the school budget and determine how to get back on track with the core objective of preparing students for the global economy without destroying the economy in the process!

Data Extrapolated from the 2013-2014 Proposed Superintendent’s Budget

Note: Allocated line Items numbers have been rounded up or down for illustrative purposes.

Code Items Total  Allocated %  Of Budget Per Student Allocation
800 Professional dues, Associations $ 108K <1% $ 9
700 Instructional equipment and software $ 315K <1% $ 28
600 Supplies ( oil, electricity, gasoline, oil, books, postage, other) $ 5.8M 4% $ 625
500 Other  (Special Ed Tuition &  Bus Transportation) $ 13.2M 8% $ 1,204
400 Property Services (Building Equipment &  Maintenance $ 2.6M 2% $ 237
300 Professional & Technical Services (legal fees, etc.) $ 3.6M 2% $ 328
200 Benefits (health & life ins., social security, retirement, longevity, etc. $ 36.5M 22% $ 3,329
100 Staff Salaries      
Common Core Implementation, Salaries Workshops $ 470K <1% $ 42
All Substitutes  $ 1.7M 1% $ 155
Superintendent’s Office & Super Admin Team $ 880K   $ 80
Principals & Asst. Principals and Housemasters $5.4M 3% $493
Supervisors and Asst. Supervisors (Instructional Specialists,  Special Education Support, Expulsion Hearings) $1.1M <1% $100
Secretaries, Aides and Clerks $ 10.7M 7% $ 976
Custodians & Maintenance $ 5.2M 3% $ 474
Security $ 97K <1% $ 8
Nurses & Physical Therapist $ 1.4M <1% $127
Overtime $ 378K <1% $34
Extra- Curricular Stipends $ 130K <1% $11
Degree Changes $ 375K <1% $34
Other Certified Staff (Social Workers, Psychologists, Speech therapists, guidance counselors, instructional aides, HS Librarians) $ 7.7M 5% $702
Non Affiliated  Staff (IT, Audio Visual Techs, Payroll, Facilities directors, executive support) $ 1.4 <1% $127
Other Non- Certified (security staff, monitors, testing coordinators, mailroom personnel) $ 909K 1% $82
Classroom Teachers   $ 63.3M 38% $5774
TOTAL * $163.3M ~ 100% $14,979 ~




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.

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.