Adamowski, Pryor and State Department of Education violate Connecticut Law on Windham Turnaround Plan…

The fundamental principle is pretty simple.  We are a nation of laws and when a law requires certain actions, failure to follow those rules is called “breaking the law.”

Incredibly, we seem to have entered a period in which a significant number of public officials seem to believe that they don’t need to follow that basic system.

In Bridgeport the law required Paul Vallas to complete a school leadership program in order to serve as Bridgeport’s superintendent of schools.  Instead of following the law, Paul Vallas, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the State Board of Education tried to pass off a three-credit independent study class as a “school leadership program.”  Unwilling to fulfill their fundamental obligation to follow the law, Connecticut citizens had to sue and a judge ruled Vallas had violated the law.  Still unwilling to do the right thing, Vallas et. al. have appealed the decision to the Connecticut Supreme Court.

A similar disregard for Connecticut law is now playing itself out in Windham, Connecticut.

According to documents and emails acquired through freedom of information requests or provided by state and local officials, Commissioner Stefan Pryor, Special Master Steven Adamowski and the State Department of Education are violating the law that provides for the development of school turnaround plans.

The issue is that Governor Malloy’s education reform bill sets up a system of Commissioner’s Network Schools to focus resources on a set of schools that face the greatest challenges when it comes to academic achievement.

The law requires that a “turnaround plan” be developed for each school selected for the Commissioner’s Network and then provides for extra taxpayer funds that must be used to implement that plan.

The legislation was based on the notion that turnaround plans should be locally developed so that they would have the buy-in and support of local parents, teachers, administrators and communities.

However, we are quickly learning that Commissioner Pryor and his education reform entourage are unwilling or unable to contain themselves and have repeatedly overstepped their authority in an ongoing effort to force local communities to adopt their brand of so-called education reform, including the over-reliance on charter schools.

This failure to follow the law, as written, is most evident in Windham.

The language of the law states;

(1)  Upon the selection by the Commissioner of Education of a school for participation in the commissioner’s network of schools, the local or regional board of education for such school shall establish a turnaround committee for the school district.   To ensure the Commission of Education’s concerns are heard, the law provides for the Commissioner of Education, or the commissioner’s designee, to serve on the turnaround committee.

(2)  The turnaround committee shall develop a turnaround plan for such school.

(3)   If a turnaround committee does not develop a turnaround plan, or if the commissioner determines that a turnaround plan developed by a turnaround committee is deficient, the commissioner may develop a turnaround plan for such school in accordance with the provisions of this subsection and, if the commissioner deems necessary, the commissioner may appoint a special master for such school to implement the provisions of the turnaround plan developed by the commissioner.

(4)  The State Board of Education shall approve the turnaround plan developed by a turnaround committee before a school may implement such turnaround plan.

As noted, the language of the legislation is easy to understand.

In the case of Windham, Commissioner Stefan Pryor appointed one of his new staff members, Gabrielle Ramos; to serve as his representative on the turnaround committee that was formed to develop a plan for Windham’s middle school.  The committee spent months developing a sophisticated plan that would have helped transform the school.  The committee’s plan was based on proven methods to improve learning and was tailored to the particular needs of Windham’s student population, which has a large percentage of English Language Learners.

However, when it became clear that the turnaround committee’s plan did not include some of the specific reforms that Pryor and his senior team wanted, Pryor’s “turnaround chief,” Debra Kurshan, (who has since left the Malloy administration), orderered changes to be made.

In response, Members of the turnaround committee repeatedly asked Pryor and Kurshan, who have never spent any time in Windham, for an explanation as to why their preferred “reforms” would work better for Windham’s children than the ones they carefully devised based on their years of experience in Windham’s schools.  Neither Pryor nor Kurshan ever provided any answers.

Gabrielle Ramos, Pryor’s representative, stopped attending meetings and the turnaround committee was ordered to work with Special Master Steven Adamowski even though he was not a member of the committee and had no legal authority to instruct the committee on what to do.

Emails reveal that Adamowski’s unrelenting and dictatorial approach not only derailed the positive work of Windham’s turnaround committee but prevented the committee from following the process outlined in the law.

As a result of Adamowski’s illegal interference with the turnaround process, the children, parents, teachers and taxpayers of Windham are losing out since the effective turnaround plan that should be implemented is being held hostage by Adamowski inappropriate behavior.

As the situation reaches crisis level, now more than ever, the children and people of Windham need their local legislators, Senator Don Williams and State Representative Susan Johnson to intervene on behalf of their constituents and force Commissioner Pryor and his operatives to follow the law that Williams and Johnson voted for.

  • sharewhut

    “Senator Don Williams and State Representative Susan Johnson to intervene on behalf of their constituents and force Commissioner Pryor and his operatives to follow the law that Williams and Johnson vote for”
    Not even worthy of a snarky comment

    • realsaramerica

      That’s the part that makes me the most angry about all of this. That’s why I’m now unaffiliated instead of a member of the Democratic party.

  • Apartheid First

    Imagine that a district could design a school with the assurance that they will get a major infusion of money to inaugurate the new design. Not only would most parents and teachers be eager to implement academically-sound programs, they would be perfectly situated to tailor the programs to the community’s needs. That, one feels, was the intent of the legislature in accepting the idea of the Commissioner’s Network, especially with its rather lengthy description of who is involved, how to complete the application, etc.
    The intent should never have been to hijack the under-funded Educational Cost Sharing monies nor to have created a pipeline for additional charter schools in the state, which is, in fact, what Commissioner “Achievement First” Pryor and Special privatizer Steven Adamowski always intended. There may be five or six choices mentioned in the application as suggestions, but the only model showcased at the initial workshop on the Commissioner’s Network was the Jumoke charter school, Inc–featured by Andrea Comer, just before she was voted onto the State Board of Ed. And since that time, Windham’s team has been pushed, and prodded, and bullied into taking on a model that will lead inevitably to charters and union-busting and turmoil and churn. Note that fostering a love of learning, engaging school children, and enriching the academic environment are not part of Pryor’s or Adamowski’s or Kurshan’s “network.”

    • Apartheid First

      Also, the legislation, which is posted on the CT State Dept. of Education website states that, if the Commissioner finds a plan “deficient” (and it is hard to determine at what point the Commissioner can start making that determination), the next step is to go to the District’s board of ed, and work with them and with the school’s School Governance Council and, after additional consultations, *perhaps* to appoint a “Special Master”–but of course Windham already had a Special Master (who, note, was never intended to be part of the Turnaround Team)–the very Special Master who “made” the district apply for the Commissioner’s Network. If you, dear reader, are not dizzy yet you have not been turning around as fast as Windham’s team… and Windham’s district.
      The depressing thing about the union-busting education reform Malloy proposed, and the (perhaps unknowing?) legislature passed, is that nearly all of the reforms are being concentrated into a few poor districts–a few with a lot of students, of course, but nonetheless it is reprehensible to experiment and to destroy entire school districts in Connecticut, so we have our own mini-Chicagos, Philadelphias, and NOLAs.

      • R.L.

        Don’t let the legislators off easy.

      • Castles Burning

        Yes and the Jumoke model was chosen for this year’s turnaround school–Dunbar–in Bridgeport by Team Vallas even though there were two other alternatives that connected with prior programs in place.

  • Linda174

    Adamowski’s reputation as a “reformer” was and is an illusion. One more edufraud carpet bagging through CT. Reaearched and published over two years ago by Robert Cotto. Excerpt and link:

    Hartford’s school leaders offered the improved test scores as validation of their reforms. Also, the state Department of Education acknowledged that students who took the MAS did not count in its calculations for proficiency rates. The apparently increased rates became a green light to continue flawed policies — teachers, students and parents were punished or rewarded based on test scores.

    If scores lagged, schools were closed, students were dispersed, parents were ignored and educators were fired. If test scores improved, the schools remained open. School and central office employees earned bonuses if test scores increased. In 2010, this “merit” pay amounted to $2.77 million dollars.

    Most disturbingly, the test score inflation led the public to believe that the current reforms improved the quality of education. Proponents of school choice, charter schools and test-based accountability schemes point to Hartford as a national model for change. On the contrary, Hartford’s model, based on the single-measure of student test scores, is an example of a poor reform policy. It is a model pioneered in the 1990s in Houston and now widely recognized as a fraud — what Walter Haney, a researcher of evaluation systems, called an “illusion arising from exclusion.”

  • Apartheid First

    Let’s not forget that Gabrielle Ramos is a Broad Resident who is somehow also an employee of the CT State Department of Education. Pryor had the Eli Broad Foundation vet her (and one other Broad resident); he guaranteed her a base salary of $90,000, and then he placed her in the brand new Turnaround Office (she has all of 2 years teaching “experience” with TFA). I have no idea if Broad is contributing to her salary or what. It makes me uneasy that positions in governmental departments are funded all or in part by private foundations dedicated to privatization.

  • Linda174

    Stefan might want to follow his own advice about following proper procedures when he denied the Cea/bea complaint against Vallas for not following the school governance procedure. He said they didn’t follow the proper steps to resolve the issue. He can’t even follow the steps he wrote in the reform bill. Hold yourself to the same standards Stefan.