Stench of Chicago’s Corporate Education Reform Industry scandal wafts as far as Connecticut

This past Tuesday (October 13, 2015) former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, one of the nation’s leading Corporate Education Reform Industry leaders, pleaded guilty for her role in a $23 million kick-back scheme with Gary Solomon and his education reform companies, The SUPES Academy and Synesi Associates.

As part of the plea agreement federal prosecutors told the court that they would drop all but one of the twenty fraud charges listed in Byrd-Bennett’s indictment and that although she faced a maximum of 20 years on each of 20 fraud counts, they would recommend a prison sentence of no more than seven 7 ½ years if she continued to “cooperate with federal investigators.”

Byrd-Bennett has previously served in top management positions with the Cleveland and Detroit public school systems.

As Barbara Byrd-Bennett was pleading guilty for her crimes in Chicago, The Detroit News reported that the FBI was investigating contracts Byrd-Bennett approved when she worked in Detroit;

According to six-month expenditure reports from May and November 2011, DPS paid $1,487,654.08 to Synesi for “Consultant Services/Curriculum/Office of Accountability.”

The report from November 2011 also lists an invoice of $128,698.77 to Synesi as “disapproved.”

The dark cloud of potentially illegal activities casts a long shadow over The Supes Academy, Synesi Associates, and a third company that is owned by Gary Solomon, PROACT Search.

As previously reported, Solomon’s PROACT Search has received a number of contracts in Connecticut.

The superintendent search firm was responsible for getting Garth Harries the superintendent’s job in New Haven and Manuel Rivera the same post in Norwalk.

When the New London Board of Education, with the help of Governor Malloy’s Special Master Steven Adamowski, hired Rivera away from Norwalk in February 2015, the Norwalk Board of Education re-hired PROACT Search and this time they recommend Steven Adamowski for the job.

Steven Adamowski has had a long-standing relationship with Gary Solomon and his corporate education reform companies.  Adamowski worked with The Supes Academy for many years and has also been on PROACT Search’s preferred list.

When Steven Adamowski announced his surprise departure as head of the Cincinnati school system in 2002, PROACT Search was hired to find his replacement.  The process garnered national attention as the Cincinnati Enquirer ended up, “suing the school board and its new superintendent over the secretive process by which the superintendent was chosen for the job.  Adamowski’s name was featured prominently in the newspaper’s complaint.

Four years later, in 2006, when PROACT Search put Steven Adamowski on the short-list for the superintendent’s job in Seattle, the move generated searing local criticism (See: The School Board Flunks Google 101 – In rounding up superintendent candidates, it seems no one did their homework. And what about the $63,500 head-hunting firm?)

And PROACT Search’s involvement in Norwalk has also generated controversy.

As the $20 million no-bid contract in Chicago originally came to light, Catalyst Chicago, a local education media outlet in Illinois reported;

In addition, Byrd-Bennett is listed as a senior associate for a superintendent search firm called PROACT Search, in documents dated August 2012—four months after taking the position with CPS [Chicago Public Schools.] PROACT is run by the same individuals who lead Supes: Gary Solomon, the executive director, and Thomas Vranas, the president


Byrd-Bennett is one of four contacts listed in the proposal for services submitted by PROACT in its bid to do a superintendent search for the Norwalk, Connecticut school district. She has an e-mail address listed in the proposal. When PROACT won the contract, an official for the company was quoted in the local newspaper touting that Byrd-Bennett, who by that time had been named as Chicago’s CEO, was a contractor with the firm.


However, Byrd-Bennett denies that she ever worked for PROACT and was surprised that her name was used, according to CPS spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. Quinn says the e-mail address [email protected] was “generic.”

At the time, Norwalk Board of Education member Mike Lyons, Steven Adamowski’s biggest local supporter, who now serves as Chairman of the Norwalk Board of Education spoke out in favor of hiring PROACT Search.  A November 12, 2102 Stamford Advocate article reported,

Lyons said the company has three bilingual staff members that will work on the project and hires contractors as well, including Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former superintendent of the Cleveland school system and now CEO of the Chicago school system

“I think we’ve got some really top flight talent that this group can bring in,” Lyons said.

Two years later, when it was time to find yet another superintendent, the Norwalk BoE voted 7-0 to rehire PROACT This time the company’s involvement led to the hiring of Steven Adamowski

In addition to their connection with Gary Solomon’s company, both Garth Harries and Steven Adamowski “graduated” from the Broad Academy, a corporate education reform training camp funded by billionaire Eli Broad, whose foundation is one of the three biggest funders of the Corporate Education Reform Industry.

A fourth Connecticut name with connections to those associated with the Chicago scandal is Christina Kishimoto who became Hartford’s superintendent when Adamowski left the position in 2011.  Kishimoto was Adamowski’s choice for the job, despite Mayor Pedro Segarra’s opposition (or initial opposition).  Like Adamowski, Kishimoto has worked with Gary Solomon’s Supes Academy.

Clark Elementary School parents played like puppets

As Wait, What? readers will recall, first came the effort to hand Hartford’s Clark Elementary School over to Achievement First, Inc., the charter school management company formed by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

When parents, teachers and the Hartford Federation of Teachers fought back, the backroom deal between Pryor, his State Department of Education staff, out-going Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and some of her senior staff collapsed.

But not to be outdone, Commissioner Stefan Pryor and his aides refocused their Clark Elementary School privatization effort, this time looking to hand the Hartford Public School over to a Washington D.C. based charter school company known as Friendship Charter Schools.

A batch of internal emails recently acquired by Wait, What? reveals just how deep the conspiracy to play Clark’s parents goes.

The emails paint a disgusting and potentially even illegal effort to give a private company a no-bid contract to run a Connecticut public school, all at taxpayer expense.

The emails reveal that the fix was in for the Clark Elementary School and its students, parents and teachers long before anyone from Clark was involved in the process.

From the very beginning of their effort, Connecticut State Department of Education employee, Andrew Ferguson, has served as Pryor’s point person in the widespread effort to force Clark to “accept” Friendship Charter School Company as their new masters.

The emails also make clear that the strategy moved forward with the help of a number of senior Hartford Board of Education employees, including Superintendent Kishimoto.

On February 13, 2014, long before the Clark School Turnaround Committee had even begun the extensive process of assessing what would be the best solution to improve academic performance at their school, Andrew Ferguson and Oliver Barton, a Portfolio Director for the Hartford Board of Education, were already working on how best to insert Friendship Charter Schools successfully into the final plan.

Concerning an upcoming forum, Andrew Ferguson wrote,

“Do you want Friendship to attend?”

To which the City of Hartford’s Oliver Barton responded,

 “I don’t think we’re there yet….If we get enough of the committee to a readiness level, we could have them up to discuss how a partnership would actually work.

At the same time, investigative blogs published on Wait, What? started to shine a light on the growing conspiracy.  NEWS FLASH: Pryor reportedly giving Hartford’s Clark Elementary School to Washington D.C. Charter School Chain (February 10, 2014) and Corporate Education Reform Industry targets students, parents and teachers of Clark Elementary School (Feb 13, 2014).

In response to the 2nd Wait, What? post,  Kevin McCaskill, the Hartford Board of Education’s Director of School Design and Programming, wrote to Oliver Barton warning him,

“Jonathan Pelto again on the blog – talking about the CSDE’s attempts to privitize.”

To which Oliver Barton responded,

“Clark parents spoke with Vanessa at courant to disput blog claim that the model is predecided.  Should be in tomorrow, wed.” (Spelling mistakes are original parts of email)

Fears that the strategy wasn’t taking shape fast enough appeared just two weeks later when, on February 26, 2014, Paul Holzer, the Executive Director of Achieve Hartford! wrote to Oliver Barton and Kevin McCaskill.

Achieve Hartford! is the corporate funded lobbying and advocacy group dedicated to privatizing Hartford’s schools and implementing the corporate education reform industry’s political agenda to undermine public education in Connecticut.

In his email to the two Hartford Board of Education employees, Achieve Hartford’s Paul Holzer wrote,

“…The [Clark] parents seem to be playing into the pockets of the AFT…”

And Holzer added,

“I just need to know from the District’s perspective how this is playing out against the game plan, so to speak.”

Taken in total, the various emails back and forth between the Malloy administration, the Hartford Board of Education employees, Friendship Charter School and outside education reform advocacy groups explain how hard these “public” officials have been working to force the Clark School community to accept their “destiny” of seeing their school handed over to a private corporation named Friendship Charter Schools.

The communications also reveal an utter disdain and disregard for Hartford’s teachers and especially for the Hartford Federation of Teachers.

And although the process raises serious ethical and legal questions about state and local public officials using their positions to steer public dollars to private corporations, the Malloy administration clearly believes that it has “won” the battle.

A sign of their arrogant sense of accomplishment could be seen just this week.  Although the future of Clark Elementary School wasn’t even on the recent State Board of Education’s agenda, a group of Clark Parents were persuaded to sign up and spoke “in favor” of the so-called “Friendship Charter School Partnership,” despite the fact that just a week earlier Friendship Charter had withdrawn their proposal to run Clark Elementary.

This latest move by Pryor, Hartford, Achieve Hartford! and Friendship Charter Schools is nothing short of a late breaking effort to isolate and undermine the role the Clark’s teachers and the guaranteed role that the Hartford Federation of Teachers is supposed to play in the turnaround process.

This package of emails is yet another reminder of just how committed the Malloy administration has become in their effort to silence parents, teachers and public school advocates as part of their ongoing effort to push through their corporate education reform industry agenda.

More crazy sh*t Capital Prep Steve Perry has said

Steve Perry is the principal of a public school in Hartford, Connecticut.  For that job, the taxpayers of Hartford and Connecticut pay Perry close to $200,000 in salary, benefits and retirement credits.

But Steve Perry also has a lucrative speaking business that means he is absent from his job about 20 percent of the school year.

Perry has also set up his own private charter school management company and with eight of his fellow Capital Prep administrators and teachers Perry has submitted a proposal to open a charter school in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Regardless of what happens with that pending application, Capital Prep Principal Steve Perry will always be known for his offensive Tweet of November 21, 2013.

After the Hartford Board of Education rejected Steve Perry’s request to transfer Capital Prep Magnet School and another Hartford Elementary school over to his private company, Perry Tweeted,

Dr. Steve Perry‏@DrStevePerry
“The only way to lose a fight is to stop fighting. All this did was piss me off. It’s so on. Strap up, there will be head injuries.”

Strap up is slang for putting on a concealed pistol and “there will be head injuries” doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination.

If a student posted that threat, they’d be arrested, suspended and probably prohibited from ever returning to a public school.

If a teacher said that, they be fired and papers filed to have their certification revoked by the State Board of Education.

But Steve Perry said it…  And neither Christina Kishimoto nor the Hartford Board of Education took any disciplinary action at all.

But that was hardly the only time Steve Perry has used his Twitter account to make threats or say inappropriate things while on the job.

In fact, Perry has spent hundreds of hours Tweeting when he should have been working.  And the taxpayers of Hartford and Connecticut were left picking up the tab for that time.

Whether on Twitter, in speeches, interviews or in writing, Capital Prep’s Steve Perry has said some pretty crazy stuff.

In an April 2013 speech in Minnesota, when talking about teachers unions Perry said “we need to call out the roaches.”

Perry also used the speech to blame teachers for the “literal death” of children.  [This coming from a Connecticut school administrator 120 days after school administrators and teachers gave their lives in a desperate attempt to save children at Sandy Hook Elementary School].

But outrageous and disgusting rhetoric has been Steve Perry’s consistent forte.

Here are just a few of quotes and comments,

“Enough is a damn ‘nuf…  Drag sorry principals and teachers out into the street.  Kick open the doors in our communities and collar lazy parents.  Line ‘em all up on Main Street, snatch their pants down and show the entire world the ass that they have given our kids to kiss.”  (Perry’s book, “Raggedy Schools”).

“The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) ain’t liberal and they damn sure aren’t progressive.  Their drab played out policies are more conservative than the National Rifle Association.  The AFT and the NEA make the NRA look like a San Francisco gay pride parade.”  (Perry’s book, “Raggedy Schools).

“If you think about it, being a teacher is one of the most stable jobs you can find…Over 95 percent of all Connecticut’s tenured teachers kept their jobs this year, so one would think 95 percent of our students would be…When their children’s performance suffer, they do not [suffer].”  (Perry interview, Hartford Advocate 2010)

“Dictatorial teachers’ unions despise Steve Perry.  So do lazy teachers.  So do entrenched, unimaginative school boards.”  (Cover Flap, Perry’s book, “Push Has Come to Shove”).

“Teaching kids is stressful, and we don’t need any punks.”  (Perry’s Book, “Push Has Come to Shove”).

“We are looking for attractive, smart, interesting people.  Yes, I said attractive.  Why?  Because attractive, smart, and interesting people sell kids everything—from breakfast cereal to Xbox games.  That may sound cynical, but it’s the truth.  Why should we expect anything different when trying to sell children education?”  (Perry’s Book, “Push Has Come to Shove”)

“The leaders of our teachers’ unions have ruined public schools.  They are the ones who created the school calendar that is too short and a six-and-a-half-hour school day…” (Perry’s book, “Push Has Come to Shove”).

“Teachers’ unions are not the only professional parasites feasting on our public schools.  Add the unions representing principals, secretaries, custodians, security officers, and paraprofessionals and you’ll begin to see why our schools don’t work…Their working conditions are awesome.  Our schools are failing.”  (Perry’s book, “Push Has Come to Shove”).

“Yet the union leadership often claims that parents want neighborhood schools.  Lie.  Maybe the teacher that live (sic) in nice neighborhoods want them, but Black people that live in the hood want out of their neighborhood schools in a hurry.” (Perry’s book, “Raggedy Schools”).

“Let’s get it straight: schools are failing because of the people who work in them, not because of parents like you.  The truth is that one factor—teacher effectiveness—has the greatest impact on student performance.”  (Perry’s book, Push Has Come to Shove”).

“[On Capital Prep’s community…]  We’ve built a bold bad ass (sic?) band of brothers and sisters of all hues who share a sir name and it is Love.” (Perry’s book, “Raggedy Schools”).

“We are one of the nation’s most successful schools because we don’t whine that the difference our kids.” (Perry’s book, “Raggedy Schools”).

His communication style on Twitter is equally bizarre,

Perry has also used his Twitter account to call the Diane Ravitch, the nation’s leading public education advocate, a racist on at least 49 occasions.)

Perry recently Tweeted, “Oh yeah, by the way CPrep started w 55 freshmen 4 yrs ago and will graduate 53, 100% of whom have acceptance letters to 4 year colleges.”

The statement is a bald face lie.  Perry has been losing 10-30% of his students over the years.  This year’s “graduating class” is down at least 10% from the 9th grade.  Others have transferred into his school which explains his claim that there are 53 graduating from Capital Prep this year.  However, Capital Prep’s dropout or push out rate is significant.

And finally, like most bullies, Steve Perry is not only arrogant and abusive but thin skinned.  In response to a Wait, What? blog post and some criticism, Perry went on a Twitter rampage one day Tweeting,

Dr. Steve Perry ‏@DrStevePerry
Be the person worth talking about not the clown talking about other ppl.

Dr. Steve Perry ‏@DrStevePerry
Think about it, if you’re the topic in a room that you’ll never visit, what does that say about the room? Be bold & don’t look back.

Dr. Steve Perry ‏@DrStevePerry
If your greatest contribution is the criticism of others, your life is w/o value and you will deep the poison fruit you’ve sewn.

Dr. Steve Perry ‏@DrStevePerry
The only person who has to get you is you. You’ve got to like you the most. If you dig you, who gives a damn what others think?

Dr. Steve Perry ‏@DrStevePerry
When they’re counting what’s going in your pocket, they clearly ain’t putting nothing in theirs. Man, their life must really suck.

Dr. Steve Perry ‏@DrStevePerry
They only ppl worrying about what you’ve got do have anything of their own. Feel bad for them, their life sucks.

Dr. Steve Perry ‏@DrStevePerry
Don’t EVER let anybody make you feel bad for being successful. The fact that they’re not is THEIR problem, not yours. Let THEM live w it.

Dr. Steve Perry ‏@DrStevePerry
We have shined the lights on those who have been responsible for forcing kids to go to failed schools & my God are they desperate to stop us

Who is behind the effort to destroy Hartford’s Clark Elementary School?

Clark Elementary School’s parents, teachers and community have a right to know what is really going on behind the scenes in the ongoing effort to stifle parental involvement and hand Clark over to an out-of-state charter school company.

The corporate education reform industry has targeted Clark, but who exactly is pushing these unfair, discriminatory proposals that seek to take over the school, fire all the teachers and hand control of the school over to those who have no understanding of the community?

It is time to find out,

Pursuant to  the Connecticut Freedom of Information act, the proponents of this Clark takeover need to produce any and all memos, documents, notes, emails and attachments that have been sent, received or produced over the last 60 days and relate to the Clark Elementary School.

If elected and appointed officials won’t do the right thing for the Clark community then at least the community deserves to know the deals that have been cut behind the scenes.

This Freedom of Information request will cover Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Morgan Barth, Pryor “Turnaround Director” and Andrew Ferguson, Pryor and Barth’s point person on the effort to destroy Clark.

In addition FOI requests are being submitted for the same information from Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Hartford Superintendent Christina Kishimoto and Hartford Portfolio Director Oliver Barton.

Clark should refuse to engage in further discussion until these materials are handed over.

The request for these documents are being submitted today, it will be noteworthy to see if Malloy administration and the City of Hartford fulfill their legal duty and hand over the requested information in a timely fashion.


NEWS FLASH: Stefan Pryor & Morgan Barth trying to roll Hartford’s Clark School parents and teachers – again

The battle for control of Hartford’s Clark Elementary School has become a case study in how the corporate education reform industry works.

On one side are the heroic parents and teachers who are working tirelessly to save and improve one of Hartford’s local neighborhood schools.

On the other side is the money, greed and arrogance that drives the corporate education reform industry.

The effort to run over the will of the local community and hand Clark Elementary School over to a charter school management company is being led by Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, and Morgan Barth, Pryor’s “Turnaround Director,” who illegally worked as a teacher and administrator for Achievement First, Inc before being appointed to his present position by Pryor.

As Wait, What? readers know, Stefan Pryor co-founded Achievement First, Inc. and Achievement First, Inc. has received more money from the Malloy administration than any other charter school operator.

With the help of Hartford’s out-going superintendent, Christina Kishimoto, Pryor and his band of education reformers tried to work a deal to close Clark Elementary School and hand the school and all of its taxpayer funds over to Achievement First, Inc.

Clark Parents and teachers fought back and derailed to the effort to give the school to Achievement First, Inc.

As the following links reveal, Stefan Pryor and Morgan Barth then concocted a plan to hand Clark Elementary School over to a large Washington D.C. charter school company called Friendship Charter Schools.

The only thing standing in their way was a state law requiring that parents, teachers and the local community had to play a role in selecting a “turnaround” model and there was little interest in a  Washington D.C. charter school company that had virtually no experience running schools with a large Latino population, a significant number of English Language Learners and a large special education population.

But now, according to sources close to Pryor and Barth, rather than work with the local community to identify a turnaround model that is actually appropriate for Hartford’s Clark Elementary, Malloy’s State Department of Education is telling the parents, teachers and local community that they must accept the charter option or the school will receive no additional funds or support mandated under the Commissioner’s Network Program.

The arrogance being displayed by Malloy’s appointees is truly breathtaking.  Never in a million years would these bullies treat White, suburban communities they way they are treating a community made of African Americans, Latinos and other Americans of color.

State Department of Education sources confirm that Stefan Pryor and Morgan Barth are giving the Clark School community an  ultimatum.

Their choice – go with one of our hand-picked charter schools or get nothing.

The racism and discrimination against the Clark School community is nothing short of criminal

But if members of the Connecticut General Assembly don’t intervene, the Malloy administration will get away with destroying another urban neighborhood school.

For background, here are some of the previous Wait, What? posts on Clark Elementary School.

Breaking News: Hartford’s Clark School Targeted for closure, will be handed over to Achievement First, Inc. (10/25/13)

Real Hartford Blog examines “bait and switch” with Clark School and Achievement First Inc. (10/28/13)

(Updated) Superintendent Kishimoto’s “end justified the means” form of a School Redesign Analysis (10/29/13)

Update on the effort to destroy the Clark Elementary School in Hartford (11/30/13)

Hartford’s Clark School parents, teachers and community fight back! (10/31/13)

Hartford’s Clark Elementary School Community says “NO” to takeover (11/11/13)

NEWS FLASH: Pryor reportedly giving Hartford’s Clark Elementary School to Washington D.C. Charter School Chain  (2/10/14)

Corporate Education Reform Industry targets students, parents and teachers of Clark Elementary School  (2/13/14)

Mayor Segarra and Matt Poland lead 6-2 vote to give TFA $650,000

There will be 210 fewer job openings in the Hartford School System for Connecticut residents thanks to Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Matt Poland and their allies on the Hartford Board of Education.

While hundreds of qualified, certified Connecticut teachers are unemployed and hundreds of additional Connecticut residents will be seeking teaching jobs after graduating from Connecticut institutions of higher education and completely comprehensive teacher training programs, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra led his political appointees in a 6-2 vote to give Teach for America another three-year contract with the City of Hartford..  In exchange for the $650,000 finder’s fee, Teach for America will send 210 new recruits to teach in Hartford Schools.

Mayor Segarra appoints the majority of members to the Hartford Board of Education.  All of his appointees, including out-going Board of Education Chairman Matt Poland, voted in favor of the TFA contract.

In this case the actual deciding vote came from the Hartford Board of Education’s one elected Republican who, “coincidently,” was “elected” chairman of the Hartford Board of Education last night as Segarra’s choice for the position.

Only Working Families Party member Robert Cotto and Michael Brescia, a former Buckley High School teacher, voted against the TFA contract.

Although the TFA recruits only get five weeks of training, they are paid the same salary and given the same benefits as teachers who already hold teacher certification in Connecticut and who have gone through a full college-level teacher training program.

The Hartford Courant update on the vote is below, but for background purposes,

According to Forbes Magazine, as of 2012, Teach for America collects in excess of $318 million a year to enlist recent college graduates to teach in low-income communities throughout the United States.

Wendy Kopp is the Founder and Chair of TFA’s Board of Directors.  Until recently she was Co-CEO of Teach For America.  Now, in addition to being the Chair of TFA’s Board of Directors, Kopp serves as Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Teach For All, a new TFA spin-off company that is trying to recreate TFA in the global marketplace.

Connecticut billionaire Steven Mandel Jr. is the Treasurer of Teach For America’s Board of Directors.  Mandel is not only a major campaign contributor to Governor Malloy but has donated tens of millions to support the corporate education reform industry.  Mandel played a pivotal role in the creation of Excel Bridgeport Inc. and the related ongoing effort to privatize public education in Bridgeport.

In addition to her TFA work, Wendy Kopp is married to Richard Barth, Jr.  Barth serves as the CEO of the KIPP charter school chain.  KIPP is one of the biggest players in the corporate education reform industry with 141 charter schools in 20 states.

Interestingly, Morgan Barth, who illegally taught and served as an administrator at Achievement First, Inc. for six years before becoming Commissioner Pryor’s “Turnaround Director” is a close relative of Barth and Kopp.

Of course, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor is the co-founder of Achievement First, Inc.  Achievement First Inc. is the charter school management company with schools in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island.  Achievement First Inc. has also been the charter school company that has received the most financial benefit from Malloy and Pryor’s pro-charter school policies.

Not long ago Achievement First, Inc. added Elisa Villanueva Beard to their Board of Directors.  Elisa Villanueva Beard is a long time TFA senior executive and became TFA’s Co-CEO when Kopp left to become CEO of that new TFA spin off company.

Jonathan Sackler, a leading corporate education reform advocate in Connecticut and another major Malloy donor has been part of the Achievement First Inc. Board of Directors since it was co-founded by Stefan Pryor.  Sacker also formed ConnCAN and ConnAD, which is now called A Better Connecticut.

ConnCAN, ConnAD and A Better Connecticut led the record-breaking $6 million dollar lobbying effort in support of Governor Malloy’s “Education Reform” initiative.  These groups, along with Steve Mandel and Excel Bridgeport Inc., played the key role in support of Mayor Bill Finch’s failed effort to eliminate an elected board of education in Bridgeport.  They also pumped a significant amount of money into Fich’s failed effort to elect Bridgeport Board of Education candidates who would support Paul Vallas.  (They failed Vallas leaves his post in Bridgeport this coming Friday).  Finch is a leading supporter of Achievement First’s Bridgeport Charter School and is lobbying on behalf of Capital Prep Steve Perry’s attempt to use his own private company to open a charter school in Bridgeport.

Jonathan Sackler also created 50CAN, a company dedicated to spreading the ConnCAN model across the country.  Sackler formed 50CAN and serves on its Board of Directors.  50CAN’s Board includes Dacia Toll who not only co-founded Achievement First Inc. with Stefan Pryor, but presently serves as Co-CEO & President of Achievement First, Inc.

Another 50CAN Board Member is none-other-than KIPP Charter School’s Richard Barth Jr.  That being the same Richard Barth Jr. who is Wendy Kopp’s husband and Morgan Barth’s relative.

Meanwhile, back in Hartford, the Hartford Courant explains,

“The board voted 6-2 to approve a three-year, $650,940 contract extension between the city schools and Teach For America, a proposal that drew critics and supporters of TFA who addressed the board for more than an hour during public comments.

Teach For America recruits and trains recent college graduates who pledge to teach for at least two years in mostly low-income public schools across the country. The agreement calls for Hartford to pay Teach For America about $3,000 per recruit, with up to 60 TFA hires in 2014-15, up to 70 in 2015-16 and as many as 80 in 2016-17.


Since 2007, the first year of Hartford’s partnership with Teach For America, the district has hired 1,477 new teachers, 14 percent of whom are TFA recruits, said Jennifer Allen, the school system’s chief talent officer.

Rather than graduating from a traditional teacher preparation college, TFA recruits complete five weeks of training and become certified through the state’s Alternate Route to Certification program, administrators said. They also receive ongoing professional development through TFA that Allen called “a remarkable model for supporting new teachers.”

While several Hartford students spoke in support of their TFA teachers, many of the critics Monday, including Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, described the contract as paying a “headhunters fee” and argued that the money should be spent on improving school programs. Board member Robert Cotto Jr., who voted against the extension, also criticized the retention rate.

Among the 22 TFA hires in 2007, three remain in the school system. And of the 31 TFA teachers in the 2011-12 year, 13 still teach in Hartford schools, district data show.

Those numbers reveal that only 13 percent of the 2007 TFA recruits are still teaching in Hartford after six years and 58 percent of the 2011 TFA recruits have already bailed.

Of course, the contract states that TFA keeps its $3,000 per recruit even if the teacher quits during the first week of school.

Hartford’s Matt Poland lashes out at citizens who write to him about his upcoming TFA vote

Appointed by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, Matt Poland serves as a member of the Hartford Board of Education.  While he will remain on the Board, Poland is stepping down as Chairman tonight and Segarra’s appointees will elect the one Republican on the Board to become the Chairman.

Matt Poland also serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Hartford Library.  Poland became the Hartford Public Library’s Deputy Administrator in June 2008.  He became interim Director in December 2008 and by October 2009 he had acquired the title of Chief Executive Officer.  This was the first time that such a title had been used since the library opened in 1893.

As a public servant, whether on the Hartford Board of Education or as an employee of the Hartford Public Library, Poland’s primary job is to serve the public.

It is for that reason his email attack on citizens who contacted him is all the more bizarre.

As noted in previous Wait, What? blog posts, the Hartford Board of Education will be voting on a $650,000 Teach for America contract tonight.  Over the past few weeks a number of citizens have written to members of the Hartford Board of Education urging them to vote no.  Some citizens wrote following an informative email they received from the American Federation of Teachers (see below).

On Saturday night, after receiving a number of emails, Matt Poland went into an email tirade and sent out this response.

Collecting the names of the people who had written to him, Poland sent out a blast email that was cc’d to all the people who wrote.  His email read,

“I have just received 13 e-mails from this group on the above-referenced topic in which each of you have presented yourselves as Hartford residents, while only 6 are actually residents and taxpayers in the City (please see the list of locations below). Let me begin by saying that this demonstrates a lack of good judgement on the part of those writers who misrepresented themselves.

Since this is a form letter, it is clear that there is an organizing entity behind this effort. I will tell you what I intend to do when one of you tell me who you represent.

Matt Poland
Board Chair

Rocky Hill
West Hartford
East Hartford (2)
Hartford (6)

If there was a “Hall of Fame” to highlight the arrogance and sense of entitlement that permeates American politics, politicians and political appointees, Poland’s missive could certainly be a stand-alone exhibit.

It would certainly be inappropriate for a non-Hartford resident to say they lived in Hartford.  As members of the Hartford Board of Education, Poland and the others certainly have a primary duty to Hartford students, parents, teachers and residents.

However for Poland to dismiss the concerns of the people who wrote to him is beyond insulting.

Here are some important facts:

As a result of the Open Choice program, Hartford schools accept children from the entire region. 

Even more to the point, only about 23 percent of Hartford’s $415 million school budget is funded by Hartford taxpayers.  Connecticut taxpayers pick up about 67 percent of Hartford’s school budget and the federal government pays for most of the last 10 percent.

From the available evidence, it certainly doesn’t appear that any person was trying to “trick” Poland into believing they were Hartford residents, but more to the point, as a public official Poland has a duty to be open-minded enough that voices – even those outside of Hartford – are heard.

The individuals who wrote the emails to Poland were apparently persuaded to write after reading the following email sent out by the American Federation of Teachers,

Hartford’s Board of Education is expected to vote Monday night on whether to renew a recruiting contract with Teach for America (TFA) worth nearly three quarters of a million dollars.

Is this really the best use of the city’s limited education resources?

Handing $651,000.00 to TFA over three years as a “finders-fee” for an additional 210 recruits for the district raises additional questions:

Why spend tax dollars on a human resources function when parents are crying out for improvements to their neighborhood schools?

Why outsource recruiting to TFA instead of partnering with our state’s public colleges and universities?

Why import TFA recruits from outside the state when there is no shortage of credentialed teachers right here in Connecticut?

Click here to tell the BOE to invest in Hartford’s neighborhood schools, not outside “head hunters.”

The growing “Hartford Rising” movement has been saying school officials need to listen to parents, communities, and educators before making decisions that impact students and their opportunity to learn. Join them in urging the board vote “NO” to this costly contract.

In solidarity,

Melodie Peters
President, AFT Connecticut

Steve McKeever
First Vice-President, AFT Connecticut

Jean Morningstar
Second Vice-President, AFT Connecticut

Andrea Johnson
President, Hartford Federation of Teachers Local 1018

Shellye Davis
Co-President, Hartford Federation of Paraprofessionals, AFT Local 2221

Jackie Aviles
Co-President, Hartford Federation of Paraprofessionals, AFT Local 2221

P.S. Click here for a brief story on the board’s planned vote and the growing movement to “resist TFA” in local schools across the nation.

And when you, “Click here to tell the BOE to invest in Hartford’s neighborhood schools, not outside ‘head hunters,’” you get this,

Hartford BOE: Make Better Choices than Finder’s Fees

Hartford school officials are about to decide on renewing a three-year, $651,000.00 contract with Teach for America (TFA) for an additional 210 recruits for the district. We are urging members living in Hartford to contact the Board of Education before their February 24 meeting and urge they make better choices with scarce education resources.

Join the Hartford Rising! movement in urging the BOE to invest in Hartford’s neighborhood schools, not outside “head hunters.”

In order to address your message to the appropriate recipient, we need to identify where you are.

Please look up and use your full nine-digit zip for the best results. Please enter your zip/postal code

Hartford Leaders scheduled to waste another $650,000 in taxpayer funds

Last week’s Hartford Board of Education meeting has been re-scheduled for tonight.

At tonight’s meeting, the Hartford Board of Education, led by Mayor Pedro Segarra, is expected to throw an additional $650,940 at Teach for America.

Despite the fact that there are hundreds of unemployed and underemployed Connecticut residents who are certified teachers and hundreds of other Connecticut residents who have recently graduated or will be graduating from Connecticut’s public and independent colleges with teaching degrees, Hartford’s Mayor Segarra will likely give Teach for America a $650,000 “finders-fee” to bring in up to 210, mostly out-of-state, recruits to take teaching positions in Hartford public school classrooms.

The action being taken by these Hartford leaders is an extraordinary and disturbing statement about their fundamental lack of commitment to Connecticut citizens.

Instead of providing jobs for people here at home, these “leaders” will use scarce Connecticut taxpayer dollars to hire an out-of-state, nonprofit company who will bypass qualified Connecticut residents, recruit primarily out-of-state people, give them five weeks of training and then place them in a Hartford classroom where they will receive the same salary and benefits as a Connecticut resident who have gone through one of our college’s teacher training programs.

This vote isn’t about whether Teach for America is a good program, it is about how Connecticut’s elected and appointed officials are using public funds.

In her memo to the Hartford Board of Education,Hartford Superintendent Kishimoto writes,

“Teach for America recruits teachers from the top colleges and universities across the country.  Each teacher, corps member, commits to teach for two years in one of 39 urban and rural regions across the United States. Teach for America’s mission is to recruit, select, train and support outstanding recent college graduates to serve as highly qualified and effective teachers in urban schools.”

TFA may be a great program, at least for its corps members.  With a mere five weeks of training, TFA recruits are paid the same rate as Hartford’s fully trained beginning teachers and the federal government allows the TFA recruits to write-off their federal student loans for each year they teach.

However, as noted in an earlier blog, 136,500 Connecticut residents remain unemployed including many trained teachers who already hold Connecticut teacher certificates.

Furthermore, as a direct result of Governor Dannel Malloy’s policies, there are about 8,200 FEWER jobs in state and local government since he took office.  Those jobs disappeared as a result of targeted budget cuts to various government programs, including education at the state and local level.

In addition, hundreds of new Connecticut residents have graduated over the past couple of years or will be graduating from the University of Connecticut, Connecticut State University and other Connecticut colleges and universities after completing four and five-year teacher preparation programs.

These students and their families have spent tens of thousands of dollars to prepare for a teaching career in Connecticut.

But rather than give unemployed teachers and the fully-trained recent graduates an opportunity to get a job in Connecticut’s capital city and contribute to the well-being of their home state, the Hartford Board of Education appears ready to throw away another $650,000 on Teach for America’s fees to recruit non-Connecticut residents.

Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Windham, New London and other cities have already paid out millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to Teach for America so that they can recruit and place inexperienced teachers in our state’s urban classrooms.

The fact that Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Pryor haven’t stepped in to put Connecticut citizens first is even more outrageous.

Once again, we are left to ask, are there any elected or appointed state or municipal officials who will stand up for Connecticut’s families?

You can contact Hartford Board of Education members by using the following links;

Our Board of Education members include:
Matthew K. Poland, Chairman
Robert Cotto, Jr., Secretary
Honorable Mayor Pedro Segarra, Board Member
Jose Colón-Rivas, Board Member
Richard F. Wareing, Board Member
Beth A. Taylor, Ph, D., Board Member
Craig Stallings, Board Member
Michael Brescia, Board Member

A parent speaks out about Teach For America

There is a lot in corporate education “reform” that astonishes, but perhaps nothing is so astonishing as the strategic deployment of TFA. It’s counter-intuitive that untrained recent graduates will fare better in the classroom than seasoned teachers. And the reason that this notion feels counter-intuitive is quite simple: its contrary to common sense and cool reason. With rare exceptions, there is no way at all that a person with 5 weeks training can take commanding control of the classroom and lead the students with equanimity.

I have known young people who went into TFA, and while I thought highly of them as individuals, I did not think that they were prepared to do a better job of teaching than someone with professional training. There is a reason we have EDUCATION PROGRAMS. Yesterday, we took teaching seriously: we saw it as a profession, a vocation, which makes great demands on its practitioners. We understood that it was no small thing to get up in front of children and then ask them to follow you. But today we–meaning “they”!!–have completely trivialized teaching. They have decided that teaching is just like brushing your teeth or driving your car: just about anyone can do it!

TFA is insidious for a number of reasons. It’s an integral part of the corporate plan to de-professionalize teachers and to bring them under strict management control. Professionalism is anathema to the corporate types because professionals have too much workplace autonomy. We can’t have that in our brave new schools of “accountability.” Professionals typically form unions. And this is the real value of TFA for the “reformers”: it allows management to go around union contracts by using “contract labor”–i.e., the TFA cohort. And it will always be true that people on short term contracts are more vulnerable, more pliable and less invested in their place of employment. In short, TFA gives management a considerable degree of “flexibility.”

And TFA is not the best option for students. As Jon Pelto says, there are many unemployed teachers in Connecticut. If Hartford BOE has money to spend, it should spend it on real teachers for the benefit of the children. TFA is not only part of union busting, it is also, sad to say, an engine for increasing the ghettoization of the ghetto. When TFA went to New Orleans, thousands of public school teachers were laid off, many of them people of color, whose middle class jobs were crucial for the stability of certain neighborhoods. When these people lost their jobs, the impact on their communities must have been terrible. I’m sure the same thing will happen in Hartford, albeit on a much smaller scale. But Hartford needs every good job that it currently has, as the city’s economy is anything but promising.

Superintendent Kishimoto (in league with Stefan Pryor) is wreaking havoc on Hartford’s future. She is taking from the needy to give to those who are already glutted. TFA is a rich organization, backed by powerful wealthy people; it does not need a penny of public money. If they want to send “brilliant young people” to the poorest school districts, let them pay for it!

One hopes that some of the young people recruited to TFA will wake up and see the light. I understand that many have good intentions, but they have to realize that they are being used. I told one person I know who was in TFA that she should immediately disabuse herself of the idea that she was going to “save poor kids in the ghetto.” What could she know as someone who grew up with wealth what it is was like to live in a distressed community like Hartford? TFA encourages their “bright young things” to think of themselves as “game changers.” In my view, this is little else than an incitement to willful innocence or disgusting arrogance. And what is more, when the TFA “teacher” has a hard time of it and is forced to revise her “idealism,” it is easy to see that she might become bitter and cynical–hardly the attitudes you want in a leader of children…

I always say if TFA is so great then send them to the wealthy districts like Avon and Farmington, and the veteran teachers in those communities can come and teach in places like Hartford and Windham. Of course, I am well aware this would never happen!

Corporate Education Reform Industry targets students, parents and teachers of Clark Elementary School

Three days ago, in a post entitled NEWS FLASH: Pryor reportedly giving Hartford’s Clark Elementary School to Washington D.C. Charter School Chain, Wait What? readers learned of an apparent deal by Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and his senior staff to turn over Hartford’s Clark Elementary School to a major Washington D.C. based charter school management company despite the fact that the Clark Turnaround Committee, which is made up of local parents, teachers, administrators and Hartford residents, hadn’t even begun to identify which of five possible turnaround models they were interested in pursuing.

Out-going Hartford Superintendent of Schools Christina Kishimoto “nominated” Hartford’s Clark Elementary school for Governor Malloy’s “Commissioner’s Network” turnaround program.

State law requires that when a school is accepted as a Commissioner’s Network School, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor must defer to the recommendations of the local Turnaround Committee except in extreme circumstances where the Turnaround Committee fails to adopt a turnaround plan or the plan is so inadequate that the Commissioner must take total control of the school.

But according to multiple sources within Pryor’s Office and in the Hartford Board of Education central office, Pryor and his sidekick, Turnaround Director Morgan Barth, have already decided to give Hartford’s Clark School to the Friendship Charter School chain, regardless of what the Clark Turnaround Committee may choose.

The Friendship Public Charter School chain is made up of six charter schools in Washington D.C. and another four schools that the company runs in Baltimore, Maryland.

Late yesterday, Hartford Courant reporter Vanessa De La Torre reported that a group of Clark parents, educators and administrators were flying to Washington D.C. to visit Friendship Charter Schools.  Apparently plans are already in place for Friendship Charter Schools to come to Connecticut in the next week or two.

In the Hartford Courant entitled Hartford Parents, Educators Visit D.C. Charter School, the Courant reported;

A 14-person delegation from Hartford that included six parents from Clark, two teachers, the principal and a district administrator flew out of Bradley International Airport Tuesday night and spent Wednesday visiting two sites of the Friendship Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.

The trip is research, they said. Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor has chosen Clark, a North End neighborhood school that has struggled with low test scores and chronic absenteeism, as a candidate to enter the state Commissioner’s Network after this academic year.

A state-mandated committee for Clark is now under deadline to create a detailed “turnaround” plan by April. That means the panel, which includes two union-appointed teachers, is rushing to explore school models that might best help Clark and its groups of students who are learning English or have special needs, said Soto, one of the committee’s parent members.

However, highlighting the corrosive power of the corporate education reform industry, the most bizarre part of the entire story is revealed when the Courant article added:

Hartford school board Chairman Matthew Poland denied this week that any school model is a favorite. So did community organizer Mayra Esquilin, executive director of Hartford Areas Rally Together, which received a $24,000 contract from the school system to guide Clark parents and community members through the turnaround process.

HART, the school system and the reform advocacy group Achieve Hartford! Funded the short trip to Washington, Esquilin said. The group was scheduled to return Wednesday night.

What the article didn’t fully explain is that although Superintendent Kishimoto hired the Executive Director of Hartford Areas Rally Together to “guide Clark parents and community members through the turnaround process,” Mayra Esquilin has repeatedly shown that she has a major conflict of interest in the entire situation.

Mayra Esquilin is not only the Executive Director of Hartford Areas Rally Together (HART), but she is also a member Achieve Hartford’s Board of Directors.

Achieve Hartford Inc. is not only paying for the airfare and hotel accommodations for the 14 members of the Clark Turnaround Committee to fly to Washington, but the corporate lobbying group has been one of the biggest supporters of Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor’s public school privatization efforts.

Esquilin and Achieve Hartford Inc. not only supported Superintendent Kishimoto’s failed attempt to close Clark Elementary and hand the building over to Achievement First, Inc. but also supported the outrageous and potentially illegal attempt to hand S.A.N.D. Elementary School over to Steve Perry’s private charter school company as part of a that secret Sheff lawsuit deal.

As the Hartford Courant reported previously, Esquilin was quoted as saying “that she and others canvassed the neighborhood over the past few days and found many parents who were uninformed — and in some cases, misinformed — about the SAND proposal.”

It is beyond incredible that the individual and corporate-funded advocacy group that supported destroying Clark and S.A.N.D elementary are now “guiding” Clark parents, teachers and community members through the turnaround process.

Talk about the foxes guarding the chicken hen-house.

And worse, the entire process may very well be short circuited if Stefan Pryor has already decided to hand the school over to an out-of-state charter management company.

Meanwhile, who funds Achieve Hartford Inc.?

According to Achieve Hartford’s own website, the education reform advocacy group is funded by some of the most powerful corporate education reform industry companies in the country including the Aetna, Prudential, Travelers, Bank of America, ING, The Phoenix and Metro-Hartford Alliance.

The potential for serious and illegal conflicts of interests are so great that it is hard to imagine that even these companies would risk supporting such an inappropriate use of their donations by Achieve Hartford Inc.

The extensive list of potential ethics violations will undoubtedly keep the Connecticut’s Ethics Commission and Hartford’s Ethics Commission busy.

For an example of Achieve Hartford’s conflict of interest read the newsletter article that can be found via the following link:

For the Hartford Courant article go to:,0,6213104.story