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.