Too big to certify: The Paul Vallas and Stefan Pryor Story

In Connecticut, your child’s school teacher must be certified by the State Department of Education.  Their guidance counselor must be certified.  Their school nurse must be certified.  Their school principal must be certified. The coach of their school sports team must be certified.

In fact, in order to serve as a school teacher or administrator in a Connecticut public school you must hold one or more of the certifications provided by the Education Department.  That is unless you are a “public” charter school.  Thanks to a $100,000-a-year lobbying contract, charter schools managed to convince our elected officials to pass legislation that allows them to only have 70% of their staff certified.

But for the rest of us, the law is clear – 100% of the teachers and administrators must be certified.  You can find the all the various types of certification at the end of this blog post.

Then along came Steven Adamowski.  The powers that be wanted to name Steven Adamowski Superintendent of Schools in Hartford, but Adamowski was unwilling (or unable) to get certified so the Connecticut General Assembly passed a special law that provided that “The commissioner [of education] may…grant a waiver of certification to a person (1) who has successfully completed at least three years of experience as a certified administrator with a superintendent certificate issued by another state…”

Thanks to that new law, Adamowski was allowed to work as Hartford’s superintendent of schools without being certified.

And then in 2012, along came Paul Vallas.

But the problem for Paul Vallas was that he had never held a superintendent’s certificate.  In fact, Vallas had never, ever been certified to teach or serve as a school administrator.

So Governor Malloy proposed and the General Assembly passed another change to Connecticut’s certification law, this time allowing the commissioner of education to waive certification for someone who has served as an “acting superintendent of schools,” as long as they “successfully complete a school leadership program, approved by the State Board of Education, offered at a public or private institution of higher education in the state,” during their time as “acting superintendent.”

So in March 2013, Paul Vallas started an independent study class at UConn.

On April 15, 2013, the State Board of Education passed a resolution naming the University of Connecticut’s School Leadership Program the “approved” school leadership program that was required by the new law.  However, it turns out that by way of an “attachment” to the motion, the State Board now claims that what they approved was Vallas’ one class “program” and not UConn’s 13 month Executive Leadership Program that everyone else must take to get their superintendent certification.

On May 31, less than 90 days after Vallas began his independent study class, the UConn professor who was serving as Paul Vallas’ academic advisor wrote that Vallas had completed his course.

As a result of that news, tomorrow night, June 10th, the Bridgeport Board of Education is scheduled to vote to request that Malloy’s Commissioner of Education waive Vallas’ certification requirements, thereby allowing him to become the permanent superintendent of schools in Bridgeport.

Undoubtedly, Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, will do just that.

Stefan Pryor and the Bridgeport board of education are also violating the law as it relates to Vallas’ probationary period, but putting that aside, they are full steam ahead when it comes to allowing Vallas to serve as the uncertified superintendent of schools.

So when you send your children back to school tomorrow, know that every teacher and every administrator your child comes in contact with will be certified to hold their job, unless they run into Paul Vallas or Steven Adamowski…those two are simply too big to certify.

Too big to certify?

It was only a few months ago that Paul Vallas said that requiring him to be certified was like telling Michael Jordan that he needed to be certified to coach basketball.

Of course, if Michael Jordan did want to coach basketball at a high school in Connecticut he WOULD need to get certification from the State Department of Education.  But hey, we’re talking about Paul Vallas here, so let’s not let not let the facts get in the way of his key point.

Meanwhile, check and see which of the following certifications your children’s teachers and administrators have.

001 Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 8 *
002 Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 6 *
003 Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 3 *
004 Grades 1 Through 8 *
005 Elementary, Grades 1 – 6 (as of 7/1/03 includes K) *
006 Middle School, Grades 4 Through 8 *
007 Academic Subjects, Grades 7 and 8 *
008 Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten *
009 Bilingual *
010 Business, Grades 7 Through 12
011 Licensed Practical Nurse *
012 Academic Subjects *
013 Elementary, Grades K Through 6
015 English, Grades 7 Through 12
016 English, Grades 7 Through 9 *
017 Speech, Grades 7 Through 12 (Without English) *
018 French, Grades 7 Through 12
019 German, Grades 7 Through 12
020 Italian, Grades 7 Through 12
021 Latin, Grades 7 Through 12
022 Russian, Grades 7 Through 12
023 Spanish, Grades 7 Through 12
024 Other World Language, Grades 7 through 12
025 History, Grades 7 Through 12 *
026 History and Social Studies, Grades 7 Through 12
027 Social Studies, Grades 7 Through 12 *
028 History and Social Studies, Grades 7 Through 9 *
029 Mathematics, Grades 7 Through 12
030 Biology, Grades 7 Through 12
031 Chemistry, Grades 7 Through 12
032 Physics, Grades 7 Through 12
033 Earth Science, Grades 7 Through 12
034 General Science, Grades 7 Through 12
035 Driver Education
036 Core Curriculum *
037 Psychology, Grades 7 Through 12 *
038 Sociology, Grades 7 Through 12 *
039 Secondary Subject *
040 Agriculture, Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 12
041 Vocational Agriculture
042 Art, Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 12
043 Health, Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 12
044 Physical Education, Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 12
045 Home Economics, Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 12
046 Vocational Home Economics, Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 12 *
047 Technology Education, Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 12
048 Librarian, Grades 1 Through 12 *
049 Music, Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 12
050 Special Subject *
051 Mentally Handicapped, Grades 1 Through 12 *
052 Mentally Handicapped, Grades 7 Through 12 *
053 Physically Handicapped, Grades 1 Through 12 *
054 Physically Handicapped, Grades 7 Through 12 *
055 Partially Sighted, Grades 1 Through 12
056 Partially Sighted, Grades 7 Through 12 *
057 Hearing Impaired, Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 12
058 Deaf, Grades 7 Through 12 *
059 Blind, Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade 12
060 Blind, Grades 7 Through 12 *
061 Speech and Language Pathologist
062 School Library-Media Specialist
063 Special Teacher of Reading, Grades 1 Through 8 *
064 Special Teacher of Reading, Grades 7 Through 12 *
065 Comprehensive Special Education, Grades Pre-K – 12 *
066 Guidance Counselor – Elementary *
067 Guidance Counselor – Secondary *
068 School Counselor
069 Psychological Examiner *
070 School Psychologist
071 School Social Worker
072 School Nurse – Teacher
073 School Dental Hygenist – Teacher
074 Elementary Principal *
075 General Supervisor – Elementary *
076 Secondary Principal *
077 General Supervisor – Secondary *
078 Principal – Combined School *
079 Special Supervisor *
080 Administrative Assistant *
081 Superintendent of Schools *
082 Vocational Technical School Administrator
083 Special Administrative *
085 School Business Administrator
086 Director of Adult Education (Full-Time) *
087 Director of Adult Education (Part-Time) *
088 English to Non-English Speaking Adults
089 Marketing Education
090 Occupational Subjects in CT Technical High Schools
091 Trade Related Subjects in CT Technical High Schools
092 Intermediate Administrator and Supervisor
093 Superintendent of Schools
094 Adult Education *
095 Education Supervisor (State Department) *
096 Reading Consultant, Grades K Through 8 *
097 Reading and Language Arts Consultant, K – Grade 12
098 Trade and Industrial Occupation-Comprehensive High School
101 Foreign Language Instruction Elementary Level
102 Remedial Reading & Remedial Language Arts, Grades 1 – 12
103 Health Occupations- Comprehensive High School
104 Co-Operative Work Educ./Diversified Occup.
105 Department Chairperson
106 High School Credit Diploma Program
107 External Diploma Program/Noncredit Mandated Programs
108 Practical Nurse Educ. Instructor-CT Tech. High Schools
109 Health Occup. Instructor in CT Technical High Schools
110 Unique Subject Area Endorsement
111 Teaching English to Speakers of Other Lang., Pre-K – 12
112 Integrated Early Childhood/Special Ed., Birth – K
113 Integrated Early Childhood/Special Ed., N-K: Elem. 1-3
165 Comp. Special Education, Grades K – 12
215 English, Middle School
226 History & Social Studies, Middle School
229 Mathematics, Middle School
230 Biology, Middle School
231 Chemistry, Middle School
232 Physics, Middle School
233 Earth Science, Middle School
234 General Science, Middle School
235 Integrated Science, Middle School
265 Comp. Special Education, 1-12 (as of 7/1/03 includes K) *
268 School Marriage and Family Therapist
902 Bilingual Elementary Education
915 Bilingual English, 7-12
926 Bilingual History/Social Studies, 7-12
929 Bilingual Mathematics,  7-12
930 Bilingual Biology, 7-12
931 Bilingual Chemistry, 7-12
932 Bilingual Physics, 7-12
933 Bilingual Earth Science, 7-12
934 Bilingual General Science, 7-12
966 Bilingual English, Middle School
967 Bilingual History/Social Studies, Middle School
968 Bilingual Mathematics, Middle School
969 Bilingual Biology, Middle School
970 Bilingual Chemistry, Middle School
971 Bilingual Physics, Middle School
972 Bilingual Earth Science, Middle School
973 Bilingual General Science, Middle School
974 Bilingual Integrated Science, Middle School

Connecticut TFA Director wants to open a charter school…in Bridgeport

Yup, the Connecticut Director of Teach for America has submitted an application to open a charter school in Bridgeport.

Nate Snow arrived in Bridgeport in 2007 as a new TFA recruit.

Today he serves as the Executive Director for the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America and President of the Board of Directors of Excel Bridgeport, Inc., a corporate funded education reform organization that he co-founded with Meghan Lowney, an aide to billionaire, hedge fund owner Steven Mandel.

Excel Bridgeport serves as the primary advocacy group supporting Governor Malloy, Mayor Bill Finch and “Superintendent of Schools” Paul Vallas’ education reform policies.

After graduating from Texas A&M University, Snow joined TFA and taught for two years in Bridgeport.  He then joined TFA’s fundraising operation and then made an unsuccessful bid as a Republican candidate for the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Snow and Vallas recently signed a three-year contract between the Bridgeport Board of Education and Teach for America for $777,000, although the contract was never provided to the Board for their review and approval.  Team Vallas is claiming he has the authority to sign the contract without Board involvement.

And meanwhile, despite having no experience in school administration, Snow is the lead name on a charter school application that is pending before Paul Vallas and the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Snow’s proposal is to create a Montessori Charter School for children between the ages of three and thirteen.

As to Snow’s connection to TFA and Excel Bridgeport, a recent CT Post article reported that “The charter school idea, he said, is his own.”

According to their proposal, “Whittier’s Montessori program is inspired by the design and implementation of Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School (AFMMS), a high-performing public Montessori school in Hartford, Connecticut. Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School has distinguished itself by meeting high standards of student achievement through a meticulous, fully implemented Montessori program.”

Stephen Adamowski, who according to emails acquired through a Freedom of Information request, worked with Snow around Malloy’s education reform bill, was a strong proponent of Hartford’s Montessori school and now, as Malloy’s Special Master for Windham and New London has been working hard to get Windham to switch one of its elementary schools over to a Montessori school.

In the new Montessori charter school application, the proponents explain how they developed the plan saying, “Prior to preparing for this submission, none of the founders had worked with a Montessori school, but they knew that it was a good brand with an excellent reputation. Starting with a visit to the acclaimed Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School in Hartford, then undertaking conversations with parents who have children in private Montessori school in Fairfield County, and ending with informal consultations with Montessori leaders from around the country, the Founding members became convinced that Montessori should be an option for all children in Bridgeport. Nate Snow contacted the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (NCMPS), located in Hartford, for further information on what was necessary to start a public Montessori school. These discussions led to an eventual contract with NCMPS to assist in school design and to aid in writing the charter application.”

The charter school proposal aims to start with 69 students next fall and reach 209 students in its fifth year.  Their budget calls for expending $1.7 million in year one and at least $3.8 million in year five.

While state charter schools get their money primarily from a state grant, Snow and his colleagues are trying to open a “local” charter school, meaning the funds would come mostly from Bridgeport’s school budget, with an extra $3,000 per student coming from a new state “local charter grant” that was part of Malloy’s education reform law.  Malloy’s education reform law also included a series of $500,000 “start-up grants” that charter schools could get from the state.  Snow and company are counting on getting one of those grants, as well.

In addition, the cost of transportation and special education costs would be paid for by the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Bridgeport is already well into the 60 day local charter review process.  The application, if approved, would then go to Connecticut Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor and the state Board of Education.

As to the various players behind the proposal, Wait What? readers may recall that starting in January 2011, Meghan Lowney, Nate Snow and Excel Bridgeport worked to persuade the Connecticut State Board of Education to take over the Bridgeport School System.  Over the course of the six months leading up to the State Board of Education’s illegal takeover, Lowney, Snow and Excel Bridgeport engaged in numerous communications with state officials.

Despite their ongoing lobbying, both before and during the illegal takeover and throughout the effort to persuade legislators to support Malloy’s education reform bill, neither Lowney, Snow nor Excel Bridgeport registered to lobby with the Connecticut Office of State Ethics, as required by law.

More than two weeks after the end of the 2012 Legislative session, Excel Bridgeport finally filed the required papers, listing Jorge Cabrera as the organization’s lead lobbyist.

Excel Bridgeport, a group initially called the Bridgeport Partnership for School Success, Inc., was created in December 2010 and then changed its name to Excel Bridgeport Inc. in September 2011.

According to its incorporation papers, Meghan Lowney, the Executive Director of the Zoom Foundation, (the personal foundation of Fairfield County billionaire Stephen Mandel), was registered as Excel Bridgeport, Inc.’s founding president and Nathan Snow, the Executive Director of Connecticut’s Teach for America Chapter served as the organization’s founding vice president.

Snow then took over the role as Excel’s president.   A board was also created made up of Jonathan Hayes (Executive, Meetinghouse Productions), Joel Green (Partner, Green & Gross, PC), Robert Francis (Executive Director, RYASAP), Carl Horton, Jr. (Consultant, Accenture), Scott Hughes (City Librarian, Bridgeport Public Library), Meghan Lowney (Executive Director, ZOOM Foundation) and Joseph McGee (Vice President, Fairfield County Business Council).  Like Snow, Francis, the Executive Director of RYASAP, also has a contract with the Bridgeport Board of Education.

As of now, Lowney and Snow have still not registered to lobby despite their ongoing efforts to influence public policy.

Meanwhile, faced with inadequate state resources, and Mayor Finch’s need to come up with $3.2 million more just to meet the state’s minimum local expenditure law, it will be interesting to see if Paul Vallas, the Bridgeport Board of Education and Commissioner Stefan Pryor divert dollars to their colleague Nate Snow and his proposal for a new Montessori charter school.