Think Bridgeport’s TFA issue is bad, try Windham’s

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As reported yesterday and reprinted in today’s Washington Post, thanks to a deal between Paul Vallas and Nate Snow, the Executive Director for the Connecticut Chapter of Teach for America, Bridgeport hired another 31 TFA recruits this week.  The contract Vallas signed last spring committed the City of Bridgeport to hire 125 mostly out-of-state TFA recruits rather than give Connecticut residents, who have graduated with teaching certificates from Connecticut colleges, a chance to get these jobs. 

You can find yesterday’s Wait, What? post reprinted here: The Washington Post. 8-29-13

Thanks to the Vallas/TFA Bridgeport contract, Nate Snow’s Teach for America collected a cool $750,000 in finder’s fees for the effort.

But as insulting as that is to Connecticut’s new teachers and Bridgeport taxpayers, across the state, Governor Malloy’s Special Master for Windham, Steven Adamowski, signed a deal with Teach for America that is proportionately even more lucrative.

The Adamowski/TFA contract “only” calls for giving 20 Windham teaching jobs to TFA recruits rather than to new Connecticut teachers but the “fee” Windham must pay TFA is $4,000 per hear instead of the “$3,000 per year TFA is charging Bridgeport.  Neither Adamowski nor TFA clarify why Windham taxpayers are paying 33 percent more than are the taxpayers of Bridgeport.

But the bottom line is the same; With hundreds of new graduates from Connecticut’s teacher preparation programs, the state’s highest ranking education officials are literally using taxpayer funds to give away good paying jobs to people who, for the most part, don’t come from Connecticut, didn’t get their college education in Connecticut and didn’t even major in education.

Meanwhile, since taking office, Governor Malloy has pushed through the deepest state funding cuts in Connecticut history for our public colleges and universities.  As a result, Connecticut families are paying even more to attend UConn, Central, Southern, Eastern, Western and our state’s community colleges.  Earning a teaching degree at the University of Connecticut, while living on campus, could now cost as much as $125,000.

And how does Malloy, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and state appointed administrators like Paul Vallas and Steven Adamowski reward that commitment and dedication…they pay TFA to recruit non-teachers to fill what few job openings that there are out there.

Perhaps the most interesting fact of all is that Special Master Adamowski only assigned the TFA recruits to teach Windham students, a town with a disproportionately large minority and Latino student population.

The Windham Board of Education opened a beautiful new STEM magnet school this week.  As a magnet school, students from throughout the region are allowed to attend.  So how many TFA recruits did Adamowski assign to teach at the magnet school?   ZERO.

The TFA recruits were assigned to teach the students who didn’t get into the magnet school, while the magnet school was staffed primarily with longer-term Windham teachers who were transferred from the other district schools to the new magnet.

Finally, in response to a reader’s question about whether the minimally trained TFA recruits are paid less than traditional new teachers, the TFA contract between Bridgeport and Windham states;

“Every Teacher employed by School District as described in this Agreement shall be a full-time employee of School District with all of the rights, responsibilities and legal protections attendant to that status and not an employee of Teach for America. “

“School District shall provide to every Teacher employed by School District pursuant to this Agreement the same salary and benefits (including, as applicable, health, dental, vision and retirement) as are provided to other teachers employed by School District…”

“Subject to its obligations under pre-existing labor agreements…School Districts shall use reasonable efforts not to terminate any employed Teacher from his/her teaching position in the event of a reduction in force (RIF), layoffs, “leveling” or other elimination or consolidation of teaching positions within School District.  School District shall treat any Teacher employed in connection with this Agreement whose teaching position is eliminated at least as favorably as other teachers…”

So, the answer, in short, is that these TFA recruits immediately acquire the same rights and privileges of those who have actually gone through a full Connecticut teacher preparation program.

ALERT: Documents reveal Adamowski and Windham Officials misled public on STEM Academy Operations Plan

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After dragging their feet for nearly three months, the Connecticut State Department of Education has finally responded to a Freedom of Information request by releasing a series of documents and emails related to the Charles Barrows STEM Academy that is scheduled to open in Windham this coming fall.

Despite multiple claims to the contrary, the documentation that has finally been provided reveals that the Operations Plan on file with the State Department of Education and linked to the Barrows STEM Magnet Academy website is neither the final version of the Operations Plan or a version of the Operations Plan that has been approved by the Windham Board of Education..

According to emails provided in response to the Freedom of Information request, on February 5, 2013, Gabriel Ramos, a Broad Foundation Fellow who is assisting Special Master Adamowski, forwarded a document entitled the “STEM Windham Public Schools Operation Plan Final 6-16-2012” to the State Department of Education’s Communication Office.  The document purports to be the final Barrows STEM Academy Operations Plan.

In fact, Special Master Adamowski and senior Windham Education Officials have been claiming for months, that this document is the “official” Operations Plan for the new school and that it has been used to guide the recruitment and selection process for the new school.

However, the document, which is dated May 2012 and has an internal Microsoft date stamp of 6/20/12, is missing more than sixty text changes that were provided to the Board of Education or approved by the Board of Education in November, 2012.

Interestingly, while the document on file with the State Department of Education is missing dozens of text changes, the offensive language limiting transfers into the school, unless a child is reading at or above grade level, has mysteriously been removed from this “final” copy.

However, Board of Education members were given a copy of the Operations Plan that while also marked May 2012, has a revised Microsoft date stamp of February 11, 2013, eight months after the version that was filed with the State Department of Education.

This later document highlights the 60 plus text changes to the Operations Plan, BUT STILL CONTAINS THE OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE LIMITING TRANSFERS TO THOSE WHO ARE READING AT OR ABOVE GRADE LEVEL.

The fact that Special Master Adamowski and senior Windham Officials have been misrepresenting an old copy of the Operations Plan as being the final version is troubling enough, but the materials released as part of the Freedom of Information request raise a far more serious problem.

In an email dated February 6, 2013, an expert with the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Bureau of Choice Program reviewed the Barrows STEM Academy Operations Plan and wrote an email raising some significant and serious concerns about the Operations Agreement.

This State Department of Education email about problems with the plan came AFTER Gabrielle Ramos provided what she claimed to be the “final” copy of the plan.

While the information released  as a result of the Freedom of Information request failed to explain how these later concerns were resolved, they  make it very clear that the “final” version of the Windham STEM Academy Operations Plan needed further work before it would meet the State’s rules and regulations.

Now that this additional information has finally been released, it is painfully clear that the Windham Board of Education has not taken the steps necessary to draft and file an appropriate Operations Plan for the new school.

The lack of a duly approved Barrows STEM Academy Operations Plan places the STEM Magnet School program, as well as students and parents from Windham and adjoining towns in an untenable position.

The school lottery for Windham students has already been delayed and the selection process for students from area towns remains unclear.

Any action to select students without an approved plan would serve as a legal nightmare for Windham and any town participating in the program.

Let’s hope this latest news will finally convince the Windham Board of Education and superintendents from EASTCONN towns to demand that Adamowski and senior Windham education officials start telling the truth and produce an appropriate Operations Plan for the new school.

Adamowski says Windham Stem Academy Magnet Operations Plan being “revised” and “clarified”

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Adamowski even says it will be voted on by the Windham Board of Education…

At the Windham Board of Education meeting last night, April 11, 2013, Special Master Stephen Adamowski finally addressed the issue of the Operations Plan for the Charles H. Barrows Stem Academy

It would be difficult, if not impossible, for Wait, What? readers not to know the story surrounding the infamous Windham STEM Academy Operations Plan.

Under Connecticut law, a magnet school must have an approved Operations Plan on file with the State Department of Education.

Apparently, Special Master Adamowski has managed to have multiple versions of an Operations Plan filed.  The only problem is not one of them was (a) accurate or (b) approved.

Think of it this way;

Take the movie Ground Hog Day and merge it was an old episode of the Keystone Cops.

Cast in the starring role, Connecticut’s own $225,000 a year education reformer and Special Master, Steven Adamowski.

And you have the setting for a block buster (or at least a Buster Keaton), George Orwell meets Franz Kafka story of intrigue, misrepresentation, bold face lying, along with more than a dash of outright negligence.

The story began with the development of an Operations Plan for the new Windham STEM Academy Magnet by members of the Commissioner Pryor/Special Master Adamowski Team.

Among its provisions was as requirement that no child could transfer into the new STEM Academy, above the third grade, unless they were reading at grade level.

Following meetings and discussions, the Windham Board of Education was provided with a revised copy of the Operations Plan that was conveniently marked “approved” on the cover, despite the fact that it now appears that no vote was ever taken to actually “approve” the plan.

However, the offensive language that would serve to openly discriminate against non-English speaking students and students who needed special education services was still part of the “approved”, Operations Agreement.

When concerns about the discriminatory language was raised in a Wait, What? post, the Windham School Board was told that the “approved” Operations Plan that they had was not, in fact, the official Operations Plan and that the official Operations Plan was already on file with the State Department (and available on the STEM Academy website).  And that furthermore, the discriminatory language had been removed from that version of the Operations Plan that was on file with the State Department.

Unfortunately, since the State Department of Education failed to provide a copy of the Operations Plan, despite a series of Freedom of Information requests, it was hard to determine exactly which version of the “truth” was, in fact, “the truth.”

That said, thanks to an observant state employee at the State Department of Education who did manage to get a look at the Operations Plan, it was determined that the version on file with the State Department of Education was definitely not the “official plan,” but was an earlier version of the plan, with the only late change being that someone removed the offending language but left untouched all of the other changes that had already been made in later versions.

Despite all of that, Adamowski and Windham officials continued to claim that the Operations Plan on file was the actual Operations Plan.

But then last night, Adamowski changed strategies and announced during his official presentation that the STEM Academy Magnet Operations Plan was being “revised” and “clarified” and will then be “re-submitted” to the State Department of Education.

Adamowski also announced that the Windham Board of Education would have to “approve” the Operations Plan before it could be finalized.

Meanwhile, the lottery for seats in the new STEM Academy, that was supposed to be held in March, was been delayed until April 23rd.  The problem, we are told, was associated with the failure to mail appropriate notifications in a timely manner and not the fact that the school doesn’t even have an official Operations Plan on record.

Once the lottery is held for the Windham students who want to attend the STEM Academy, the follow up lottery can then be held for students from neighboring towns who applied for the remaining seats.

If at some point in the future, a real, “official” copy of the STEM Academy Operations Plan becomes available, you’ll be able to find a link here.  (will  hold this blank space till then _____________________________ )

And until then, I’m sure the Special Master will be more than willing to explain what the official version of the Operations Plan says.

For those who want to recount the earlier details, here are a few links:

http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/03/22/windham-area-superintendents-of-schools-please-intervene-before-its-to-late/

http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/03/20/and-in-windhamthe-new-magnet-school-still-hasnt-filed-an-approved-operations-plan-but-is-using-an-inappropriate-application/

http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/02/25/and-in-windham-non-approved-operations-plan-for-the-charles-h-barrows-stem-academy-filed-with-the-state/

http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/02/11/a-look-back-on-the-language-restricting-who-may-attend-windhams-new-stem-magnet-school/

http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/02/10/what-is-the-truth-about-the-new-windham-stem-magnet/

http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/02/07/windhams-charles-h-barrows-stem-academy-the-problem-is-even-greater-than-it-first-appeared/

http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/02/06/what-are-windham-education-officials-hiding/

Windham area superintendents of schools – Please intervene before it’s too late…

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March 22, 2013

An Open Letter to Superintendents in towns surrounding Windham, Connecticut

As a superintendent of schools from one of the potential sending towns to Windham’s new STEM Magnet school, I’m sure you are aware of some of the very serious concerns that have been raised about the management of Windham’s new magnet school.

I’ve written about some of these issues on my blog, Wait, What?

As leaders responsible for the education of your local students, you should be alarmed to learn that Windham’s Special Master, Steven Adamowski, still hasn’t filed an officially approved Operations Plan with the state Department of Education for the new Magnet School.  In addition, the application that has been used for the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy includes some inappropriate questions that will serve to dissuade certain key populations from even applying for the lottery to get into the STEM Academy.

As originally presented last summer, the proposed Operations Plan for the Barrows STEM Magnet School prohibited children from transferring into the school if they weren’t reading at grade level.  This language violated the spirit and law underlying Connecticut Magnet School programs and would have especially discriminated against children who face language barriers including those who need ESL services and children who utilize special education services.

When the issue was raised, Windham’s senior school administrators claimed that the offensive language was not in the Operations Plan that had been filed with the state which was available on the Barrows STEM Magnet School website.

Instead, they claimed that the copy that was being distributed and was available on the Board of Education’s Agenda and Minutes webpage was an older copy of the Operations Plan.  The claim was an odd one considering the so-called “older copy” had a newer date, was the very document that was given out to Windham Board of Education members, included language modifications that were marked as changes by the Board and was stamped “approved.”

Further complicating the matter is the fact that the Operations Plan filed with the state Department of Education was never approved by the Windham Board of Education, as required, nor did it include the changes that had been approved by Windham’s Board of Education.

As an aside, the changes that were approved by the Board of Education DID NOT remove the prohibition on transfers, so how that language disappeared from the document that is “on-file” with the state remains a mystery.

Even more troubling is the fact that the Operations Plan filed with the state and available via the Barrows STEM Magnet Schools website includes the wrong dates for the opening of the school and in one section claims that 70 percent of the students will come from Windham, while it has an adjacent chart indicating that 66 percent of the students will come from Windham.  Another section also mentions the 66 percent figure despite the fact that the actual section applying to the demographics of the facility sticks to the 70 percent number. More

And in Windham…the New Magnet School still hasn’t filed an approved Operations Plan but is using an inappropriate application

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You can keep Governor Malloy’s “Special Master”, Steven Adamowski, and Windham’s school administrators on the list of entities and individuals who seem unable or unwilling to follow the state’s laws and regulations.

With the lottery to select students for Windham‘s new Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy Magnet School about to take place, Adamowski and the Windham School System STILL HAVEN’T filed a legally-approved Operations Plan with the State Department of Education and the application form that they have been using inappropriately requests that students provide their social security number.  It is a technique the effectively reduces the number of immigrants and poor who might apply for a seat in the new school.

As Wait, What? readers will recall, when concerns were raised about the fact that the Operations Plan for Windham’s new Barrows STEM Magnet School prohibited children from transferring into the school if they weren’t reading at grade level, Windham school administrators claimed that the offending language was  not part of the approved Operations Plan filed with the state.  Instead they claimed that the copy being read was an older copy of the Operations Plan, even though that “older copy” was the exact document that was given to the members of the Windham Board of Education and marked “approved.”

Further complicating the matter was that, upon investigation, it turned out that the Operations Plan filed with the state was neither approved by the Windham Board of Education, as required, nor did it include a variety of language changes that were approved by Windham’s Board of Education.  (As an aside, the changes approved by the Board of Education DID NOT remove the prohibition on transfers, so how that language disappeared from the document is a “mystery.”)

Throughout this debate, neither Windham’s “Special Master” Adamowski nor Windham’s Superintendent have managed to explain how an unapproved Operations Plan was filed with the State or what they are going to do about actually filing the appropriate plan.

However, at a recent meeting, Windham’s Superintendent announced that the plan that had been given to the Windham Board of Education and recorded as “approved” was not actually approved and therefore wasn’t the plan to follow.

This revelation apparently leaves the school with no officially-approved Operations Plan, despite the fact that applications by Windham students were due no later than March 1, 2013 and the lottery to select Windham students (who will make up 75 percent of the student body) will take place before the end of the month.  Applications for the remaining 25 percent of the students, meaning students from surrounding communities, are due by March 29, 2013.

In addition, despite repeated Freedom of Information requests, the State has not provided its copy of the faulty Operations Plan nor has it released the communication between the state, Adamowski and other Windham administrators that were part of the Freedom of Information request.

That said, state education regulations do require an approved copy of the Operations Plan be filed with the State, but neither Adamowski nor the school administrators have provided the Windham Board of Education with a final copy or scheduled the necessary vote.

Meanwhile, in violation of federal law, the application being used to sign up students for the new STEM Magnet includes a request for the child’s social security number.

According to the law, “When a federal, state, or local government agency asks an individual to disclose his or her Social Security number, the Privacy Act requires the agency to inform the person of the following: the statutory or other authority for requesting the information; whether disclosure is mandatory or voluntary; what uses will be made of the information; and the consequences, if any, of failure to provide the information.”

However, no such notice is provided.

You can see the application here: http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/downloads/schools/chbsa/STEMApplication2013_14.pdf

So, Special Master Adamowski, et. al. are about to conduct a lottery for a new magnet school, but have failed to submit an approved Operations Plan and have an application that fails to meet the requirements of the federal Privacy Act.

And in the end, who knows whether any of this is intentional or unintentional?  But what we can be sure of is – if you don’t have an approved Operations Plan there is no way to determine if they are actually following the rules and if you ask for information that you know that many immigrants and non-English speaking families don’t have, you effectively reduce the likelihood that those families will submit applications allowing them to even make it to the lottery process.

Quite frankly, it’s an outrage and the people of Windham and eastern Connecticut deserve better.

Freedom of Information complaint filed against Commissioner Stefan Pryor and the Connecticut Department of Education

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“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both. A people who mean to be their own governor must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”  – James Madison

With three Freedom of Information requests pending with the Connecticut Department of Education for information that is undoubtedly public and no sign of a response from Commissioner Stefan Pryor or his staff, the Education Department has left  no option but to file a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission.

Despite a campaign promise to make government more transparent, the Malloy Administration continues to engage in an unprecedented effort to undermine the independence, sanctity and effectiveness of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information law.  However, as of now, the law remains clear and concise – the public has a right to public records.

The records that have been requested, including the mysterious unapproved copy of the Operations Agreement for the new Windham Magnet School, are unquestionably public records.  However, weeks after a simple FOI request, the Department has been unwilling to turn over the records.

For that reason, a complaint against Commissioner Pryor and his agency has been filed.

Updates will be provided as information becomes available.

And in Windham… Non-approved Operations Plan for the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy filed with the state

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Two weeks have passed and the State Department of Education still hasn’t responded to a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the Operations Plan that Windham filed for the new Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy, but a staff person at the Department of Education has confirmed that the document filed IS NOT the version approved by the Windham Board of Trustees.

Wait, What? readers will remember the issues surrounding Windham’s new STEM Magnet School.

The Operations Plan approved by the Board of Education included a restriction limiting students from transferring into the new school if they were not reading at grade level by the 3rd grade.

The policy would discriminate against English Language Learners and especially Windham’s large Latino community, as well as students with special education needs.

However, after that information was posted on the Wait, What? blog, the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education wrote to clarify the situation saying,

“You are referring to an earlier draft of the operations plan than the one currently on file with the State Department of Education… A copy of the plan on file with the SDE has been placed on the Barrows Academy website: http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/downloads/schools/chbsa/STEMOperations_Plan20120616.pdf

As the Chairman observed, “You’ll note that the language on the qualifications of transfer students has been removed from plan.”

While it was good news that the unfair and inappropriate restriction on transferring into Windham’s new STEM Magnet school was no longer in place, the news raised a different issue; was the version of the Operations Plan on file the same one that was adopted by the Board of Education or an unapproved version of the plan?

Unfortunately, the State Department of Education has been unwilling to turn over a copy of the version on file at the Department so there is no way to know for sure, but a State Department of Education employee who claims to have seen the copy on file confirms that the restrictive language is gone, but also confirms that the copy that has been filed with the State Department of Education IS NOT the version approved by the Board of Education.

So we now have a situation in which the Operations Plan on file with the State does not include the offensive language but the version approved by the Board of Education does.

While that leaves the legal status of the plan in limbo, the best course of action is for the Windham Board of Education to approve a revised plan and re-submit it so that the version the Board has approved and the version filed with the state are the same.

A look back on the language restricting who may attend Windham’s new STEM Magnet School

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Wait, What? readers have patiently read through no less than three long posts about Windham’s new STEM Magnet and what appeared to be restriction limiting students from transferring into the new school if they were not reading at grade level by the 3rd grade.

Yesterday, the chairman of the Windham Board of Education wrote to clarify and wrap up the issue that I had raised.  He wrote:

“You are referring to an earlier draft of the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy’s operations plan than the one currently on file with the State Department of Education. It happens, that until you raised the issue, I did not have a copy of the latest operations plan. A copy of the plan on file with the SDE has been placed on the Barrows Academy website <http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/downloads/schools/chbsa/STEMOperations_Plan20120616.pdf>.”

The Chairmen went on to note, “You’ll note that the language on the qualifications of transfer students has been removed from plan.”

The language was gone.

The unfair and inappropriate restriction on transferring into Windham’s new STEM Magnet school was no longer in place.

Although a bit chagrined that I hadn’t realized the final document had been changed, the fact that the issue was resolved was good news.

But…

And this is a BIG BUT…

When reviewing and packaging up the various documents, it became clear that it may very well be the Board itself that was being misled about the Operations Agreement.

Despite what the Chairman wrote yesterday, the copy of the Windham STEM Magnet School Operations Agreement on the website IS NOT the latest copy of the Operations Agreement.

In fact, it’s not even close to being the latest copy.  It is an old copy, with one change – the offensive language dealing with transfer students having to read at grade has been miraculously deleted.

The “final” copy was provided to the Windham Board of Education as part of a 45 page Board packet for their November 28, 2012 Board of Education Meeting.  The material related to their Agenda item III, entitled “Workshop Session, A. STEM Magnet School Operating Plan.”

In that packet, the title page of the Operations Plan for the STEM Magnet School included, in red ink, the words “Proposed Changes and BOE Approval:  November 2012.”  (Read Board Packet Here)

1)      Those comfortable with Microsoft Word will discover that if you right click on the document it reveals the document properties and this document was crated on 11/27/2012, the day before Board of Education Meeting.

2)      The changes, marked in red, are numerous and are throughout the document.  For example, the word “Laboratory” is removed from the description of the school in multiple locations.  Other modifications include changing the term Assistant Principal to Academic Dean of Students, Lead Teachers to Team Leaders, and a variety of other changes applying to what was to become the final terminology of for the Operations Plan.

3)      Finally, on Page 16 under Section 7, subsection B, subsection 2, it read.

“Enrollment will end on September 30th of the school year.  New Students Entering beyond grade 3 must be reading on or above grade level.”

There were no changes to that section listed.   That was the language before the November 28, 2013 Board of Education meeting AND the language after the November 28, 2013 Board of Education Meeting.  The restriction on transferring into the Windham STEM Magnet remained part of the Operations Plan.

So now we turn to the Operations Plan that the Board Chairman was told is the FINAL language of the Operations Agreement and is the language on file with the State Board of Education.  As noted above, to find the Operations Plan, start at http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/.  Click Schools – Charles H Barrows STEM Academy for http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/schools/chbsa/index.html, then resources http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/schools/chbsa/resources.html and then the Operations Plan: http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/downloads/schools/chbsa/STEMOperations_Plan20120616.pdf

1)      For starters note the Title of the Document is the STEM Laboratory Magnet School, despite the fact that the Board had already voted to remove the world “Laboratory” from the title.

2)       In fact, none of the other changes the Board approved on November 28, 2012 are included in the document that the administration is now claiming is the final Operations Plan.

3)      And now right click on the document and notice that this version of the Operations Agreement was crated on 6/20/2012,  months before the version the Board voted on.  Even more telling, this document was modified on 2/10/2013.  That is, the document was changed after I had raised the reading requirement issue with the Board.

Is the document on the website really the “FINAL” version of the Windham STEM Magnet Operations Agreement?

It doesn’t include any of the changes approved by the Windham Board of Education, but it does make ONE change since it was created last summer.

On Page 16, Section 7, subsection B; subsection 2, where it once read, “Enrollment will end on September 30th of the school year.  New Students entering beyond grade 3 must be reading on or above grade level…

It now reads “Enrollment will end on September 30th of the school year.”  Period, no second sentence.

Interestingly that the ONLY CHANGE MADE IN THE WHOLE OPERATIONS AGREEMENT,  despite the numerous changes approved by the Board of Education, is the removal of the inappropriate effort to prevent a large segment of our children from transferring to this new magnet school.

UPDATED WITH IMPORTANT NEWS: What is the truth about the new Windham STEM Magnet?

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A few hours ago I posted this blog entitled – “What is the truth about the new Windham STEM Magnet.”

Just a little while ago I received a response from the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education.  Since the entire Board was cc’d on the email, I am reprinting it below my original post.

Following that is a quick note that I sent back to the Chairman.

It would appear that the offensive language was, at some point, removed from the Windham STEM magnet operating agreement.

I’m glad the issues appears to be resolved, I apologize if, at any point, I provided the wrong information, and I especially want to thank all the people who took the time to learn more about this important issue.

jonathan

Original Post:

A major controversy is brewing about the operating agreement that will govern Windham’s new Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy.  Recruitment for the K-8 magnet school is beginning and the school will be opening in September 2013.

The Agreement, as proposed by Windham’s Special Master Steven Adamowski and approved by the Windham Board of Education, includes the concept that “New students entering beyond grade 3 must be reading at grade level.”

As Windham’s Board of Education Chairman explained in a recent email, “That language is in a section referring to students who transfer into openings in an ongoing Magnet School class. It does not apply to ANY student applying to enroll in initial classes during the startup period nor to students applying to pre-school or kindergarden once the school is fully enrolled.”

However, to be clear, as described, the policy would prevent students who are not reading at grade level from transferring into the school, even if there were available seats and even though the school will already have reading and special education services to support those students who began attending the school in their kindergarten year.

There is no question that the members of the Windham Board are well-meaning, dedicated people, but the policy raises extraordinarily serious questions about whether they were misled and whether such a policy has any right to exist in a public school.

In his email, the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education went on to note, “That provision is in the operating plan because reading at grade level for grades 4 to 8 is a requirement of the national STEM curriculum standards. Obviously, the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy is not going to achieve that standard in its early years, and reaching the standard will be one of the first challenges the faculty of the school faces.”

In a follow-up email, the Chairman reiterated his point saying, “My understanding is that reading at grade level is a standard component of the STEM curriculum. That’s why the language regarding transfer students exists.”

Apparently the Windham Board of Education adopted this policy based on the information that they were provided and that, I believe, is the crux of the problem.

In the last three days, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with STEM magnet school administrators in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.

The administrator in Massachusetts said that they know of no program in that state that restricts the enrollment or transfer of students based on reading level.

In New York, where a group of the STEM magnets receive federal funding, the administrator said such a restriction would be illegal and violate the requirements of the federal grant.

And here in Connecticut, the answer was that they don’t know of any STEM Magnet where this type of restrictive provision was in place.

As a group, these STEM administrators condemned the wording of the Windham policy using terms like immoral, reprehensible, not in the best interest of children, discriminatory based on student’s  socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, probably illegal under federal special education statutes and would dramatically and disproportionately prevent Latino and other non-English speaking students from getting a high-quality STEM education.

To a person, they thought such a restriction was or should be illegal.

So what exactly is going on here?

In the summer of 2009, Windham’s local officials, school administrators, teachers and parents joined together to lay out a plan for a new magnet school to be built in the community.

After months of work, the group proposed the creation of a magnet school focused on Environmental Science and Cultural Studies.  The plan was designed to take advantage and celebrate “the unique character of the community: the natural history, cultural heritage, and ethnic diversity that characterize Windham.”

Then, fast forward to the summer of August 2011.

As a result of a special legislative changes, the State Department of Education named Steven Adamowski, Hartford’s former Superintendent of Schools, to the post of “Special Master” for Windham.

Within weeks, the Windham Magnet School Building Committee was persuaded to drop its idea of creating an Environmental and Cultural Magnet School and making Windham’s new magnet school at Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School.

The Norwich Bulletin covered the developments writing,

“Windham school’s Special Master Steven Adamowski has unveiled a plan to create the state’s second science, technology, engineering and math kindergarten through eighth grade school.

The first K-8 STEM school, as science-, technology-, engineering- and math-geared schools are known, is in Adamowski’s former district, Hartford.

Windham was building a magnet school before Adamowski’s arrival; however, it was slated to be an environmental sciences and culture magnet. He immediately changed the school’s direction, calling the original plan too soft.”

Adamowski said it would be better to model the new Magnet after the Annie Fisher STEM magnet school in Hartford and that he had already asked the principal there to consult on Windham’s project and she had agreed.

The Annie Fisher STEM magnet is certainly a school to admire.  Although it only opened in 2009, last year the school was named one of American’s 269 “National Blue Ribbon” schools.  As the Hartford Courant noted at the time, “The national award marks the school’s academic achievement and efforts to close the achievement gap…”

The Courant article went to quote Annie Fisher’s Principal, Melony M. Brady, as saying “Receiving the National Blue Ribbon Award is an honor that validates how a community, with one common vision, dream and belief that every single child deserves a phenomenal educational experience, will surpass academic expectations and beat the odds…It is without the shadow of a doubt that this acknowledgement recognizes the power of collaboration, partnership and educational autonomy that drives reform.”

But here is the kicker!

The Annie Fisher STEM Magnet DOES NOT HAVE the provision requiring students to be reading at grade level.  The successful Annie Fisher STEM magnet is doing what magnet schools are supposed to be doing – using a lottery to ensure fairness and then providing every child who access to a quality education.

As noted in a previous Wait, What? post, In Connecticut, interdistrict magnet schools receive special funding BECAUSE they are supposed to “reduce, eliminate or prevent the racial, ethnic or economic isolation of public school students while offering a high-quality curriculum that sup­ports educational improvement.”

Furthermore, According to state law and regulations, “All students in the school districts participating in the magnet school program are eligible. No student may be denied enrollment because of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, genetics, age, religion or any other basis.”

Yet preventing students from transferring into the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy, if they aren’t reading a grade level, will effectively discriminate against students that are poorer, students who aren’t fluent in English and students who require special education services.

The policy is immoral, unethical, and unfair and will lead to real (defacto) discrimination which would violate Connecticut law and the Connecticut Constitution.

And yet, recruitment for the new Windham STEM Magnet is moving forward.

On Monday, February 11th, 2013 there will be a Windham STEM Magnet School Open House for Windham families at the Windham Middle School and applications for Windham families to attend the new STEM Magnet are due by Friday, March 1st, 2013.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, March 5th, 2013 there will be a Windham STEM Magnet School Open House for Out of District Families at the Mansfield Public Library and the deadline for Out of District Families to submit applications for the new STEM Magnet are Friday, March 29th, 2013.

Everyday that this issue goes unresolved is a day that the parents and students of Windham and the region are being misled.

Finally, one overriding question is why hasn’t the State Board of Education and Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, engaged in this vital discussion?

Oh, and one additional note:   The new website for the Windham STEM Magnet is here: http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/schools/chbsa/index.html and that links to the Operations Plan for the new STEM Magnet which is here: http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/downloads/schools/chbsa/STEMOperations_Plan20120616.pdf

Call it a strange coincidence, but the language revealing that any student beyond the 3rd grade must be reading at grade level in order to transfer into the Windham STEM Magnet is missing from the version of the document on the Windham STEM Magnet school website, even though the wording was adopted by the Windham Board of Education and is part of the Operations Plan available elsewhere on the Board’s website.

For the earlier Wait, What? blog posts on this issue read here: Windham’s Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy: The problem is even greater than it first appeared  and here: http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/02/06/what-are-windham-education-officials-hiding/.

 

Chairman’s response 2-10-13

Jonathan –

 

I disagree that there is even a minor controversy brewing. You are referring to an earlier draft of the the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy’s operations plan than the one currently on file with the State Department of Education. It happens, that until you raised the issue, I did not have a copy of the latest operations plan. A copy of the plan on file with the SDE has been placed on the Barrows Academy website <http://www.windham.k12.ct.us/downloads/schools/chbsa/STEMOperations_Plan20120616.pdf>. We’ll do our best to make sure it remains current if it is edited in the future, as it may well be.

You’ll note that the language on the qualifications of transfer students has been removed from plan. However, I’m told that there are magnet schools in Connecticut that do have academic restrictions in their transfer policies, and we may ask our administration to document those IF the Board of Education ultimately decided to consider such restrictions.

This is NOT an urgent issue for Windham because we will not have any transfer students before the 2014-15 school year, and it will be several years after that before we have achieved the reading at grade level standard for the students attending the Barrows Academy. Hence, if academic restrictions on transfer admissions does make sense, it won’t be operative for some years in the future.

We do thank you for bringing the issue to our attention. We have asked the administration to include this issue among others in a presentation at a regular meeting after the close of the initial lotteries and decisions by potential partner districts (possibly on April 10). As I noted earlier, this question may be a total not-starter because our District’s commitment is that ALL of our students be reading at grade level by grade three, and our intent is that we maintain that standard through high school. So, when it comes to transfers into the Barrows Academy, the greater issue will be what is the most appropriate environment for students requiring remedial services to receive them.

While it is critical that the Barrows STEM Academy be a successful school, we do not intend that it become an elite school. We expect all of our schools to meet the same level of student performance. We will be selecting students to attend the Barrows STEM Academy by an entirely nondiscriminatory lottery; it follows that that students in any of our schools have the same ability to achieve success; therefore, performance standards will be the same for all.

My email back to the Chairman just now;

Murph,

Thank you for the update.

Odd that when I raised this very issue – repeatedly – with the State Department and the Windham School administration – no one bothered to respond that the final operating agreement didn’t include the offensive and inappropriate language.

I may very well have missed it, and if so, I apologize, but it appears that when the Windham Board of Education voted on the STEM Operating Plan, the reading at grade level for transfers was most definitely part of the plan.  In fact, the document the Board voted on included a number of changes in the plan (all in red) but NONE OF THEM related to the reading at grade level requirement.

Is it your understanding that the Board then voted again on the Operating Plan and this time removed that requirement?

Certainly neither the State Department nor the Windham Administration has the authority to file an operating plan that is different than the one approved by the Board.

Finally, I will respectfully disagree with you as to whether this is a pressing or controversial issue or not.  The initial marketing and discussion surrounding the STEM Magnet will create the image that the school will live with for years to come.  Even this provision didn’t “kick-in” until year two, parents considering sending their children to the new STEM and the taxpayers who pay for that have a right to know that a system was being considered that would have treated those students in a way they weren’t being treated at any other public school in northeastern, Connecticut.

The question is not whether children should be reading at grade level.  We all want all children to be reading at grade level and that should be the stated goal in every school, but the fact is, whatever the truth may be about how the policy was changed, the Windham STEM Magnet had language which turned that goal into a mandate – a mandate that would have kept talented students from trying to get a STEM based education simply because they weren’t, at that time, reading at grade level.

And we all know what that means, students from poorer background, those from non-English speaking families and those in need of special education services would have been turned away.

It begs the question – who would have put in such a horrendous proposal.

That said, I’m very glad to hear that the provision is gone and I appreciate all the time and effort you went through to set the record straight.

Jonathan

 

Windham’s Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy: The problem is even greater than it first appeared

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As noted in previous Wait, What? posts, Windham, Connecticut’s Board of Education is building the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy.  Seventy percent of the students at the new K-8 STEM magnet school are scheduled to come from Windham and thirty percent from adjoining towns.

Over the past few days we’ve been on a mission to track down the source and meaning of a clause in the Magnet School’s Operating Agreement that says, “New students entering beyond grade 3 must be reading at grade level.” 

The staff at the State Department of Education refused repeated requests to explain the source and meaning of that language.  Then, the staff at the Windham Schools refused to explain the source and meaning of that language.

Finally, in response to a letter I sent yesterday to a wide variety of Windham education officials, the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education took the time to provide an answer to my question.

While I appreciate his willingness to respond to my request for public information, his answer highlights a situation that is even worse than I had originally imagined.

Connecticut’s education laws and policies state that, “No student may be denied enroll­ment because of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, genetics, age, religion or any other basis.”

In addition, the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that Article eighth, § 1 of the State Constitution guarantees all students an adequate education.  As a plurality of the justices explained in the state’s most important education case, the state of Connecticut must provide “an education suitable to give them the opportunity to be responsible citizens able to participate fully in democratic institutions, such as jury service and voting… [and] to progress to institutions of higher education, or to attain productive employment and otherwise contribute to the state’s economy.”

However, the response I received from the Chairman of the Windham Board of Education makes clear that the sign outside the Windham STEM Magnet will say, in essence, “The poor, minorities, non-English speaking students and students who need special education services need not apply.

How has this outrage come to pass?

The Windham Board Chairman’s letter explained that the language I quoted – New students entering beyond grade 3 must be reading at grade level” – only applies to students who transfer into the STEM Magnet School after the 2nd Grade.

He wrote, “It does not apply to ANY student applying to enroll in initial classes during the startup period nor to students applying to pre-school or kindergarden once the school is fully enrolled.”

The Chairman added, “Once the school is fully enrolled, the only new students will be the annual entering pre-K class and children who transfer into openings that result from students who leave the district or choose to transfer to another school. Students who transfer into grades 4 to 8 will be expected to meet the required STEM standard; however, no admitted student will be dismissed from the school because they are not reading at grade level by the end of grade three or thereafter. Instead, resources will be directed as required to assist students to achieve and maintain reading at grade level.”

So as long as a parent with a child entering Pre-Kindergarten know that their child wants to attend a Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) Magnet School, they will not have to prove that their child can read at grade level and will be provided support services if they have reading issues later in their school career.

In addition, if openings exist, children attending kindergarten or first through third grades can transfer into the school or move into the community and attend the school without proving they are at grade level.

However, after third grade the public school WILL NOT ALLOW any child to transfer into the program who doesn’t read at grade level.

Apparently, the reason this policy is in place is because someone has decided that reading at grade level is necessary to be successful at a Science, Technology, and Engineering & Math (STEM) Magnet School.

But of course, reading at grade level is a result of a wide variety of factors that don’t have anything to do with intelligence or future ability.

As with test scores, poverty, a lack of fluency in English and special education needs are the greatest predictors of test scores and those same factors correlate with the likelihood that a child may not be reading at grade level by the 3rd grade.

These factors, and others, are not related to intelligence or an ability to succeed and to imply that they do is ridiculous and disgusting.  

But one thing we definitely know and that is that study after study reveals that those reading below grade level are overwhelmingly students who are poor, Black, Latino or those who have special education needs.

The people who inserted this language into the new Windham STEM operating agreement can say what they want, but a policy that prohibits children from transferring into this public school if they are not reading at grade level is defacto discrimination against the poor, minorities, those who aren’t fluent in English and those who need special education services.

As the Connecticut Supreme Court wrote in the Sheff decision, “Racial and ethnic segregation has a pervasive and invidious impact on schools, whether the segregation results from intentional conduct or from unorchestrated demographic factors.”

Whether intentional or not, the policy about the 3rd grade reading requirement at the Charles H. Barrows STEM Academy forces a discriminatory outcome and has no place in the public education system of Connecticut.

More than 73 percent of Windham’s students receive free or subsidized lunches.  70 percent of Windham’s students are minorities, 35 percent of Windham’s students go home to households in which English is not the spoken language, 25 percent of the students are not fluent in English and 16 percent of students need special education services.

If the Windham STEM Magnet’s discriminatory policies are allowed to stand, the vast majority of Windham students will be prevented from attending the Magnet unless they happen to get in early enough to sidestep what amounts to an unfair and discriminatory regulation.

The impact of this policy is equally upsetting for parents in neighboring towns who might want to make use of this new STEM Magnet School. 

The policy ramification is clear.  No matter how interested you and your child may be in attending a Science, Technology, Engineering & Math program, they will be prohibited from transferring into the Windham STEM Magnet, even if there is room, if they aren’t reading at grade level.

They can get the support services they need, as long as they stay in their home district school, and give up their desire to focus on Science, Technology, Engineering or Math.

In Connecticut, interdistrict magnet schools receive special funding BECAUSE they are supposed to “reduce, eliminate or prevent the racial, ethnic or economic isolation of public school students while offering a high-quality curriculum that sup­ports educational improvement.”

The Windham STEM Magnet has begun to recruit students for next fall, and yet a discriminatory, outrageous, insulting and disgusting policy has been put in place.

The policy must be removed – immediately – and the question of who was behind this inappropriate effort must be investigated and appropriate action taken to ensure that the person or persons are not in a position to develop more policies of this nature.

The burden to act rests on the Governor, the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education, Windham’s Special Master and the Windham Board of Education.

If they refuse to take any action, a lawsuit should be filed against these entities and their members to force the repeal of this discriminatory and outrageous policy.