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Trumbull School Board Chair Rebuffs Teachers Union

by Steve Wright

I read with no small measure of disappointment the letter of the Trumbull Teacher’s Association rejecting the prestigious recognition the high school received from ConnCAN for achieving remarkable academic results for its low income, Hispanic and African American students based on measurable standards. When I read it a second and third time, my disappointment morphed into astonishment. The letter unfairly characterizes the mission and motive of ConnCAN and makes no mention of the seriousness of the achievement gap and the need for it to be eliminated if we are to succeed as a society.

In my view, and in the view of many others, the academic achievement gap that is based on poverty and race is the civil rights issue of our time and Connecticut owns the store when it comes to this morally unacceptable statistic that has continued to widen over the last decade. Through an obvious display of ignorance of the goals of ConnCAN and an undertone of an elitist attitude, the authors of the letter have managed to alienate trusted allies and provided the missing ingredients that will sway those who were on the fence with the education reform legislation to side with the Govemor and give wholesale support to the reforms proposed in Senate Bill #24. That ingredient is an unbecoming display of realities outside of Trumbull’s borders which impact everyone.

Prior to addressing the above conclusion, I would like to say that based on my observations I believe that the substantial majority of teachers in the Trumbull School System are superb. I make it my business to acknowledge and thank those administrators and teachers in Trumbull who regularly go beyond what is contractually required of them to enhance the student’s learning experience. I know firsthand that the faculty at Trumbull High School go out of their way to help each student find her/his niche so that the school with a student population of over 2,100 seems much smaller and comfortable, an environment necessary for real learning to take place. I also know that most of the teachers work at least ten (10) hour days participating in after school activities and provide special help to struggling students who are motivated enough to ask for it. Under any evaluation system which has even a modicum of validity, the overwhelming majority of Trumbull’s teachers would have little to be concemed about.

That being said, I would like to lay to rest some of the outlandish and reckless comments the TEA (Trumbull Education Association) letter said about ConnCAN. One visit to its website will convince even the most skeptical critic that this organization is not an enemy of public schools nor is it an opportunistic enterprise created to cash in on the large amount of resources devoted to educating our children. "We will not rest until every Connecticut Child, regardless of race or class has access to a "great public school" (emphasis added). The organization proclaims a beautiful vision for the future of our state. The vehicle for accomplishing this realty is an excellent public education". Hardly the profit minded robber barons of the 21st century the TEA make them out to be.

Equally disturbing as the false premise that was exposed above is the resort by the letter’s authors to ad hominem commentary which in most intellectual circles is recognized as a fallacy of argument. When you attack the person taking the position as opposed to the substance of the position, you engage in name-calling; a tire-kicking stunt that does not escape the scrutiny of anyone who is objective or open minded. The tactic has the effect of alienating the audience and advancing the position of the opponent. My guess is that the TEA accomplished this with their unbecoming missive.

The former director of ConnCAN, Alex Johnston, came to the Trumbull Board of Education last summer at my request to explain the recognition his organization bestowed on the Trumbull Board of Education and the work of his organization. Due to a mix-up on my part, Mr. Johnston’s presentation was not listed as an agenda item. This error relegated him to speak during the public comments. Mr. Johnston never said a word about the mishap. He spoke eloquently about his organization’s mission and proudly about the accomplishments of Trumbull High School. Despite what others might consider to be a sleight of hand, Alex returned to Trumbull and met with Dr. Tremaglio for hours informing himself about the programs at the school and its culture which are at the heart of the district’s success. Not only for reducing the achievement gap based on wealth and race but praise for the school and has expressed his organization’s desire for more public schools like Trumbull High School.

Mr. Johnston has left ConnCAN and has been replaced by a capable leader in Patrick Riccards. Its board and staff consist of many people who I know personally. While I admit that they come from diverse backgrounds, not one of them that I know believe that charter schools are the answer to Connecticut’s flat and declining performance in its public schools. Rather, they support a strong public education system that produces college and/or career ready students. The fact that this organization is unsatisfied with the results over the last decade is not grounds to demonize them. On the contrary, they find themselves among good company on this count, including the Connecticut Association of School Superintendents, Connecticut Council for Education Reform, Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, Connecticut Association of Schools and Connecticut Business Industry Association.

Eliminating gaps in learning based on recent poverty is a noble goal. It’s a plague on our state’s future should it continue to remain as wide as it is presently. Left to its own devices, it will continue to widen. It needs to be eliminated if this state and our nation is going to remain competitive and prosperous. The ConnCAN award acknowledges Trumbull’s deliberate success in guaranteeing all its youngsters receive a quality education. It is a cause for celebration not beratement.  Moreover, it was accomplished without a mandate and without any direct costs to the system. It is a product of a culture that believes all children are capable of learning and that human dignity compels us to imbed this philosophy throughout our education system.

The ConnCAN award was given to the school district, not the few members of the high school staff who penned the subject letter. It is not theirs to reject. Its an accolade that every school should aspire to achieve. Confusing this worthy accomplishment with the pending legislation weakens any credibility that might otherwise exist for different ideas and concerns.

I can only hope the TEA will reconsider its position.

Stephen Wright

Mark E Smith February 28, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Amen. Well said Chairman Wright. The TEA is not the Trumbull Education system, it is the Parents, Students, Educators and Taxpayers of Trumbull. Under very difficult economic times the Educators of Trumbull have done a fine job doing what they do best and deserve any and all accolade for their efforts. Who the hell does the TEA think they are to putting their petty pride out in front of the good work of our Educators for their THERE (the TEA) benefit forgoing the accomplishments of those Educators who actually did the work, spent the time and toiled for accomplishment. I have a been a fiscal hawk of the BoE (and all Town departments) as a member of the Board of Finance, however I tip my hat to our Educators succeeding under difficult economic times and under much scrutiny. I know it is not easy what you do and I know what you do is difficult so please don't ever think that I am no grateful for your efforts. Congratulations on being recognized for doing a great job. As for the TEA well ... 8-)~ M
Michelle February 28, 2012 at 02:33 AM
I wish the ridiculousness of the half-baked, one-dimensional reforms unveiled by the Governor and our new State Department of Ed Commisioner, Stefan Pryor, were more directedly protested. How about targeted the stupid comments from a Norwalk High School senior who was used to show how public eeucation is failing? I would have dared the Govenor and the Commissioner to use one of our own minority students to tell a very different story and begin the process of reform based on what works, not on what is broken. Instead, the TEA's appears to have distracted us (perhaps slightly embarassed us) from the real shortcomings of the foundation of the reforms. Why not tout our own success, especially at THS where teachers have done "a lot with a little" and where many of our minority students have been educated elsewhere K-8? Thus, provding evidence that high school public education, teachers and programs that have been effective. Public offers far mor opportunities than private!!!!! Thank you Chairman Wright for providing so many teachable points in your rebuttle! You are the perfect spokesperson and leader for our local BOE.
Jim Lang March 01, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Thank you Mr. Wright for courageously setting the record straight from your perspective. You clearly stated your position -one which I share. Jim Lang
Aly March 04, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Michelle, Yes, other schools should emulate Trumbull's success. The problem is neither ConnCan nor the governors' reforms do that. ConnCan's interest is more money pouring into charter schools since Trumbull "gets" better resources. Chairman Wright is being a perfect spokesman for Malloy and ConnCan; not Trumbull education.
dave wilsoon March 05, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Wright is just another mouthpiece for our socialist, arrogant governor. I love how people with no background in education are such experts. Hooray for social ism - the new America !!!!
Tom Kelly March 05, 2012 at 01:01 AM
I love how people who disagree with the current administration in Hartford or Washington are so quick to throw around terms like "socialist." It's not only irresponsible, but it's incorrect. How has the Dow Jones Industrial Average fared since President Obama has taken office? A lot of "capitalists" have made a lot of money.
One Tashua Mommy April 26, 2012 at 04:24 AM
I have to agree with the teachers union on this. Accepting an award from a group that is supporting an approach to education that is not what is right for our Trumbull students would have been unsuitable. At best, quality charter schools serve only a small percentage of children of color and disadvantaged students. The Center for Research in Educational Outcomes (CREDO) which examined charter school data in fifteen (15) states and the District of Columbia confirmed that only 17% of the charter school students in the study outperformed their peers, while 46% performed no better and 37% performed worse. Recently the NAACP rejected the emphasis on charter schools as the vanguard approach for the education of children. I do agree that the Trumbull High school should be applauded, but not by those with hidden agendas. It makes sense that the teachers union would recognize that quality education for all children and effective solutions for immediate implementation to improve the quality of public education in Trumbull for all children should be the focus. I pay taxes to the Town of Trumbull for the students in Trumbull. I can not support an organization that would move even a dollar away from our children and our local public schools. If Mr. Wright reads more than the lovely verbiage on a website and follows the money, he might reconsider his position about ConnCan. I want my money to stay local, right here in our great Trumbull Public Schools.

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