When State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor toured Willard Elementary School last week, he took notes and often asked questions about how learning could be made easier for the students.
Who knew his reflections would come to light as quickly as they did.
Wednesday, the state’s Board of Education approved an “unprecedented education reform” plan aimed at boosting school success in Connecticut, and is announcing several new “leadership roles” within the Department of Education to help carry out the education reform goals of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The department will be restructured with a new “first-class leadership team,” one that will include several new appointments as well as a new division, the board said in a press release today. The changes, the board said, will not require additional funding or new hires.
For instance, to help improve access to early childhood education - one of Malloy’s key reform goals and long considered a lynchpin by education experts nationally in boosting school success – the board approved the creation of a new Early Childhood Office (ECO). The new ECO will be part of the Office of Policy and Management, but will be housed within the education department “to ensure maximum coordination with the state's K-12 programs.”
Berlin Superintendent of Schools David B. Erwin was excited about the possibilities.
"It is very exciting," he said. "Commissioner Pryor was here and listed to some of our suggestions. We'll wait to see what kind of impact it will have on the district but this is great news that they are taking things seriously at the state level.
"This has been a tough state when it comes to education because the money spent on education has declined. They have said these changes won't cost any more but will help make things run more efficiently."
The board today also appointed Charlene Russell-Tucker to the newly created position of chief operating officer and tasked her with “advancing priority projects and improving the effectiveness, responsiveness, and efficiency of the Department's programs and services.” Russell-Tucker is currently an associate commissioner in the education department where she is responsible for the Division of Family and Student Support Services.
In her new role she will also oversee the governor's goal of removing unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy that can impede student learning. The COO will also oversee a new, cross-bureau function to study the creation and support of community schools, providing support services linked to schools, as well as engaging families and communities.
The department’s position of chief financial officer will remain and will oversee the delivery of additional state resources to districts with the greatest need, “provided these districts adopt key reforms for academic achievement,” the board said in its release.
“We are embarking on unprecedented education reform in Connecticut with a redefined State Department of Education. Education reform is long overdue in our state and we have no time to waste closing the achievement gap,” Malloy said today in a prepared statement. “As a critical next step, I look forward to a very productive legislative session to move our collective agenda forward.”
“The Board’s support for the reorganization of the Department sets into motion a new era for education reform grounded in high expectations for every student in Connecticut’s public schools,” said Allan Taylor, who chairs the state board of education. “Chief among our goals is to harness the strength to overcome deep achievement gaps in our system. This reorganization plan provides the right framework for progress.”
Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said the plan “sets the stage to accomplish the significant education reforms” Malloy has proposed. “We will position a talented team and operating structure that’s second to none, making Connecticut a national education leader once again."
The reorganization plan, the board said, addresses Malloy’s six principles on education reform:
- Enhancing families' access to high-quality early childhood
- Turning around Connecticut's lowest-performing schools and districts
- Expanding the availability of high-quality school models
- Removing red tape and other barriers to success
- Ensuring that our schools are home to the very best teachers and principals
- Delivering more resources, targeted to districts with the greatest need-provided that they embrace key reforms that position our students for success.
To achieve that, the board also created several new positions including:
- A chief academic officer, who will focus on the governor's goal of "creating academic excellence for all," and will work to align efforts around preparing students for college and careers. The Chief Academic Officer will work with school leaders to fully align the instruction, ongoing assessment, curriculum and new Common Core standards to prepare students for college and career.
- A chief talent officer, who will implement strategies in pursuit of the Governor's fifth principle: to develop and attract a first-rate, diverse corps of educators to Connecticut's classrooms, principals' offices, and district offices by improving the entire professional experience and human resource system for teachers and leaders. This would include working collaboratively around the state to develop and expand robust and meaningful professional development to prepare teachers for Common Core standards and the 21st Century classroom. The
- A chief talent officer, who will also engage the state's education stakeholders to produce a fair system of educator evaluation for State Board of Education consideration and approval.
- A chief performance officer, who will ensure that across multiple indicators, Connecticut's school districts receive actionable and timely information on student performance-fulfilling the Governor's charge to use performance-based accountability to drive continuous improvement. The chief performance officer will build a robust data infrastructure to help identify trends, problems, and opportunities in Connecticut's schools-developing metrics for status, progress, and goals for every school, district, and student group in the state.
- A chief turnaround officer, who will lead the design and administration of intervention and support strategies in low-performing schools and districts. This office will seek out best practices from the state and the country and work to promote high-quality school models.
“These senior personnel roles are the linchpin to the Department's reorganization plan. The goal of the reorganization plan is to match top candidates to key leadership roles and functions. All positions will be advertised through a competitive process seeking the greatest talent to drive education reform in Connecticut's public schools,” the board said in its release. “This organizational design, even with new leadership roles, will be accomplished within existing budget and headcount limits.”
Erwin said the talent officer is an interesting piece to the puzzle.
"Obviously recruiting and keeping the best talent from administrators right down to the teachers is key to having great schools," Erwin said. "Attracting and keeping those teachers has to be a strength for any good school system. Having the best teachers helps with your bottom line, which is student achievement."
Also, as part of the reorganization, the education department is in discussion with Commissioner Donald DeFronzo and the Department of Administrative Services (DAS) on a plan to merge a portion of the existing information technology operation at the State Department of Education with the information technology division at DAS. These discussions are ongoing and are intended to maintain and improve services and efficiencies across both state agencies.