Author Archives: Kathy Megan

Malloy Appoints Meriden Teacher and Nonprofit Consultant to State Education Board

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Governor Dannel P. Malloy has announced the appointment of Erin D. Benham, a longtime Meriden teacher and Maria Isabel Mojica, a consultant to nonprofit groups, to the state Board of Education.

Benham, of Wallingford, has taught students for 35 years in the Meriden Public Schools system and is currently a literacy teacher at Lincoln Middle School. She is also President of the Meriden Federation of Teachers and Executive Committee Vice President of the Connecticut American Federation of Teachers.

“We have made tremendous progress in Meriden for our city’s children and their families,” Benham said. “I want the same for all of our state’s students, their parents, and their communities.”

Mojica is an independent consultant advising nonprofit organizations on strategic planning, research and evaluation, and program design and development.

She also served as a vice president with the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.

Mojica said: “This is a time of dynamic change and much needed reform. We have to get to the root causes that keep our children from succeeding, focusing on issues such as how we fund schools, close the economic and achievement gaps, and support success for our most vulnerable children.”

Malloy also announced the appointment of two high school seniors to serve as student members of the board. They are Michael Caminear of Branford, who attends Branford High School, and Megan Amalie Foell of Thomaston, who attends Thomaston High School.

Regents To Consider Merit Raises For Management and Nonunion Personnel

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The Board of Regents for Higher Education will consider merit raises for management and nonunion personnel of as much as 5 percent at a meeting Thursday.

Erika H. Steiner, chief financial officer for the regents, said 133 employees at the state universities, community colleges and regents system office are eligible for the merit raises. The increases will  average 3.5 percent and cost, overall, $366,547.

Steiner said the increases are smaller than the 5 or 6 percent that union employees will be receiving this year and are in line with those being distributed to other nonunion state employees.

“We were advised by the governor’s office about what the state is doing in general,” Steiner said. “We are being consistent with what the state is doing for state employees.”

Steiner said executive staff and other top-level managerial staff will not be getting the raise. Employees with salaries ranging from about $40,000 to $100,000  will be eligible for the increase.

Last year, the regents gave pay raises to a larger group of managerial and nonunion employees. About 300 were eligible for raises that included a 3 percent cost-of-living increase in June 2013, followed by a merit bump-up that averaged 2 percent, but could be as high as 3.5 percent in December.

The board’s analysis of the proposed raise says,  “The salary adjustment recommendation proposed reflects tight economic conditions and therefore does not extend to all employees …”

It should be noted, the analysis said, that only employees receiving performance ratings of “meets expectations,” “satisfactory,” “good” or better will be eligible for the salary adjustment. If passed Thursday, the adjustment will take effect retroactively to June 27.

UConn Fund Paid $251,250 for Hillary

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Attracting Hillary Rodham Clinton to speak at UConn on April 23, was a source of pride for university officials.

But the price tag was steep: $251,250.

That’s according to a Washington Post story about eight universities, including UConn, that paid hundreds of thousands for a visit from Clinton.

The Post also notes that UConn is  raising tuition by 6.5 percent, but UConn officials have said Clinton’s fee has nothing to do with tuition, nor with taxpayers dollars.

The Courant reported in April that Clinton’s speech was hosted by the University of Connecticut Foundation and funded by a grant from the Fusco family of New Haven, which underwrites speeches by scholars, authors and policymakers. The foundation is the university’s private fundraising arm.

“No taxpayer dollars went to support this. The purpose of this fund is really to bring engaging speakers to campus,” Deb Cunningham, the foundation’s interim vice president for communications told the Post.

While many felt it reflected well on UConn’s growing prominence that Clinton made the trek to rural Storrs, the Post thought its readers needed help with geography, noting that UConn is “a public university about 70 miles northeast of Yale.”  

The Post piece said Clinton’s standard fee is $200,000, but she was paid $300,000 to address UCLA in March.

ECSU Best Bet For Teaching Programs, National Report Says

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Looking for a good teacher training program in Connecticut?

Eastern Connecticut State University’s teaching program outshone the other in-state offerings by far, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, a non-profit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

In a survey 1,668 programs nationwide, ECSU’s elementary education program was ranked 8th and one of only 26 such programs considered top ranked.

Its program for secondary school teachers was also ranked comparatively high at Number 50. And, it was one of only 10 institutions in the country with top rankings in both elementary and secondary teacher training.

The report said that ECSU is the only undergraduate program in the state that is preparing teacher candidates in effective, scientifically-based reading instruction. Nationally, only 34 percent of elementary education programs meet that standard. Generally, the council found that most higher education institutions do a dismal job of preparing teachers, particularly in elementary education programs.

Other programs in Connecticut that were rated in the top half of all those surveyed nationally included Central Connecticut State University’s elementary education program (ranked 107th), the University of Hartford’s secondary education program (ranked 50th) and Southern Connecticut State University’s graduate program in secondary education (ranked 285th). Conspicuously missing from that top half was the University of Connecticut.

The researchers didn’t rate UConn’s undergraduate teacher training programs, but did rate the graduate school and found it wanting. The report said that UConn’s graduate program in elementary education didn’t meet the standards for teaching reading or math or for teaching struggling readers or children who are learning English.

For the first time, the report looked at alternative route teacher training programs and found them “generally more broken” than the traditional programs. Only the “Teach for America” training program in Massachusetts got the council’s highest marks.

The annual report  has been criticized as unfair by higher education institutions in the past. The section on Connecticut includes ratings on 13 teacher training programs.



Bridgeport, New Britain Get The Most New Pre-School Slots For Low-Income Children

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At a playground in Meriden Wednesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced the 46 towns and cities that will be getting a share of the 1,020 newly funded pre-school slots for low income children.

The cities getting the most new slots include Bridgeport with 126 slots, New Britain with 101, and Bristol with 73. Hartford will get 40 new slots, East Hartford will get 39, and West Hartford will get 12.

The expansion of opportunities is part of a 5-year plan to grow the School Readiness Program to serve a total of 4,010 additional children by 2019.

Myra Jones-Taylor, commissioner for the Office of Early Childhood, said in a statement, “It is high-quality early care and education programs, like the School Readiness Program, that bring us closer to closing the achievement gap.”

The plan, which was signed into law by Malloy in May, will provide high quality pre-kindergarten for about 1,000 additional children for each of the first three years and 500 children during each of the last two years.

Sen. Beth Bye D-West Hartford, a longtime advocate for school readiness, said, “From Greenwich to Enfield to Groton, this increased funding will change the trajectory of thousands of Connecticut children for the better.”

Here is a full list of the cities and towns getting more slots.

Blumenthal Talks Affordability With College Leaders

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At a roundtable discussion Wednesday, college leaders told Sen. Richard Blumenthal of the bind they are in when they try to control or cut costs, but also try to provide the financial aid and costly support services that many students need to graduate.

Mary Papazian, president of Southern Connecticut State University, referred to a recent New York Times Magazine story that said that 90 percent of college freshmen in the top economic quartile earn a bachelor’s degree by age 24, compared to about a quarter of freshmen in the bottom half of the income distribution.

“If [education] is truly the pathway to the American dream, then it has to be the pathway for students from the lower quartile, as well as the upper,” Papazian said, but providing the kinds of supports needed to ensure that all students graduate is expensive.

Judith B. Greiman, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, said that since 2008 every college and university has “frankly looked in every possible place that they could to save money and they’ve done it through cutting sports, and cutting courses and cutting faculty, and cutting staff.”

She said they’ve done this to reduce tuition increases and because they’ve increased financial aid to “unsustainable levels.”

If Connecticut is to reach goals of increasing the percentage of adults with higher education degrees, the state will have to increase the rate of degree completion for Hispanic students and adult learners, Greiman said, adding that those students need support services and they need financial aid. “It’s important that we talk about financial aid as being a very big driver of [college] costs,” Greiman said. “It is not the climbing wall. it is the financial aid needs.”

Blumenthal, who has been traveling around the state talking to students about college affordability, said “We desperately need to lower the cost of higher education … principally by raising aid to students, cutting interest rates on student loans and providing more grants.” Continue reading

CEA Survey Shows Teachers Have Deep Concerns About Common Core

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Connecticut teachers continue to be “overwhelmingly concerned” about implementing the academic goals known as the Common Core State Standards, according to a new survey commissioned by the Connecticut Education Association.

The new survey, which was presented Wednesday to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s task force on the Common Core, found that about 80 percent of teachers have serious concerns about not having adequate curriculum materials available to them; not having enough time to learn about the new standards; and not having sufficient professional learning opportunities.

Forty-one percent said their top priority is getting more or better examples of curriculum units and lesson plans based on the new academic standards.

Kelly Donnelly, state Department of Education spokeswoman, said she hasn’t had a chance to review the survey in detail, but it appears “to provide valuable information.” She said that teachers’ input has led to the state’s efforts to lower the stakes and increase supports during the transition including not using state test data in teacher evaluations for two years and stepping up state-supported training.

“We will continue to welcome feedback from teachers,” Donnelly said and “look forward to the recommendations” of Malloy’s task force on the Common Core. Those recommendations on how to improve the implementation of the Common Core are due by the end of June.

The survey results are based on phone conversations in April with a random sample of 500 CEA teachers and 100 AFT-CT teachers. Abacus Associates of Northampton, MA did the survey.

Pre-K Advocates Celebrate Legislative Wins

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Advocates for an early childhood office and the expansion of preschool access to all children celebrated Monday with strawberries, chocolate chip cookies, a visit from the governor, and plenty of cheering on the Capitol steps.

“It didn’t come fast, it didn’t come easy,” Sen. Beth Bye told the crowd of advocates and kids . “But we’re going to have a comprehensive plan to get every child in Connecticut high quality preschool and that is a huge accomplishment.”

For a while, it seemed that at least part of their efforts might derail, as some legislators feared the new legislation might undermine private preschool operators.

Bye said she never thought the plan was in jeopardy. “The way to get to universal [preschool] isn’t one system,” Bye said. “…It’s not ‘either, or.’ It’s community-based providers and schools… We’re going to build as much capacity as we can as fast as we can because every day matters.”

Heather Rodman a Middletown kindergarten teacher said she’s seen the difference preschool makes for kids. “They are ready to learn, their oral language is different, their literacy skills are different, their social skills are different,” she said. “To have that for every child in Connecticut will be a wonderful thing.”

Cyd Oppenheimer, a senior policy fellow for Connecticut Voices for Children, juggled two of her daughters, Clara and Anna, as she spoke at the podium, saying “This is legislation that comes with funding. It’s not legislation that sounds good in name, but has nothing behind it.”



55 Colleges Under Investigation In Sexual Assault Cases, Including UConn

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For the first time, the U.S. Department of Education has released a list of all the higher education institutions under investigation for possible violations in the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.

Among those on the list of 55 schools: UConn, Harvard College, the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia. The highly publicized complaint against UConn was filed in October by seven young women, including current and former students.

In the past, federal officials have confirmed individual Title IX investigations, but the list released Thursday is the first comprehensive look at which campuses are under review.

Asst. Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said: “We are making this list available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights. We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue.”

She also said that a school’s appearance on the list “in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law.” The entire list is available on the U.S. Department of Education website.

Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C. said the department’s decision to go public with the list “allows students and parents everywhere to know which schools are under investigation and track the resolution process.”

She said this “critical step puts a spotlight on an issue that’s been hidden too long.”



Finalists Selected for Colleges; Only One Named So Far

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Finalists have been selected for presidential vacancies at three community colleges, but names won’t be released until a day or two before each candidate’s campus visit.

So far, the identity of only one finalist has been released: Michael Rooke, now dean of academic affairs at Tunxis Community College, who was scheduled to visit Asnuntuck Community College today. Board of Regents Chief of Staff Elizabeth Caswell said the names aren’t being released until just before the visits “for the preservation of the candidates’ sanity.”

Along with Asnuntuck, Quinebaug Valley and Three Rivers community colleges are in need of new presidents. A posting on the Quinebaug website says that three finalists have been selected and will make campus visits on May 7, 14 and 15.

But the Quinebaug posting does not disclose the names of the candidates, so it’s not clear yet whether Sen. President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., who has been a candidate for the job, made the finalists cut.