Scores of parents at Duffy Elementary School in West Hartford took the extraordinary step last week of signing a petition expressing a lack of confidence in the school’s principal, complaining of an atmosphere of intimidation during the 12 years Kathleen Tracy has run the school.
Some of those parents would surely be curious to see how Tracy’s bosses in the school district have rated her performance over the years, and whether top administrators have had their own issues with Tracy’s leadership style.
But that information isn’t likely to see the light of day.
If Tracy were a mayor or police chief or the head of public works, her periodic performance reviews, whether glowing or critical, would be matters of public record, available to the very people who employ her and pay her salary. But as has been noted in this space before, a wrinkle in Connecticut’s typically citizen-friendly Freedom of Information Act keeps the public in the dark about how well principals and other public educators have been deemed to be doing their jobs.
That loophole has been on the books for 28 years now, since shortly after the state’s Freedom of Information Commission ruled that evaluations of public school teachers should be treated like every other public employee’s evaluation. That put lobbyists for teachers into high gear, and before long, lawmakers were considering legislation to block public access to “records of teacher performance and evaluation.”
Proponents of the bill argued that evaluators wouldn’t be honest if the public had the right to know how well teachers were performing. Others warned of chaotic classroom-shopping if parents used evaluations, rather than word of mouth, to identify which teachers were highly rated in each school. In a curious linguistic exercise, the bill approved by lawmakers defined “teacher” to include every certified professional in a school district with the exception of the superintendent. So school principals such as Kathleen Tracy are covered by the exemption.
Records of “personal misconduct” must still be disclosed. But for the plentiful and illuminating information contained in routine periodic evaluations of teachers and other school personnel, the official policy of the state is that it’s none of your business.
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