“Our challenge is great and we’ve made our position clear,” said Windham High School social studies teacher and football coach Randall Prose at the forum. “Our students cannot succeed without valued input and meaningful collaboration from the entire community in reforming our schools,” said Prose, president of the Windham Federation of Teachers, Local 1577. “Our elected officials are listening to us, and they are ready to take up our cause,” he said.
Prose’s comments refer to local union efforts to mobilize a community response to the impact of policy changes since the state-led turn-around of Windham Public Schools in 2011. The teachers began engaging parents, students, and education advocates three months ago to join in demanding a thorough review of the district after two years under the Special Master’s oversight.
Legislation passed in 2011 as a temporary effort to avert a complete state takeover of the district directed additional resources and and appointed a Special Master to Windham’s public schools. The unique turn-around plan was premised on the benefits on an education expert working collaboratively with the local board of education, teachers and the community to enact effective reforms. Until very recently, changes were being implemented without regard to local input and without consideration of the consequences to the education opportunities for all the community’s children.
“I was very fortunate to work in the bilingual program, and I have seen many great student successes,” said Ines Rolon, a local resident who recently retired after 14 years teaching at Windham Middle School. “But there have been recent changes, and I don’t know where they are leading. I truly hope our elected representative will support the families who have children in Windham public schools so there are changes for the good, not for worse,” she said.
Rolon was among more than a dozen residents who appealed to the legislators at the forum to “be champions” for quality education in Windham at the state capitol. They asked that lawmakers unite with the community and demand that parents, teachers and taxpayers have valued input on any and all future policy changes under the Special Master.
“This is what responsive and responsible representation looks like,” said Melodie Peters, president of AFT Connecticut. “We applaud Senator Williams for his continuing leadership on this issue. He was there two years ago to help prevent a complete state take-over of Windham’s struggling schools. And he is here today to make sure this community has the support and collaboration needed to get reform right,” she said.
The teachers’ community engagement efforts were motivated initially by the mid-August release of the district’s standardized test scores, which had plummeted for the second year in a row. The State Board of Education (SBOE) September vote to renew the Special Master’s term overseeing Windham’s schools for another year without throughly reviewing his record prompted their escalation to state lawmakers.
AFT Connecticut represents more than 29,000 professionals across the state, including 350 teachers and education support personnel in Windham Public Schools. Follow the union on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aftct.
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