Sen. Witkos Stops By Torrington High School To Get Feedback On Education Reforms [Torrington Register Citizen]

March 15, 2012

Article as it appeared in the Torrington Register Citizen on March 14, 2012

By Jason Siedzik

TORRINGTON — Wednesday afternoon saw state senator Kevin Witkos stop by Torrington High School to gather feedback on proposed education reforms.

By and large, that feedback was negative, as teachers were concerned about oversight that does not know the particular nuances of their field. In addition, the bill and the state’s proposed budget would chip away at benefits, leaving teachers to pick up more of the slack.

“Now is the time to act,” Witkos said, “for me to take your input.”

The bill, which is Senate Bill 24, would call for reforms to a number of aspects of education. The state’s 25 lowest-performing schools would be designated turnaround schools and would be eligible for nearly $25 million in additional resources, and the bull would loosen the restrictions called for in the minimum budget requirement.

But other reforms had the teachers in attendance worried about their oversight. As one math and physics teacher in attendance explained, he is evaluated by a physical education teacher. The situation is not unheard of in Torrington’s school system either.

“There’s no way,” the teacher said, “structurally, with a system like that, that an evaluation is worth the paper it’s printed on.”

One teacher disagreed with the notion that “you should run a school like a business,” specifically because of the unique challenges of the field.

“Our product is children,” the teacher said. “Children are not something you can manage.”

The bill also calls for reforms to tenure, drawing the ire of other teachers. The bill will institute a four-tiered rating system for teachers and administrators, with student achievement serving as the primary factor.

“If they really want to improve evaluations,” the teacher said, “they don’t have to muck around with tenure.”

One teacher in attendance, who lives in Torrington but teaches at Region 5, said that decisions on tenure in that region are made by the superintendent of schools. Their superintendent, though, is a former teacher himself, and understands the challenges teachers face.

“Until you’re in a school system,” another teacher said, “you don’t understand what goes on day to day.”

Another challenge that teachers face, but is not evident to administrators, is the issue of trying to gather family support. Another teacher at the forum retold an incident where she tried to speak to the mother of a student, only to have the mother try to avoid the teacher entirely before asking if the teacher had called the Department of Children and Families on her.

“I don’t know a teacher that hasn’t made an effort to get that parent-teacher face time,” the teacher said.

The forum is the fifth such gathering Witkos has held, coming on the heels of forums in Avon and New Hartford. Public comment on the bill ended on Feb. 22, but the forums are another way for teachers to give their impression of the legislation.

“Talk to the teachers,” another teacher said. “Ask them what needs to be fixed and what doesn’t need to be fixed.”