Officially the bear has been poked and many Stamford educators will be preparing their resumes over the holidays. Not all will move on, but trust has been deeply broken—central office and the Board of Education have gone too far. When state and federal level leaders pass unfunded mandates or offer little financial support; initiatives not properly vetted; transparency vague; and policies given lip service, not reviewed; or regulations changed without a BOE vote, the system fails. Most alarming, when teachers become repeated targets, they look elsewhere to be treated as professionals.
High School Initiatives (2017-Present)
Take any Stamford public high school initiative over the last six years and go to the root of the decision made by our district leaders. No matter how qualified these individuals may be (even with 092 & 093 administrator certifications), discernment is needed more than ever. Not only does central office leadership need deft supervision and instructional turn-key skills (outside consultants have been hired), they also lack solid experience as secondary, Connecticut certified, core-subject teachers. Even more alarming, these leaders do not seem to have deep empathy for those doing the day-in, day-out hard work in high school classrooms.
Middle School Seven-Period Initiative
To raise the bar so all middle schoolers have a uniform experience across the city, a 7-period day with an advisory, is being discussed amongst faculties. This may require several more ELA teachers and a larger budget (approximately 1-1.5 million dollars more).
SPS Budget Woes
There seem to be three major contributing factors when dealing with district budget woes, which in part, is not entirely central office leaders’ fault. First, the national teacher shortage has created serious issues for cities across the United States. Rural and suburban districts have fared much better. Amazingly, Stamford did very well to fill as many positions as it did between all three high schools, but it was not enough to fill the financial gap. Second, the ESSR (Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief) fund—part of the Covid-19 support package—is now gone and staff positions that were once funded through that resource, must be paid through other department budgets, or eliminated. The fiscal cliff has now become an 8.9-million-dollar deficit (120 positions). Third, and most concerning, migrant immersion—which is over 70% taxpayer funded—is drawing tremendous funds from the district budget. All extra seats at schools are being filled by English Language Learners (ELLs), even if they do not speak English or understand the content. Where are our politicians and the funding for this state/federal endeavor—Connecticut is a sanctuary state & Stamford a sanctuary city, correct? Sadly, when there is a lack of money, it is perceived that central office leaders and BOE are allowing teachers to become the next level of taxpayer fodder when there are certainly other viable options.
Efficiency over instruction also seems to be the new motto for SPS and BOE. New initiatives do cost money, but when teachers are targeted for lack of projections made by central office or the BOE, they get tired of constantly having to defend their positions. They should not be the first targets when SPS has an abundance of administrators. Where is the breaking point? When will the BOE be realistic and look at their own decision making, or lack thereof?
Teachers are the Backbone of Stamford
The bear has been poked and the teachers have had enough. When decisions like this are made, the quality of instruction and fidelity of programming will become fractured and ultimately, students and families will suffer. This, too, shall pass, but it will take years to undo. Teachers are the backbone of Stamford and when they are told they do not matter, they grow weary and leave. How can this be solved? Start singing Kumbaya and hope that the BOE brainstorms other options?
We can do better.
Dr. Rebecca Hamman currently serves as the AdHoc Policy Chair for the Stamford Board of Education.
Her comments are her own, and do not represent the official views of the Board of Education or its committees.