After the November elections there will be a ‘great reset’ for the Stamford Board of Education. It is healthy and important for monitoring Stamford’s 23 public schools. Starting in December, five members will be added to the BOE (2 newly elected, 1 appointed due to a resignation, and 2 tenured with 23 years combined experience). Regardless of the political alignment—6 Democrats and 3 Minority Party members—this is democracy, Stamford-style. This new BOE team should strive to communicate across political lines, discern with civility, and most important, keep the district’s strategic vision alive while supporting the Stamford Public School students, educators, families, and stakeholders.
For those who need a refresher, BOE members are elected to not only appoint and evaluate the superintendent of schools, but to establish school policies for effectiveness; prepare and adopt an annual budget; and interpret the needs of the Stamford community regarding the SPS goals, values, conditions, and requirements.
Past & Present Challenges
It is not surprising that when one party rules—at least 10 years, in this case—control becomes deeply embedded through its ideological agenda, voting power, committee decision-making and policy outcomes. In addition, this control has created a debris field…
Due to poor teamwork, lots of money has been spent dealing with lawsuits:
New K-12 curriculums were not implemented over a ten-year period even though qualified administrators were in place to organize and manage (2013-2023). Only until a $165,000 curriculum audit was conducted, did the districtwide revision finally move forward.
Follow through with all School Improvement Plans (SIP)—annually completed by building leaders and monitored by central office administrators—was very inconsistent. Although reviewed, plans are just plans without expectations and accountability. If standards are not set and expected for instructional leadership, academic growth, school culture/climate, professional development, and family engagement, accountability becomes subjective.
Prior and post-Covid, achievement scores continually declined over ten years. Now without transparency (mid-terms and finals), it is anyone’s guess how students are achieving at the secondary level. Teachers want to help students be college-prepared and career-ready, but without the weight of grades, the BOE and public are blind to the real facts.
BOE Policy & Discourse
Policy is the lifeline for guiding day-to-day processes in schools and covers everything from attendance to student discipline, to emergency procedures. Policy also controls the operation of schools, including system organization, school finance, equipment purchase, staffing, curriculum, and extracurricular activities. Discourse, too, is essential, but what seems to be the reputation of the Stamford BOE, is that it continues to bristle when it comes to discussing policies, transparency, and accountability in dealing with its most important mission—improving learning for all students.
Mandated policies are determined by the Connecticut legislature. Rather than professional educators, politicians create these policies (i.e., PA 23-208, Sec. 1-School Entry Age). Other recommended policies are drafted by CABE (Connecticut Association of Boards of Education) which represents nearly all boards of education across Connecticut. CABE advocates on behalf of these boards at the state and federal levels.
Policies should be reviewed periodically (i.e., equity & diversity-5000.1, cell phone-5131.81, student dress-5147, damaged & lost property-6161.21, etc.) to determine if the policy is effective and further revisions need to be made. It should not come down to attacking motives of the person(s) making a request or argument during a board discussion. Failing to confront issues only undermines trust in Stamford Public Schools.
Although the BOE does not vote on policy regulation—the specific steps needed to implement policy—interpretation and follow through matters. Regulation, like executive orders, can complicate issues if each school, building administrator, or teacher implements a policy differently. Regulations, too, can give unbridled control to the superintendent and district administration. If regulations aren’t monitored properly or enforced, or more currently—allowed to operate with an ideological bend—standards and accountability become ineffective or nonexistent.
It is clear, policies convey to administrators how the BOE wants the district—and staff—to operate. If the Stamford BOE policies are monitored judiciously and professional discourse is consistent, there is hope. If policies are not monitored, as demonstrated the past 10 years, the BOE creates animosity and distrust throughout the Stamford schools and community. This is not healthy and autocratic control can cause issues to fester or become destructive. In fact, why continue to serve on the BOE if there is no opportunity for objective discourse (sharing qualitative and quantitative research, listening to classroom teachers who are trying to implement policy regulations or parents who may have valuable input, etc.)?
Shared Vision of Excellence
In making effective decisions, Stamford BOE members could learn a lot from being great listeners. Ideologies and groupthink aren’t the best solutions. The point of bringing these nine individuals together is to gain ‘uncommon’ insights and solutions that help ALL schools and students be successful.
Most important, sharing a vision of excellence takes bi-partisan leaders, not politicians. Good luck Stamford BOE, hopefully you will prove history wrong and be the team that makes a difference.
Dr. Hamman currently serves as 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.