• We Need A Miracle In The Stamford Public Schools

    January 5, 2024

    By Dr. Rebecca Hamman

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    We need a miracle in the Stamford Public Schools (SPS)—at least $15.4 million to cover 120 positions (ESSR=$8.9 million) and ELL (English Language Learner=$6.5 million) program supports.

    How does this happen?

    1. SPS Leadership Questions

    The Board of Education (BOE) and central office leaders need to consider these questions:

    • Is the City of Stamford, which gladly took SPS Covid monies in 2020 ($12.5 million was used to cover property taxes), willing to return the favor in 2024?
    • Is the SPS $366+ million-dollar budget being spent wisely and judiciously?
    • Are all programs operated with fidelity? If not, why?
    • What are achievement results for all K-12 students (2021-present) and why are standards & accountability being lowered for students in grades 9-12? Will high school NEASC (New England Association of Schools & Colleges) accreditation support this approach versus using merit—mid-terms & finals?
    • Going further, the BOE president—with 10+ years of controlled decision-making and policy development, is the district better off? In addition, with a 9-member team, are all elected officials fully utilized? If not, why?

    Solutions are out there, but because listening, trust and systemic leadership is deeply broken and power misused, actions crush democracy.

    2. Creative Local & State Funding Ideas

    Since the mid-1990s, education, health care, and other programs impacting Connecticut children, have been long forgotten in the state budget due to tax hikes and rising debt payments. Although legislators are finally waking up and looking at ways to help 513,000 students statewide move toward equitable funding, this may not be soon enough for Stamford. It’s time for the BOE to be creative and open to new ideas. Prior to 2008, when Lower Fairfield County corporate funding was aplenty, SPS was bustling and doing innovative work throughout the schools—academics, arts, gifted education, extra-curricular, etc. Now we must rely on other possibilities:

    ▪Time for Administrators & BOE to Teach

    Most Stamford administrators have not taught for years (including all four central office leaders—two of whom were never classroom teachers). The further these individuals are from the classroom, the harder it is for them to relate to what teachers experience daily. According to EdWeek Research Center (How Taking a Turn as a Teacher Can Sharpen a Principal's Leadership Skills (edweek.org), school administrators will be more effective as leaders if they teach at least one class per day (especially with the national job shortage). School board members could also gain more insight by substituting in classrooms at least one day a month.

    Administrator bloat is also a reality in the SPS. We need to streamline district leadership—71 individuals are working at central office—an approximate $8.7-million-dollar tax bill. In addition, all administrators at central office and building level need to be held accountable for success now. School Improvement Plan accountability doesn’t start before December 2025—2-years down the road. Bottom-line, all hiring practices for administrators, especially at the central office level, should only be warranted if students’ academic gains kept pace, but this is not the case in the SPS.

    ▪Cannabis Dispensary & Smoke Shop Tax Revenue for SPS

    Similar to the state lottery system (CT Lottery Official Web Site - Where the Money Goes), can the City of Stamford use tax revenue from 22-area smoke shops (13 local), along with 4 cannabis dispensaries, to supplement the SPS budget?  It's interesting to note, too, that twenty-six percent of the profit from the Connecticut state lottery goes to education, museums, and libraries.  Since other towns surrounding Stamford outlawed dispensaries, why shouldn’t Stamford’s public schools receive support for allowing this medical/recreational luxury?  Our kids’ health matters, especially knowing cannabis is a gateway drug.

    ▪State Grants for ELL (English Language Learners) Programming

    Connecticut is a sanctuary state and Stamford a sanctuary city. With this in mind, federal and state politicians may want to consider offering need-based grants for supporting migrant education in Stamford—after all, federal law says that if twenty or more students are in a school in any single language, then a full-time ELL teacher is required. Knowing that Connecticut corporations and small businesses benefitted from government support during and after COVID-19 (i.e., Payment Protection Plan and Earned Retention Tax Credit), why can’t our students be supported, too?

    3. Deeper District Analysis

    BOE and SPS central office leaders need to investigate why trends are changing demographics, achievement, and input within the district (Fairfield County Report Outlines Disparities, Challenges, and Opportunities in Southwest Connecticut (coastalconnecticuttimes.com). These patterns also affect financing:

    • Why are educators leaving the district? Confidential exit interviews need to be conducted.
    • Why are teachers transferring in large numbers between some schools—is it the leaders or school culture & climate concerns? These problems need to be fixed now, not later.
    • Why are administrators moved frequently between schools… is this really the best solution? What determines if these decisions are successful or not?
    • Why are families still leaving the area? From 2016-2020, approximately 107,000 residents moved out of Connecticut and the pattern is still happening.
    • How many students are attending the district illegally that live out-of-district? Does Stamford need a domicile detective or an anonymous caller hot line to address this?
    • Online surveys are often conducted in the district. Families (and friends with similar interests) can submit a survey several times and skew the results. Isn’t there a better way to collect data?
    • Analyze how the school climate survey is written—lots of crucial details are left unanswered. Can more questions be added? Can staff comments also be shared?
    • The district continues to have compliance issues with monitoring and updating polices. How can this process be consistently adhered to? Data collection should also be done once a policy is enacted.
    • In the past, data teams helped School Improvement Plans be more faculty-focused, rather than principal-focused. It worked and learning improved. Can this vital monitoring system be used again?
    • Many students are not ready for high school level learning and beyond, especially in core classes. What are the specific reasons and how can this be solved? Summer school should not be the only answer.
    • Knowing the BOE supervises the superintendent, is Stamford seeing consistent growth beyond the plans—Vision 2025 & the District Strategic Improvement Plan (DSIP)? Operations, curriculum, student assessments, community, and culture (safety & social emotional well-being) are key to success and need to be reviewed using many data points, not just a few. Taxpayers need to see consistent results, too.

    Miracles Can Happen

    One of Stamford’s well-known miracles is our students—each-and-every-one-of-them. Educators, families, and stakeholders know this when we see these individuals return to work as young adults in Stamford and surrounding areas. So how can their stories help create more SPS miracles?

    If central office leaders and the BOE were more transparent, budget issues would become much easier to solve and more miracles would take place. Many taxpayers want Stamford to thrive and are willing to help. Central office leaders, BOE, and city administrators need to reach out, listen and have faith in the greater community. Marginalizing voices—teachers, elected officials, and the silent-majority—will only create more problems, rather than solutions. Expect miracles and they will happen… our democracy and well-being depend on it!

    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.

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    Paul A

    Fabulous article. I hope eyes start to open and we get back to education that will sustain our students futures. Bravo Dr. Hamman and thank you for being a true district and student advocate for succes.

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