The Future of Education in Connecticut- What Can it Mean for Students with Disabilities?*

In the recent past we have certainly spent a great deal of time talking about change, whether seasonal, economic, or in some of the state’s top leadership positions. Of course, as we embrace change, we also crave stability and sometimes that stability can come in the simple form of good, solid information about future events. Such is the case with the recent changes in the Governor’s office and office of the Commissioner of Education. And for us in special education, what will this mean, or perhaps the more appropriate question is, what can this mean for students with disabilities and the people who teach and support them?

Commissioner’s Vision

The stage is set for what may be an historic year for education in Connecticut; one that will impact all students, including students with disabilities. Governor Malloy has called for action that is “potent enough to make Connecticut a national leader in narrowing the achievement gap, and comprehensive enough to set the stage for a restoration of Connecticut as a model for creating academic excellence for all.”

Recently, Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, released his proposed plans for the reorganization of the State Department of Education. That reorganization is based on six bold and far-reaching principles offered by Governor Malloy to guide the reorganization efforts:

  • Enhance families’ access to high-quality early childhood education opportunities.
  • Authorize the intensive interventions and enable the supports necessary to turn around Connecticut’s lowest-performing schools and districts.
  • Expand the availability of high-quality school models, including traditional schools, magnets, charters, and others.
  • Unleash innovation by removing red tape and other barriers to success, especially in high-performing schools and districts.
  • Ensure that our schools are home to the very best teachers and principals – working within a fair system that values their skill and effectiveness over seniority and tenure.
  • Deliver more resources, targeted to districts with the greatest need – provided that they embrace key reforms that position our students for success.

Not surprisingly, the Commissioner’s reorganization plan includes a leadership team who will be supported by reorganized divisions.

A Chief Academic Officer will focus on realizing the Governor’s goal of “creating academic excellence for all,” and will work to align the Departments efforts around preparing students for college and careers.

A Chief Talent Officer will implement strategies in pursuit of the Governor’s fifth principle: to develop and attract a first-rate, diverse corps of educators to our classrooms, principals’ offices, and district offices by improving the entire professional experience and human resource system for teachers and leaders.

A Chief Performance Officer will ensure that across multiple indicators, our school districts receive actionable and timely information on student performance – fulfilling the Governor’s charge to use performance-based accountability to drive continuous improvement.

A Chief Turnaround Officer will lead the design and administration of intervention and support strategies in low-performing schools and districts, addressing the Governor’s second principle.

A Chief Operating Officer will be charged with improving the effectiveness, responsiveness, and efficiency of the Department’s programs and services. Our own Division’s Associate Commissioner, Charlene Russell-Tucker, was recently appointed to take on this important role; coordinating and driving cross-divisional priority projects from start to finish.

The Department will continue to be guided in the financial domain by a Chief Financial Officer, who, in addition to the set of traditional responsibilities, will pursue fulfillment of the Governor’s sixth principle – the delivery of additional state resources to districts with the greatest need, provided these districts adopt key reforms for academic achievement.

Addressing the Governor’s first principle, early childhood education opportunities will be enhanced through the work of the Early Childhood Office, hosted by the Department to ensure maximum coordination with our K-12 programs, but a part of the Office of Policy and Management.

So what can this mean for students with disabilities and for those of us that teach and support them?

Anticipated Outcomes

Each of the Governor’s principles and the reorganization of the Department are designed to bring improved results for all children, particularly those students whose educational performances are not commensurate with the outcomes expected of all Connecticut students. Over the past several years, students with disabilities have demonstrated their abilities through increases in performance and graduation rates.  Students, families and professionals all contributed to that success. Yet, we recognize that the achievement scores and graduation rates of students with disabilities in many of our communities continue to lag behind their nondisabled peers and their peers with disabilities in neighboring towns or other states.

We all need to critique our role to see how to improve the instruction and supports we provide to students with disabilities, and the collaborative efforts we offer families to support their children.

What can we do differently? We can create partnerships with families transcending previous efforts of engagement. We can infuse the use of technology throughout instruction and assessment in innovative and creative ways, reflective of the available state of the art. We can design classroom and community learning environments at all age levels that afford greater ease of access to learning and greater applicability for college and career readiness and community living. We can hold each other accountable for successful outcomes. We can be proactive in as well as responsive to public and private partnerships that will enhance our efforts.

To be sure, sweeping change is on the horizon; change targeted at improving academic excellence for all. Each of us need to examine our own role in “… making Connecticut a national leader in narrowing the achievement gap, … a model for creating academic excellence for all”. Ask what can this mean for serving students with disabilities and then decide what is to be your role in that change.

(*The informational body of this article is taken from Commissioner Pryor’s January 18, 2012 memo to the State Board of Education)