Professional Educators

Connecticut Program Puts Teachers in Charge

Too many school improvement efforts start with the idea of doing something to teachers – or maybe for teachers, if you’re lucky. But hardly ever do they consider doing something with teachers.

That’s why CommPACT, a union-led partnership in eight of Connecticut’s inner-city schools, which recently won a second grant from the NEA Foundation for a second $250,000, should be paid attention. For a change, it puts the people who know the most about kids and classrooms in charge.

“We’re the ones in the room. We’re the ones dealing with the children and the families,” says Hartford teacher Heather Kahn. “We were frustrated before when the administration would say, ‘this is the what is going to happen. This is the way it’s going to be,’ and we didn’t really have a say.”

“Teachers need a bigger role in decision-making because they’re the ones of the front lines,” said Gary Peluchette, president of the Bridgeport (Conn.) Education Association, a CEA and NEA affiliate.

With CommPACT, each of these schools now has a team of teachers, principals and parents with new powers to transform their schools from within. With the help of the University of Connecticut’s Neag School, which provides specific assistance in gathering and analyzing student data, each team is drawing its own plans to close the achievement gap – making data-driven decisions ranging from modified scheduling to appropriate professional development.

The project kicked off in 2009 with $250,000 from the NEA Foundation, as well as a $480,000 commitment from the Connecticut State Legislature and at least $500,000 in seed money and in-kind contributions from the state university. Then, in November, the NEA Foundation granted CommPACT an additional $250,000 to explore additional sites and expand its research.

“I feel like we’ve made huge progress this year,” said Ellen Tillman, a sixth-grade teacher in Bridgeport. “There is more ownership by the staff to take on projects, to feel empowered when it comes to issues in the classroom. The principal and assistant principal are conferring more with teachers.”

It’s also sparked new enthusiasm among parents. A recent kickoff celebration to mark Bridgeport’s Longfellow School’s participation in CommPACT attracted hundreds of parents and children. “I’ve had parents come in, help me do things, volunteer more,” said June McClendon, parent coordinator at Longfellow.

Last year, the Bridgeport schools also hosted NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who told them, “Everywhere I go, I talk about this. There is a lot of talk about change in America’s schools. There are a lot of different models. I personally just believe this is the model that has the most potential.”

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