by Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. — The fate of homeless children and the way elementary schools teach parents were some of the topics covered Monday when Gov. Dannel Malloy met with Norwalk educators in an early education roundtable at Norwalk Community College.
Malloy spent 40 minutes discussing issues with the group after touring NCC’s Child Development Lab School and preschool programs at Brookside Elementary School. “He really wants to listen, as he’s been doing for the last year or so now, listening to what his constituents have to say, what the experts feel, whether it’s education or early education,” state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said as the roundtable began.
Malloy announced a $12 million proposal to improve early childhood education in Connecticut last Thursday. He began the meeting by outlining the highlights of the 163-page package: a promise of 500 additional preschool seats by September, $3 million to improve quality of all early education programs and $5 million to create a rating system for all early child care education programs.
“One of the proposals is we’re moving in direction of universal access to early childhood education,” he said. “I firmly believe that early childhood education is one of the main ways to close the achievement gap.”
Susan Marks, superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools, said, “I’m pleased to hear about the focus on high quality because everything we now about closing the achievement gap is about high quality teachers, high quality administrators, high quality sports and programs and curriculum, the idea that there will be clear standards I think will help.”
Bruce Mellion, president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, outlined teacher evaluation techniques in the city, adding, “Nobody in Norwalk is getting a pass to tenure.”
Malloy responded that Norwalk, Stamford, Danbury and West Hartford have proven that there are better ways to get things done. But he said there is room for improvement and significant changes need to be made.
“One of the interesting things about where we are today is there is almost universal agreement in the last month or so, we’ve got to move forward with a better evaluation,” he said. “That’s not to say this isn’t the right one for you, but there’s got to be an evaluation standard. Which is radically different where we were a few years ago.”
Curtis Law, executive director of the Norwalk Housing Authority, said that 10 percent to 15 percent of public school students come from public housing and 80 percent of them do not have access to a preschool experience. That has much to do with the lack of transportation for public housing residents, he said,
Jason Shaplen, CEO of St. Luke’s LifeWorks of Stamford, said homeless children have needs that are more severe than other low-income people. Less than 25 percent of children who are homeless graduate from high school, he said. They are also four times more likely to be sick and four times more likely to have developmental problems.
Marks and Malloy agreed: the way schools approach parents needs to change.
“Another area is parent component,” Marks said. “Not in the traditional way, but about our responsibility early on to teach parents how to advocate for their children.”
“Parents of young children don’t have the fear factor that comes about when third or fourth grade comes around,” Malloy said. “We actually see participation drop, and I think it has a lot to do with how we’re approaching them, not how they’re approaching us.
“That low-income parents will get their children to a quality pre-kindergarten experience come hell or high water is pretty amazing and for some reason we’re sending some messages that discourage people. … There’s this whole mindset that we have on how people should communicate with us in education. I think it’s wrong.”