NORWALK — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was in good humor as he started off the latest stop on his education reform tour at West Rocks Middle School in Norwalk last night, where he joked that he was “here to be yelled at.”
The crowd didn’t take the bait. By the end of the evening, it was the governor who was getting testy.
The first five audience questions, randomly selected by Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia, were almost universally in favor of SB24. Despite the governor’s remark, “I don’t want to spend the whole day talking about charters,” the early part of the evening was focused on charter school funding. The governor tried to refocus the conversation on alternative models, including vocational tech schools, highlighting the success of the Rogers School in Stamford that achieved a turnaround by taking on the International Baccalaureate program and becoming a district magnet school.
In response to a question from Stamford NAACP chapter head Jack Bryant, whom the governor acknowledged working with, Malloy said the state might be in danger of not being granted a No Child Left Behind waiver if an education reform package isn’t passed, although he was careful to qualify this as his opinion. He warned that the consequences of not getting the waiver would be much worse than anything contained in the bill.
The evening turned somewhat less cozy for the governor when veteran teacher Heidi Scheckler from Westport, who was attending the meeting with her superintendent and a school board member took the mic. Scheckler asked the governor to consider the evaluation process used in the Westport School District, and to involve more teachers in the SB24 process rather than listening to politicians and outside groups. This got the first loud applause of the evening, and it highlighted the governor’s new strategy. He read directly from the CEA’s report to the legislature at the beginning of the session, and said that he took the proposals for everything that he did in SB24 directly from there.
New Canaan High School teacher Kristine Goldhawk asked why the governor wasn’t willing to accept a year of study for the new evaluation system, since it hadn’t proved beneficial to students in other states.
That’s when the governor got testy. Reiterating the same points that he’s brought up previously, that the unions agreed to the framework through PEAC, there were audible “No’s” from the crowd, but not the shouting seen at previous meetings.
“We believe in an evaluation system, and we will pay for an evaluation system. What we don’t embrace is the concept that we have unlimited amounts of time,” Malloy said, noting that the state is paying $2.5 million to train evaluators. Goldhawk stood her ground, noting that the New York evaluations have a 54 percent error rate.
Malloy stood his ground as well and told Goldhawk, “I don’t think you’re a bad person.”
Perhaps it’s not altogether surprising that substitute teacher Frank Ellison felt that the atmosphere of the meetings was negative toward teachers.
The governor recognized that SB24 is a work in progress. “Is this bill good enough? No. The answer is no. Do we have time to make it good enough? Yes.”
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman announced that questions for the governor on SB24 can be .