NEW HAVEN — Union delegates drew a line in the sand regarding the direction of public education in Connecticut with a resolution aimed at educational requirements for state Education Commissioners.
The resolution is essentially a statement regarding the performance of Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who has no teaching experience.
For five years before coming to Connecticut, Pryor served as deputy mayor for economic development in Newark. In the mid-1990’s, Pryor served as policy advisor to New Haven’s mayor and was a co-founder of Amistad Academy, a public charter school in New Haven.
Edward Leavy, secretary-treasurer of AFT Connecticut, said four years ago the state learned there were requirements in order to become attorney general. He said the same should apply to the state’s Education Commissioner.
“It’s never more important than now that the position of the Commissioner of Education has the same level of expertise and experience,” Leavy said. “The problem with education is that too many people who have never taught a class or run a school get to tell us what’s wrong with education.”
He said education is a profession and not a hobby.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whom the delegates were poised to endorse Tuesday, nominated Pryor to the position and has consistently defended him against criticism.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Sen. John McKinney called for Pryor’s resignation in February after hearing from teacher unions about the messy rollout of the new teacher evaluation system and the Common Core State Standards.
The Malloy administration has since delayed the rollout of the of both the teacher evaluation system and the Common Core State Standards.
The resolution would require an Education Commissioner to have the same professional experience of a school superintendent. The resolution defines the experience of a school superintendent as 80 months of teaching experience, including 30 months of full-time administrative or supervisory experience and 30 graduate hours beyond the Master’s degree.
Stephen McKeever, AFT Connecticut’s first vice-president, said the Commissioner of Labor comes from labor and a Commissioner of Education should come from education.
“It only makes sense,” McKeever said.
Anna Montalvo, a paraprofessional with AFSCME in Bridgeport, said she’s sick and tired of having CEOs come into the community and think they know how to do things better.
Montalvo said former Bridgeport Superintendent Paul Vallas did nothing to advance education in Bridgeport. She said he wanted to get rid of the paraprofessionals and replace them with interns.
That never ended up happening and last year Vallas, who was recruited by Pryor, left to run for lieutenant governor of Illinois.
Vallas was named interim Bridgeport Schools Superintendent in Dec. 2011. He became the acting superintendent in 2012 pending the completion of a University of Connecticut course. In a lawsuit that went all the way to the state Supreme Court, his critics challenged the credibility of that UConn course, which he helped design in order to obtain his certification in Connecticut.
The Supreme Court concluded that Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis erred in siding with Vallas’ critics, who contended he wasn’t qualified for the position because the special certification waiver he received wasn’t adequate.
The justices dismissed the lawsuit, saying Bellis lacked the jurisdiction to rule on the case because the plaintiffs, including former state Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez, failed to exhaust their administrative options with state education officials before bringing their complaint to the court. But by then, Vallas had left to run for office in Illinois.