schools, bus drivers,
School buses parked on a lot in Stafford Springs Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut school superintendents gathered Thursday for an annual back-to-school meeting in Berlin where officials stressed the “infinite possibilities” of teaching young people while acknowledging persistent shortages of educators in districts across the state.

The morning meeting was held in Berlin High School’s auditorium and featured remarks from state officials and school superintendents, who are preparing to welcome students back to classrooms in the next couple weeks. 

State Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker challenged school administrators to see the potential represented by the incoming population of roughly 513,000 students statewide. She also promised to continue state efforts to expand the ranks of teachers and school staff to address shortages. 

“In order to prepare our students for the future, we need to recruit and retain a diverse workforce of high-quality educators,” Russell-Tucker said. “We know that staffing challenges still very much persist and therefore we’re committed — committed to continuing our work to help you have the best talent in your districts.” 

Teacher shortages have posed challenges this year for school districts in Connecticut and across the country. At a press conference last week, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal estimated the state shortfall included around 1,300 vacant teaching positions and 1,300 open paraprofessional jobs. He called on Congress to approve funding for several educator recruitment and retention programs.

On Thursday, Russell-Tucker said state initiatives to bolster the ranks of educators included reciprocity agreements to the streamline certification of teachers who have been authorized to teach in some other eastern states. 

Later this month, Connecticut will also begin modernizing its teacher certification process and will continue to host paraeducator recruitment fairs in collaboration with the Department of Labor, she said. 

Although the speakers who addressed Thursday’s meeting generally stuck to the optimistic tone set by the Education Department’s “infinite possibilities” theme, several mentioned the challenges created by staffing shortages. 

During remarks for the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, Old Saybrook Superintendent Jan Perruccio said those challenges came with the relief of returning to more conventional academic years following several years in which educators were forced to adapt to the strains of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“So even though we still have teacher and para shortages and buses without drivers and we’re still grappling in some places with chronic absenteeism, we have positive energy moving into this year,” Perruccio said. “We can be celebratory because we’ve accomplished so much under really difficult times. We can envision infinite possibilities.” 

Meanwhile, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Terrence Cheng told educators that their jobs were all the more important given the unprecedented challenges of teaching in the current social climate.  

“The work is hard and it’s clearly not getting any easier,” Cheng said. “There are attacks on DEI [Diversity Equity and Inclusion]. There are attacks on the books that can or can not be in libraries, that can or can not be taught in our schools. There are attacks on trans kids. There are attacks on history — just the facts of history. There are attacks on the value of education in and of itself. That’s a lot of burden, a lot of negativity we have to go up against.”

In spite of those headwinds, Cheng called teaching the “most noble” and “valuable work that I think one can do” for society. 

“I personally don’t think that this work has ever been more important than it is right now,” Cheng said.