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School Superintendents Propose Universal Preschool, Full-Day Kindergarten

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By STEPHANIE REITZ, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A group representing Connecticut superintendents is proposing preschool for all children starting at age 3, all-day kindergarten statewide and renewable five-year teaching contracts in place of open-ended tenure.

Those ideas and dozens of others were among more than 150 proposals introduced Wednesday by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, which is sending the recommendations to the General Assembly to consider in its 2012 winter session.

The group’s report comes after two years of study and is intentionally broad with no firm cost estimates or deadlines, though its director says getting all of the changes in place would likely take at least 10 years.

Its members also say they know some proposals will be controversial, like eliminating teacher tenure _ or expensive, like ensuring access to preschool for all 3-year-olds and full-day kindergarten statewide. But the superintendents say they hope the ideas will at least spur conversation about new approaches to Connecticut’s lingering problems, particularly the wide achievement gap between its wealthy and poor students.

“All sorts of reforms have been tried, and they’ve been tried by good people with very good intentions,” said Joseph Cirasuolo, the superintendents’ group’s executive director.

”They’ve all had some positive effects, but they have failed to reach the objective of every child learning what they need to learn because they’ve simply been, in essence, tinkering with the present system without changing the system itself,” he said.
One issue that is likely to spur discussion is the proposal to eliminate open-ended teacher tenure and replace it with renewable five-year contracts, a way to ensure that teachers who are determined to be ineffective either receive training to improve or are eased out of the classroom.

Kathy Frega, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, said Wednesday they look forward to talking more with the superintendents about ways to improve teacher evaluations, though she did not comment directly on the idea of eliminating tenure.

“It’s one recommendation out of 150. They themselves did not give it any extraordinary weight in the report,” she said.

“We look forward to having a system where school administrators are able to improve their evaluation skills and teachers have multiple opportunities for continuous growth. We’re trying to be positive; there’s a lot to work on.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and top Connecticut lawmakers have said they want education reform, including updating teacher evaluation methods, to be the main focus of the 2012 legislative session and already have been talking with educators’ groups about their ideas.

Other ideas in the superintendents’ report include setting a minimum size for school districts and consolidating tiny districts to ensure students aren’t denied a chance at the best programs because their communities are so small.

That could cause alarm in some of those smallest towns, though, and could require local approval through charter changes or referendums. The superintendents’ group did not suggest particular districts for consolidation.

The group also wants legislators to study whether Connecticut districts could get taxing authority so their budgets are funded directly from residents’ tax bills, not set by their towns or cities. Many districts nationwide get their funding as line items on residents’ tax bills, and their municipal or county governments do not have the power to set their budgets.

State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, a West Hartford Democrat who is co-chairman of the legislature’s education committee, said Wednesday that the superintendents’ group’s proposals are “bold” and show they are “not afraid to rethink virtually every aspect of our educational systems.”

However, Fleischmann and his co-chair, Democratic state Sen. Andrea Stillman of Waterford, stopped short of endorsing any specifics among the proposals, though they said the report will be valuable in discussions about various options.

“We are open to all ideas about how we meet these challenges,” Stillman said Wednesday.
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Online: http://www.ctnexted.org

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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