By Shelly Banjo

Published by Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2012

Cable entrepreneur Steve Simmons says he wants Connecticut to have its own “Waiting for Superman” moment, referring to the 2010 documentary about failures in the American school system that he says helped spur a nationwide movement to improve public education.

To that end, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform and Mr. Simmons, of Greenwich, have put up $250,000 to create a documentary to call attention to the state’s own struggling public school system.

“People have this misconception that Connecticut is a wealthy state with good public schools and that we can’t possibly be failing our students, but that is just not the case throughout the state,” says Mr. Simmons, vice chairman of the council’s board of directors and executive producer of the film. “We have to be realistic, face the problem and work toward solutions.

Called “Great Expectations: Raising Educational Achievement,” the three-part series will have its premiere on Connecticut Public Television Thursday, giving residents an inside look into some of the state’s lowest-performing schools and how educators can revamp the leadership, policies and curriculum to boost student learning and turn around what Mr. Simmons calls “dropout factories.”

The film will also highlight school-reform efforts that Mr. Simmons calls models for improvement, such as a sweeping overhaul of New Haven’s school system led by Mayor John DeStefano and the state takeover of the Windham school district in the northeast corner of the state, led by former Hartford school Superintendent Steven Adamowski.

Produced by local documentary filmmaker Jonathan Robinson, the film is expected to reach half a million viewers over six months.

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform, comprised of Connecticut business and civic leaders, emerged out of a 2010 commission appointed by former Republican Gov. Jodi Rell to make recommendations for closing the state’s achievement gap between poor and wealthy children, the largest in the nation. As a commission, the group put forward more than 65 recommendations to improve the state’s public schools and decided to create a nonprofit to advocate for the implementation of their suggestions. While the group says it consults with teachers unions and other education stakeholders, Mr. Simmons says it purposely excluded special interests from the council.

“This is a crucial moment for education in Connecticut,” says Rae Ann Knopf, CCER’s executive director. “We need everyone to understand that this isn’t just someone else’s problem, it is not just happening in someone else’s school. It is happening right in our own neighborhoods to our own children or neighbor’s children.”

The premiere will air on the heels of a promise by Gov. Dannel Malloy to focus the 2012 state legislative session on education reform. In the State of the State address Mr. Malloy delivered Wednesday, the Democratic governor unveiled a $128 million education package that would pour money into failing schools, make it harder for teachers to earn and retain tenure, allocate more state dollars to charters and alternative schools, and create an education incentive program for districts that embrace state-encouraged changes.

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