Op-Ed by Kim Jeffery

Published in The CT Post, April 20, 2012

As the Connecticut General Assembly nears the end of its “Education Session,” rhetoric at the state Capitol has, sadly, been far more prevalent than accomplishments. This is unfortunate because it is diverting focus from what should be our most important goal: To improve the educational experience of Connecticut’s public school students.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy kicked off 2012 in a spirit of collaboration, convening an education workshop that brought together a diverse array of stakeholders. Encouraging everyone to work together, the governor noted that there were many more reasons to come together than to wedge us apart. He is right. Yet seemingly from the moment he introduced his package of reforms in Senate Bill 24, there has been far too much focus on those wedge issues.

The heated rhetoric about tenure, teacher evaluation and “holding people accountable” is troubling, and destructive. I am positive that 95 percent of Connecticut’s teachers come to work every day loving their work, wanting to make a difference and wanting to be accountable. The push to reform Connecticut’s schools is not an attempt to scapegoat teachers or trample on their rights. Rather, it represents a collective commitment to improve the educational outcomes for all of our state’s children. We are all part of the solution. I work in a company where our employees earn their right to be here every day. Most of our society works this way. Reviewing tenure every five years using a rigorous and fair evaluation system seems pretty reasonable.

We need to step back a moment and recognize that the reforms being proposed are designed to make sure teachers get the help they need to be great, that they have administrators who they can trust and respect, and that they have the resources they need to fix Connecticut’s more troubled schools. This is about helping people succeed — not trying to catch them doing something wrong.

Whether one is a teacher, principal, board of education member, business leader, legislator or governor, we all have a role to play in ensuring success, we all need to do better for Connecticut’s children, and we can all stand to be more introspective about how to address the things that need to be fixed.

As a Connecticut employer, I have a vested interest in school reform in two fundamental ways. First of all, I want make sure that my company’s 500 Connecticut employees can send their children to high-quality public schools if that is their choice. Secondly, a highly educated work force is the lifeblood of Connecticut companies like mine. Our public schools must produce more college- and career-ready graduates if we are to improve our state’s economic viability and vitality. If we do not change the way we educate our students in this state, for the first time in 50 years, Connecticut will not replace its retirees with a more educated work force.

We have an incredible opportunity to pass meaningful education reform this year in Connecticut. As we enter the homestretch, let’s refrain from the attempts to marginalize stakeholders with whom we disagree. Let’s refrain from heating up the rhetoric. Let’s respect all viewpoints. We must keep our eyes on the prize and focus on the ultimate goal of school reform and deliver the promise of an exceptional education to every child in Connecticut.

 Kim E. Jeffery is the president and CEO of Nestle Waters North America in Stamford and serves on the board of directors of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform.