by Christine Stuart And Hugh McQuaid
If Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wins re-election, controversial Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor will not be part of the package, the administration announced Monday.
According to a press release, Pryor does not plan to serve for a second term and is “actively seeking new professional opportunities.”
“Commissioner Pryor has worked hard and well on behalf of Connecticut students,” Malloy said in a statement. “In the three years he’s led the department, we’ve taken tremendous steps forward to improve education, with a particular focus on the districts that have long needed the most help. We needed someone who could act as a change agent, and Stefan fulfilled that role admirably.”
Malloy appointed Pryor after taking office in 2011. His background as the co-founder of the New Haven public charter school, the Amistad Academy, made him a controversial choice with the state teacher unions.
Since then, Pryor has become a lightning rod for critics of Malloy’s education reform package, which some regard as hostile to public school teachers.
As recently, as June, a coalition of state unions adopted a resolution that would require an Education Commissioner to have the same professional experience of a school superintendent. The symbolic requirement was a direct shot at Pryor, who does not have a doctorate in education or classroom teaching experience. The AFL-CIO and AFT-CT ultimately endorsed Malloy.
Connecticut Education Association President Shelia Cohen said that teachers didn’t disagree with the commissioner on the goal of maintaining and improving public education for all students in Connecticut, but “we did disagree at times on how to reach that goal.”
Cohen used the announcement to call on the governor to select a successor with “extensive public education boots-on-the-ground experience.”
Sen. John McKinney, who lost the Republican primary to Tom Foley last week, called for Pryor’s resignation back 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 both the teacher evaluation system and the Common Core State Standards, but many rank-and-file teachers remain skeptical of how the education reforms will be implemented.
Pryor has also been the frequent target of Jonathan Pelto, a former Democratic lawmaker and liberal blogger, who is attempting to petition his way onto the ballot as a candidate for governor.
In the press release, Pryor thanked Malloy and said he believed it was important to “communicate [his] decision proactively” to Malloy and the public.
“Despite the admittedly long hours and the tremendous challenges, I have enjoyed this job thoroughly. We have accomplished a lot over nearly three years. The work has not always been easy but, start to finish and top to bottom, it has been extraordinarily worthwhile. I’m proud of the progress that we’ve made together,” he said.
But Pryor’s departure at the end of Malloy’s first-term is not a surprise to those who follow state politics.
It’s well-known that Malloy infuriated teachers back in 2012 during his state-of-the-state address when he said, “Basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.”
That statement was followed by months of debate about how to write education reform legislation that held teachers accountable for their performance in the classroom. Teachers even rallied outside the state Capitol in protest to parts of the bill. While the final piece of legislation was accepted by the state’s two teacher unions, it left the perception that Malloy was anti-teacher.
Pryor was also perceived as being against public schools and public school teachers partly because he founded one of the state’s 18 charter schools with connections to well-funded organizations that have ties to corporate America.
Pelto, a critic of the corporate education reform movement, said Pryor’s announcement indicates that Malloy is “finally recognizing that his anti-teacher, pro-charter school, pro-Common Core agenda is bad news for Connecticut public schools or, at the very least, a political disaster for him has he aspires to a second term in office.”
As far as the governor’s support for public schools, Pelto said his “true intentions remain unknown, but Pryor’s departure is a small step in the right direction.”
But not everyone has been a critic. Pryor also had his fans.
The Connecticut Council for Education Reform, a statewide, non-partisan organization that works to close the achievement gap, applauded Pryor’s tenure and his expansion of charter schools.
“Stefan Pryor has been an outstanding Commissioner of Education and a real force for change,” CCER Board Chair Steve Simmons said. “He has shepherded improvements in K-12 education that will have a meaningful and long-lasting, positive impact on our public schools.”
The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now’s CEO Jennifer Alexander also praised Pryor’s leadership.
“Since Commissioner Pryor took office, he has worked to improve our lowest-performing schools and districts, collaborated with all stakeholders to hold educators accountable for their job performance and support those educators who deliver for children, increase the number of great public school options for parents and their children, and raise standards for all of Connecticut’s students,” Alexander said.
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