Officials with a New Haven-based nonprofit agency that is focused on improving Connecticut schools say the lack of a decision on who the next state education commissioner will be is hurting efforts to improve public policy in that area.

“I think there are a lot of people treading water, waiting to see what the next commissioner’s direction will be,” said Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform. Villar made his comment during a wide-ranging discussion of education issues with member of the New Haven Register’s editorial board.

Stefan Pryor left as the state’s education commissioner in January after one term to become Rhode Island’s first-ever secretary of commerce. Dianna Roberge-Wentzell, the state Department of Education’s chief academic officer, is serving as interim education commissioner.

Pryor announced his intention to leave in August. Calls made Thursday to David Bednarz, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel Malloy, about when a nominee for education commissioner might be named, were not returned.

“We think it should be somebody who has demonstrated a capacity to work with our educators in the field,” Villar said. “Conversations with the governor have led me to believe that he is going to stand firm on the reforms that he [Malloy] has put forward. It should be somebody with an education background.” Pryor is a lawyer.

Villar said districts across the state are hampered in their efforts to improve by a shortage of teachers in urban school districts and an overall lack of school administrators and superintendents. Forty percent of the teachers in Bridgeport’s public schools are scheduled to retire over the next several years, he said.

Some of the shortage could be alleviated by streamlining the process by which teaching credentials from other states transfer to Connecticut, Villar said. Another way is for state lawmakers to revamp the incentive program offered to teachers who do well in low-performing school districts, he said.

At the same time he was advocating to increase the number of teachers in urban school districts and keep them there for a longer time, Villar said standards for who can enter the education profession need to be raised as well. That includes increasing the number of hours student teachers spend in the classroom before getting their certificates.

One reason for a shortage of administrators, especially superintendents, in Connecticut is the level of pay, he said.

“The compensation does not line up with the level of responsibility that superintendents are expected to take on,” Villar said.

Robert Rader, executive director of the Wethersfield-based Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said the level of pay that superintendents receive “has been compressed in terms of the difference between what they make and what teachers make.”

“The spread between the two has gotten smaller and administrators have to work summers, so it’s not worth it for some teachers,” Rader said, adding that the shortage is not limited to Connecticut. “The job is very difficult and sometimes so is the relationship between the school board and the superintendent.”

One of the non-staffing policy issues the Connecticut Council for Education Reform is focused on is expanding early-childhood education programs by adding 1,000 slots.

“It’s our most important investment and I’m sad to report that we’re not being received warmly when we bring this up,” Villar said.

Call Luther Turmelle at 203-680-9388.


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