Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Vallas Fights for his Position as Superintendent

What’s happening to Paul Vallas in Bridgeport, CT is the latest head-slapping, jaw-dropping, you-just-can’t-make-this-stuff-up moment (yet it’s so typical when the unions/blob feel their interests are threatened – the hell with what’s best for kids and, if you can’t win on the merits, file lawsuits to strangle desperately needed reform).

Here’s the background: Bridgeport is CT’s largest city and has long had one of the most dysfunctional, terrible school systems in the state. But Bridgeport got very lucky: nearly two years ago, Vallas, a reformer who was once super in Chicago (he was Arne Duncan’s boss at one time), Philadelphia and New Orleans, agreed to come in to try to improve things. By all accounts, he’s done exactly that, but now a horribly conflicted judge has ruled that Vallas has to step down because he’s “unqualified” according to some arcane law. Fortuntely, I think this is likely to have a happy ending, as the CT Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case – but what a lot of delay and unnecessary brain damage (while the children of Bridgeport continue to suffer). Kudos to Vallas for speaking out – and for Arne Duncan to support him:

“There are some gigantic egos in this town,” Mr. Vallas said in an interview. “No good deed goes unpunished.”
 Mr. Vallas, who makes $234,000 a year, arrived in Bridgeport less than two years ago with a mandate to rattle the status quo in one of Connecticut’s poorest cities. He was appointed by a state-controlled panel, but a court ruling early in his tenure left him reporting to a locally elected school board, with several of its members calling for his ouster. 
Now Mr. Vallas, a veteran of big-city education battles, faces the once-unimaginable prospect that he will be driven out of town by summer’s end. A retired judge filed a lawsuit arguing that his lack of an education degree makes him unfit for the office, despite his years of experience running other school districts. Last month, a superior court judge agreed, and now Mr. Vallas has appealed the case to the Connecticut Supreme Court.
The battle in Bridgeport highlights the divisiveness of change in American education. Critics of the existing system are pushing centralized control, weaker teacher tenure protections and expanded charter schools, and some have made installing superintendents with backgrounds outside of education a priority, causing rifts in many districts.

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This editorial in The Hartford Courant nails it:

It would be a blow to the city of Bridgeport's school system and its 21,000 students if Paul Vallas is not permitted to stay on as superintendent. Someone of Mr. Vallas' experience and gravitas is just what the doctor ordered for the city's ailing school system.

That's why he was brought to Bridgeport some 17 months ago. He has the support of a majority of the school board. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy strongly supports his superintendency, as does state Education Commission Stefan Pryor. State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, House chairman of the General Assembly's education committee, says Mr. Vallas is "the most activist, engaged, effective superintendent that Bridgeport public schools have had in years."

Even the U.S. education secretary, Arne Duncan, is a fan. The opposition Mr. Vallas is facing is "beyond ludicrous," he told The New York Times.

Yet Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled last month that Mr. Vallas is not qualified to run Bridgeport's low-performing schools because he fails to meet the requirements in state law to be certified as superintendent by the State Board of Education. "The court orders Paul Vallas be removed from his office," Judge Bellis ruled.

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