Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel A. Cardona talked about their education priorities to education leaders and advocates in August 2019. Kathleen Megan / Connecticut Mirror
Gov. Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona answered questions from CT News Junkie Editor Christine Stuart on Tuesday. Kathleen Megan / CT Mirror

Meriden — Gov. Ned Lamont and his new education commissioner, Miguel Cardona, presented an agenda Tuesday that included increasing internship opportunities, upping the number of minority teachers, addressing the achievement gap, ensuring that all students can succeed, and expanding computer science and coding classes.

“Florida has sunshine, Texas has oil,” Lamont told the dozens of education leaders and advocates gathered at Wilcox Technical High School — Cardona’s alma mater. “You go with what your strengths are. In Connecticut, our strength has always been an amazing school system.”

Education, Lamont said, is about “about making sure you’re prepared for a 21st century economy, but it’s also about good people and good citizens and educating the whole person and making you enthusiastic about learning in a great local school where the community can be involved.”

Several of the education leaders in attendance Tuesday said while they agree with the governor’s broader vision, they didn’t hear much that was new and they hope to eventually get more specifics on his plan to improve Connecticut’s schools.

“I heard the governor reiterate much of what he said when he was running for governor,” said Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association for Public School Superintendents. “I’m really hopeful that we’ll get together to plan the specifics as soon as possible.”

Robert Rader, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said he thought “it was very nice to get everybody together,” but he had hoped there would be “sort of a call to work together on these issues in some framework.”

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, a ranking member of the appropriations committee and a member of the education committee, agreed.

“I would use the word platitudes,” Lavielle said.  “It was very nice, but I didn’t hear anything new.”

Lamont and Cardona took turns answering questions from Christine Stuart, editor of CT News Junkie, who raised topics ranging from the achievement gap, to the state’s efforts to prepare students for careers, to the future of regionalization.

Cardona said the achievement gap can only be closed if all districts have a “viable, quality curriculum” and teachers are given the tools to address the more complex needs of their students.

“We need to raise the bar, we need to make sure that we have high expectations for kids,” Cardona said, adding that educators must partner with social service agencies.

“Kids can’t learn if they are hungry,” he said.

Lamont was questioned about two controversial topics — school regionalization and the public-private partnership administering the $100 million grant from Dalio Philanthropies to improve education, which will be matched $100 million in state funds, that is not subject to the state’s Freedom of Information laws. Lawmakers exempted the panel overseeing those funds from key ethics and disclosure rules in the final days of the legislative session.

Lamont said the process will be transparent, but he offered no specifics about how that will happen.

“You’ll know everything going on there,” Lamont said.

Asked about the importance of desegregating schools, he said, “My first priority is to have great local schools where the community can be involved.”

Stuart asked Lamont if he was considering another proposal on school regionalization — which he abandoned after hundreds of residents opposed it during the legislative session.

“I think I learned a little bit on that one and the politicians really had fun,” Lamont said.

Talking with reporters after the meeting, Lamont said he is still interested in seeing if communities can share back office services to cut down on expense.

“I’m not sure why the governor’s got to be involved in that at all,” Lamont said. “I think the local mayor or first selectman who wants to hold down property taxes and say we’re doing better by our students would do this on their own.”

But he said he would make sure that government gets out of the way, to make such cooperative efforts easier.

Milan Chand, a Newtown High School student tells Gov. Ned Lamont and Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona about the mental health challenges students face. To his right is Abby Tubridy, an East Granby High School student and Eugene Bertrand, a senior at Wilcox Technical High School. Kathleen Megan / CT Mirror

Lamont and Cardona also heard from students at the meeting.

Milan Chand, a student from Newtown High School, said that one of the biggest factors affecting students is “definitely mental health, gun violence, bullying. I see it in my community and other communities. So many students are dealing with countless different psychiatric disorders. It’s affecting not only their school performance, but their social life, their interactions with teachers and students and how they engage in their communities.”

He said that new programs have to be developed to help students, perhaps incorporating peers in the process, because some students aren’t willing to go to adults.

Cardona said he agrees that peer relationships could be helpful, and that efforts should be made to provide supports for teachers and to partner with agencies that can help.

Eugene Bertrand, a senior at Wilcox, said the high school has only two African American teachers and he believes that if there were more minority teachers, “it would help students take more from the classroom.”

Cardona, who has said he was the only Latino student in some of his college preparatory classes when he studied at Wilcox, commended Bertrand for bringing this up.

“I was where you are now, I get it, I totally get it,” Cardona said, adding that the state must “double down” on recruiting minority teachers.

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Kathleen Megan wrote for more than three decades for the Hartford Courant, covering education in recent years and winning many regional and national awards. She is now covering education and child welfare issues for the Mirror.

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  1. “You go with what your strengths are. In Connecticut, our strength has always been an amazing school system.”- Ned Lamont

    According to CNBC Connecticut teachers are (on average) the third highest paid teachers in the US so I’d like to think that would bring us some amazing results….

    Yet Connecticut somehow spends $20k per year on each student even though the national average is $12,500 (according to U.S. Department of Education). This cost per student does not take into account teacher pensions.

    And according to the results overall Connecticut students performed math at the national average and only slightly better in reading than the national average.

    Lamont can spout what he wants about “amazing school systems” as a way to cover up high taxes and insane costs of living here but anyone with common sense can easily see it is just smoke and mirrors to misdirect the masses.

    1. You are correct. The return on investment has been minimal. Perhaps indicating allocated more money is not the answer. That is why I’m advocating for a model to direct more students to vocational training employment.

  2. Connecticut should consider implementing the European model of education. The model directs students, at an early age, into a career/vocational track or a college/university track. For Connecticut, with increase emphasis on jobs that require a high school diploma, but less than a baccalaureate degree the model will achieve the goal to align basic education with workforce. The model will also achieve the second goal to enroll more college students who are academic prepared for the intellectual rigors at a university for advanced education.

    The theory that if CT spends more on teacher training and there is more diverse instructors, the result will improve the education gap is very flawed. It is a nice sound bite, but lack validity.

  3. Please allow me to translate:

    “My first priority is to have great local schools where the community can be involved.”
    – Your years are numbered CREC. Another failed social experiment

    “double down” on recruiting minority teachers
    – Since this is a supply side problem, we will have to lower standards to increase supply

    -gap can only be closed if all districts have a “viable, quality curriculum”
    – Since the achievement gap is a result of factors out of the schools control we are going to do nothing but pay lip service and blame the last person.

    “Florida has sunshine, Texas has oil,” “our strength has always been an amazing school system.”
    – Connecticut’s economy officially has no bright spots, so lets highlight the services we cant afford to provide instead.

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