Lawmakers should override Malloy veto of ed commissioner qualifications

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Gov. Dannel Malloy at his desk.

The Connecticut Association of School Administrators represents over 800 school administrators, below the rank of assistant superintendent, in elementary, middle, and secondary schools or working in their board’s central office.  Our membership includes urban, suburban and rural school districts throughout the State of Connecticut.

We strongly supported HB 6977 — a bill establishing qualifications for the commissioner of education — during the legislative session and now encourage the legislature to override the governor’s veto. It is critical that the commissioner of education in Connecticut have the credibility and expertise to lead the educational system of the state.  This means credibility among all stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, administrators, and local boards of education.

An effective, credible commissioner of education needs first-hand knowledge of what happens every day in Connecticut schools, someone who understands the challenges faced by the public schools. The day-to-day operations of our schools present complex problems. Understanding the teacher and administrator perspectives based on first- hand knowledge is critical in making the decisions which will impact our ability to lead.

The commissioner needs to have the experience necessary to understand the practicalities of policies and how they translate into actions in our schools.  Educators today are required to implement mandates which in some cases are fraught with unintended consequences. A commissioner who has taught and has been responsible for the administration of these mandates would be best able to inform policymakers about potential ramifications of their decisions.

A day in the life of a school administrator includes responsibility for students, teachers, a physical building and much more.  Now, more than ever, we have been asked to take on significant bureaucratic tasks that can monopolize our time not just during the school day but usually in the evening and on weekends.  An education commissioner who has not “walked a mile in our shoes” will always have a difficult time understanding our work.

The legislature was right to enact this legislation which would require an education commissioner to have a minimum of five years of classroom experience and three years of school administration.  In fact, the vast majority of states require some level of experience or background in order to be qualified to lead the appropriate state agency.

The legislature should stand firm when it convenes on Monday for its veto session to ensure that Connecticut joins these ranks.

Anne Jellison, Ph.D., is the chair of the Connecticut Association of School Administrators. She is also the principal at Israel Putnam Elementary School
in Meriden.

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