U.S. Senator Takes a Lesson in School Reform

Senator Blumenthal listens to CEA Policy Director Mary Loftus Levine at a CommPACT roundtable in Waterbury. Source: CEA
Senator Blumenthal listens to CEA Policy Director Mary Loftus Levine at a CommPACT roundtable in Waterbury. Photo credit: CEA

What school reform model has no student lotteries and doesn’t require youngsters to leave their neighborhood schools?  U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal may not have known the answer prior to a visit to Waterbury last week.  Now he knows the answer (CommPACT Schools) and much more!

Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited Washington Elementary School in Waterbury. “I was very excited and impressed with the CommPACT model, and the enthusiasm and engagement of the teachers and parents working together and collaborating,” he said after a roundtable discussion at the school.

The Connecticut Education Association invited Blumenthal to the session that included representatives from Washington and West Side Middle Schools, Waterbury’s two CommPACT schools.

CommPACT involves a partnership of Community, Parents, Administrators, Children, and Teachers who share in school decision making. Experts from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education help too with expertise and technical planning.

At the outset, Blumenthal told the group that he made the visit to listen and learn, and that he was looking for models that could be used to improve education in the state. Those seated around the table took every opportunity to explain the CommPACT education model to their visitor from Washington.

Allysa Lombardo, a third-grade teacher at Washington School, said that before CommPACT arrived the teachers had little input into how the school was run. Now it’s just the opposite with the principal getting and needing input from teachers and parents.

Donna Vignali, president of the Waterbury Teachers Association, said, “Teachers are on the front lines and they know what has to be done. Research shows that when you work together, parents and community leaders too, wonderful things happen.”

Jassie Meyers, a parent liaison from West Side Middle School, said she has six children, four who have passed through the school and two who will be attending it.

“So I have a vested interest,” she said. “I love CommPACT and West Side. When I started it was not welcoming to parents but CommPACT has changed that. After its first year, I thought something was wrong. People were smiling. They couldn’t wait for school to start again. That shows CommPACT is working and I hope they do it all around the U.S. because parents have a voice.”

Marianne Lusk, who is a speech and language pathologist at Washington and the school’s CommPACT coach, said she has been at the school for 14 years and the transformation that has taken place since the CommPACT model was introduced three years ago is unbelievable. Washington teachers, working on their own time and with help from UConn, use data and have undergone professional development so that they can work together in groups called cadres to make the school better in their fields of expertise, such as math, science or behavior, she said.

Also speaking from the audience was Heather Greene, whose daughter had attended a magnet school but is now at West Side Middle School. “At first I was worried about West Side,” she said, “but I love the staff. I would not want my daughter at any other school.”

Reprinted with permission, Connecticut Education Association