Dueling Letters: Kelleher Highlights Progress In Schools–Pereira And Baraka Respond

Jacqueline Kelleher
Jacqueline Kelleher

Maria Pereira and Sauda Baraka, the two Working Families Party members on the elected Board of Education take issue with an essay written by Jacqueline Kelleher, Sacred Heart University professor, who sits on the state-appointed board but seeks to validate her spot as one of three endorsed Democrats running in the September 4 special election ordered by the Connecticut Supreme Court after it invalidated state control. Kelleher’s letter published by the Connecticut Post highlights the school progress made under the state-appointed board and Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas. Pereira and Baraka’s response was also published by the Post. See both letters below starting with Kelleher who shares her view on the respective roles of the school board and the superintendent.

Although I cannot speak on behalf of the Bridgeport Board of Education, I can share my personal thoughts on this matter.

It is my opinion that boards govern; superintendents manage.

A board of education decides what’s to be done, and a superintendent does it. Our Bridgeport constituents–the children, youth, and families of Bridgeport–were not getting the services they deserved. Subsequently, the state-appointed Bridgeport Board of Education sought an interim superintendent in support of an education reform agenda and a change of direction from where the district was headed prior to state appointment.

We decided Dr. Ramos’s successor should be Paul Vallas since he presented ideas and approaches that would change an ineffective system into a high-performance organization–one that addresses the achievement gap at high levels. Mr. Vallas presented a clear vision for how transformation would take place and proposed helping us on an interim basis toward whole-systems change. The board anticipated that change would not be smooth; however, triage was necessary.

Bridgeport’s plan for enhancing its system calls for a reorganization that is atypical compared to restructuring efforts in other parts of Connecticut. Our district did not have the capacity to carry out many of the proposed Vallas reform strategies back in January. Therefore, the board supported Vallas’s recommendations for key players to serve on his district transformation team in building a model customized for Bridgeport.

Some of these individuals would be contractors who would work alongside district staff to build internal capacity in moving the model forward as a result of their work efforts. This is actually excellent job-embedded coaching, which is considered a best-practice approach in education. Vallas hired contractors, people who do the actual work on a short-term basis–as opposed to consultants, who advise or propose solutions–who are highly skilled experts in key areas of education reform practices.

Vallas identified independent contractors with strong urban education reform track records and specialized, documented expertise.

There are succession and transition plans for permanent employees to fill in these roles if there is need for permanent positions to support the Bridgeport district-wide transformation model after it has been built. My primary concern is over documenting the type and quality of education services provided and whether the scope of services offered is a good fit for district needs, as well as the extent to which the services offered raise student achievement and improve other important outcomes.

We need to ensure these approaches lead to effective, efficient operations and improved outcomes. A board focus is on evaluating its superintendent and holding him or her directly accountable for management and decision-making, including hires, rather than micromanaging. Micromanagement does not make things better.

If superintendents don’t manage well, they need to face termination. Paul Vallas is managing the organization efficiently. In some areas, independent contractors are needed on a short-term basis to get the work done as we build internal capacity among Bridgeport employees to take on the transformation tasks. We have many talented faculty and staff who are developing professional competencies in supporting Bridgeport education reform.

These are the next generation of leaders who will carry out and sustain an exciting model of practices and systems change. I see independent contractors serving short-term in some areas of model development only to pave the way for long-term Bridgeport employees to implement it with fidelity.

Letter from Maria Pereira and Sauda Baraka

The recent opinion article signed by Professor Jacqueline Kelleher makes a valid point. Unfortunately, it is not the point Professor Kelleher was attempting to make.

Her article has conclusively demonstrated why the parents, taxpayers and citizens of Bridgeport must retain their right to vote for members of the Bridgeport Board of Education. The choice is between the democratic process, which we embrace, and rule by fiat and top-down control, which Professor Kelleher advocates.

Baraka, Pereira
Sauda Baraka, left, and Maria Pereira

We are elected members of the Bridgeport Board of Education and will return to the board following the Sept. 4 special election. We were elected in 2009 as candidates of the Working Families Party. We are grateful that the voters of Bridgeport elected us, even though we were not endorsed by the political machines, Democrat or Republican.

We have devoted countless volunteer hours as members of the elected Board of Education and have lived in Bridgeport for decades.

As anyone who attended a board meeting prior to the illegal termination of the elected board can attest, we were not afraid to ask questions and demand answers from the superintendent and salaried administrators.

We view our role as that of a watchdog for the children and taxpayers of Bridgeport and refused to join former Superintendent John Ramos’s “amen corner” directed by Mayor Finch and the machine.

This, Professor Kelleher, was not an attempt to micromanage the school system.

The oath of office of any elected official demands that he or she not be intimidated from asking the tough, demanding questions. To do less is a betrayal of our constituents.

To our knowledge, Professor Kelleher never attended a single Bridgeport Board of Education meeting before she was appointed to the illegal board. Nor did she ever communicate with either of us in writing concerning any issues confronting the board.

Perhaps this is explained by the fact that she has lived in Bridgeport for only one year, and has no understanding of the culture with which our children must contend.

She seems to view her role as a board member as that of a “lapdog” for the superintendent of schools. We prefer the role and responsibility of “watchdog,” because the voters and the children deserve no less. This role must not change, whether the superintendent is named Ramos, Vallas or any future superintendent.

The buck stops with the Board of Education, as it must in any democratic system.

We differ from Professor Kelleher in our philosophy. When the superintendent of schools orders us to “jump,” a responsible board member should ask “why?”

Professor Kelleher, on the other hand, seems to believe that the only appropriate question is “how high?”

No one who understand the social and political culture of Bridgeport, where two-thirds of the population and 90 percent of the public school population is African American or Latino, would adopt a passive role, which Professor Kelleher seems to believe is mandated.

No superintendent of schools, now or in the future, should be given carte blanche.

Just as war is too important to be left exclusively to the generals, public education and the future of our children are too important to be left exclusively in the custody and control of professional educators and so-called “education reformers.”



  1. If this is a sign of what we can expect after the election, then the BOE (and Bpt school system) is going to suffer. No one–no matter who you support–should allow this board to go back to the bickering mess it was two years ago. I’m all for debate, etc. but these letters and rebuttals get a little old after awhile. The board is going to need to learn to work together and stop with the dirty laundry bickering in public. Does not serve the school children well as they all (yes, including the Working Families Party) seem to be hung up on themselves.

  2. *** It’s typical in these letters as to what did and could continue to go on at the BOE depending on who’s actually sitting on the board! But first off, let me just say it’s somewhat remarkable to have nine candidates interested in sitting on this thankless school board in Bpt. That in itself is a positive note for all of them! Now moving on; past board members have failed many times in their decision making (including WFP members) while on the BOE which is one of the reasons voters will be making tough choices come who simply want change may vote for the appointed board even though the Mayor already appoints the members of all the other city boards and commissions! Would this be far too much control over city government and its budget by an admin. that lacks in freedom of information issues and overall city government transparency with its citizens? Or depending on who’s on the elected board, be able to move forward in a rational way of thinking and make up for all the in-board finger pointing in the past and finally start making smart decisions that are in the best interest of the kids and the school system in the long term? Voters need to vote for the individuals and not necessarily the political parties they belong to! As in normal life we are always reminded too much of anything is “not good” and choosing in moderation seems to be “the way to go.” Not too many Dems, GOPs, Independents or Mayor’s political power controlling the boards! *** MODERATION ***

  3. What people have not talked about is the last elected board. This board had a 6 to 3 voting majority for the past few years. This board was controlled by the mayor and did as it was told. This idea that Finch and company had about taking over the BOE has been in the works for four years or better. How else could you explain flat funding of the BOE budget for the last 3-plus years?
    Barbra Belinger was a willing participant in this debacle as were the other 5 members of the board who stated they could not accomplish their goals because of the other 3 members. Now that is pure and utter bullshit. Those 6 members should be ashamed of themselves, they BETRAYED THE KIDS.

    1. Andy, the 6-3 was discussed on these boards before and after the takeover. No one has forgotten that. The point is if this back and forth continues, then they are going to repeat the dysfunction of the past. And sorry–if letters like the one above are indicative of how the WFP operates (that and the boycott of the voters’ forum), then we can see that dysfunction returning. Questioning/debating is fine, but these letters just perpetuate the Us vs. Them dynamic of the board.

  4. While I am on a roll I would like to talk about the cooperation between the BOE and public facilities.
    Today there was a teachers conference at Muñoz school. Keep in mind the kids go back to school Tuesday. The parking lot was full of teachers’ cars and lo and behold today was the day public facilities decided to fill in the potholes and paint the lines for parking spaces and such.
    The PF workers ran the paint machine between the cars and when the cars were too close the public address system was used to call out the plate number. The real circus started at lunch time when the teachers went on their lunch break and tracked the wet paint all over the parking lot.
    Today at Thomas Hooker PF decided to pour a concrete slab four days before the school is open.
    We pay a lot of money to the brass who run public facilities and they can’t get anything right. You had all summer to do this work; get a grip and try to get something right this year. Stop reading your pay stubs and read the work requests.

  5. Points well taken, Andy. Kelleher, Moales and Illingworth have sat back and allowed Vallas to illegally spend over $10 million in no-bid contracts without uttering a word. This is the tacit approval this group will bring to the table if elected this September.

  6. Lifelong Bpt, let’s understand something. 6 to 3 means the mayor, so back and forth among adults is a problem? What you and Mayor Finch want are children who will say yes Mayor Finch, you are right Mayor Finch, I’m sorry for speaking Mayor Finch. It is obvious the BOE President did NOT know how to chair and run a meeting but 6 to 3 still means Mayor Finch won every time; but no, that’s not good enough, he needs to take the right to vote from the taxpayers of Bridgeport because of back and forth even though he won the vote, sad.

    1. Ron,
      Obviously you misread my posts or chose to be selective in what you read. 1st – the 6-3 comment was in response to Andy saying we all forgot that dynamic–none of us did. And the back and forth I’m talking about are the editorial letters back and forth in the CT Post from both sides. If you read my WHOLE post, at the end I clearly state “Questioning/debating is fine, but these letters just perpetuate the US vs. Them dynamic of the board.”
      Arguing to argue like the elected board did benefits no one. None of them show ability to compromise and work together–including the WFP. And the me and Mayor Finch comment–you do not know me so do not assume I’m a Finch lackey or whatever. I have been critical on these boards of the WHOLE elected BOE. The whole group needs to work better together.

  7. I don’t think Maria Pereira is in a position experience-wise or otherwise to take on Professor Kelleher in any capacity. Ms. Kelleher has class, dignity and stellar credentials. I once had the misfortune of witnessing Ms. Pereira throw a tantrum that one could only describe as crass, combative and completely unprofessional. That’s not exactly the kind of behavior I would want to see sitting on that Board, not even for a minute.

    1. “… combative and completely unprofessional …”

      Godiva2011, the more you write the more you demonstrate you are a professional ass kisser. I’m sure you’d love to see a Professor ass kisser on the BOE. Did you not witness Maria Pereira say I am willing and able to continue to combat the problems faced by the BOE, while the majority of the BOE members raised and waved the white flag in surrender? These very same quitters are now supporting the very same people you support. You know shit about “dignity”–It was clearly demonstrated a while ago by three former BOE members who are still willing to fight for Bridgeport students and teachers and to be held accountable by all voters.

      1. Joel, you are a complete moron and you wouldn’t recognize dignity if it slapped you in the face. I don’t kiss anyone’s ass, I render my opinions, and frankly I don’t care if you disagree. In your case, it’s better to remain silent and just let people think you’re ignorant, rather than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

  8. Yo Lifelong. I’ve got 60-plus in B-port with a few years off for my time in the Air Force. Thin-skinned politicians just cannot take criticism. That is what earned them the misnomer of dysfunctional. I would much rather have a board that is involved than a board that is bored with the details.
    And in case you forgot, this is an election not a screening committee. So the differing sides publicly state what makes them different and the voters decide who they like better.
    It’s democracy; the American way.

    1. If they really wanted the voters to decide who they like better, why were there those who opted out of attending the candidate’s forum? Obviously, Ms. Pereira’s “style” appeals to you, so toss her your vote. She’s just too inflammatory for my liking. Comparing her to Ms. Kelleher is virtually impossible, since Ms. Pereira is in dire need of an attitude adjustment. I truly wouldn’t want her to be a role model for any child of mine.

      1. Consider this, Godiva2011. When WFP candidates opted to skip the debate, the other candidates were not affected by their decision. When the former members of the elected BOE voted to disband the BOE the three who wanted to stay were robbed of that opportunity and yet you see nothing wrong with that. You kiss so much ass here you should consider changing your handle from Godiva to Hershey’s Kisses.

    2. Grin,
      In a way, in an election the voters serve as a screening committee, don’t you think? The WFP could have publicly stated their beliefs at the voter forum they boycotted. But let’s flip this argument a little. Let’s look at the letters back and forth and ask when does the WFP actually give details on their thoughts on running the school system? They are good at attacking, but where are their thoughts on class size, special ED, student engagement? What is their plan to get the parents more involved? My frustration with the letters is they just attack the system (justifiably in some cases), but provide vague or very little in the way of what they have to offer on issues relevant to making Bpt students more successful.

  9. I’m not sure where I come down on this issue, but after reading that petty and inflammatory nonsense from Pereira and Baraka I cannot see how any parent would want them to have any voice in what happens to the children of Bridgeport.

  10. Bridgeport Rising–that’s my opinion as well. If you had ever seen Ms. Pereira act out as I once had, you’d be even more appalled at her obnoxious behavior.

  11. Godiva2011, the better question is why did the six Board Of Edification members vote themselves out of office especially when they had the power with a 6 to 3 margin in every vote to give to Mayor Finch every time he told them how to vote?

  12. Oh my.
    I am not loving this pissing match behavior. Everyone needs to class it up a bit. The right response to any provocation is well thought out ACTION. Indeed Ms. Kelleher must have thought the actions of the WFP candidates (boycotting the forum) were equivalent to a shot across the bow of the sitting Board. Why else would she have chosen now to “publish her thoughts” on the methodologies of a high-functioning Board of Education? In contrast, what were Sauda and Maria thinking, responding as such?

    These are confusing actions that in my opinion are more in the spirit of one-upmanship than the badly needed improvement of the education system in the ‘Port. ON BOTH SIDES. The classier offering came from Kelleher, but the motivation beneath her timeliness is questionable just the same.

    In the end, everyone is human I guess, and it will be up to us, the electorate, to gut check the situation and take direction from within. We can take a lesson from these ladies here. Let’s not do what they are doing and lose the message. It’s about the right to vote. It’s about the rights of our children to have the same quality education other districts in CT enjoy. It’s bigger than a pissing match, and we should all, as voters, remain cognizant of that fact. Just sayin’.

      1. The state elections enforcement commission ruled you Bob Barnes couldn’t tie your own shoelaces when they fined you for botching Bob Kelley’s campaign finance reports. Kelleher is smart and classy.

        1. anna … you really are unaware of how I protected Bob Keeley. I took the fall to keep him from trouble as the result goes, “no good deed goes unpunished.” You’re only reading from the decision, not from the negotiation that resulted in the decision.

      2. I can’t imagine how you came to this conclusion. You must not know this woman. Perhaps you should check out Ms. Kelleher’s background vs. the background of Ms. Pereira, and then re-think your comment.

        1. Bob’s buying gold as a hedge against the wonderful economic conditions around us … With the banks paying .01% interest on savings accounts and the stock market stagnant, gold and especially silver are great investments … as are mining stocks.

  13. *** While those on the BOE from the WFP may have seemed a bit stubborn at times in compromise with other members, if this Ms. Kelleher is one and the same whose mother works for the city of Bpt, it’s “rumored” she’s a Finch loyalist. Maybe more attention should be paid to the GOP candidates instead of concentrating on just the WFP or Dem-endorsed candidates as possible BOE picks. In any case remember, it’s all about “moderation,” no? ***

  14. Sauda and Maria are the “warriors” we need. People who are true Bridgeporters who still believe things are not hopeless and who still believe in democracy. When there is so much secrecy going on behind closed doors, deals being made, contracts being passed out, budgets being mismanaged, between the meetings, and the only place all these deals can be questioned is in a monthly BOE meeting, and we have true people reps who actually raise questions and represent us and then have their personalities attacked for this, it is a sad situation indeed. The “children” are not being helped by this. The parents are intimidated by all this highfalutin’ educated buzz words and phrases by people more educated than they, at all the board meetings. They are then “humored” by the same highly educated people. All these finely crafted phrases that endure for two hours of monthly meetings do not reveal any of the truth, i.e., who is being hired, fired, or why or what buildings get built or what buildings get abandoned or what contracts are being given out. These are all still inside deals. Very expensive and ineffective ones. Very expensive to us taxpayers. The BOE, lately, has been a very refined face for some very unsavory operatives. They’ve taken away our constitutional rights and our democracy as well.

    1. “They’ve taken away our constitutional rights and our democracy as well.”

      “parents are intimidated by all this highfalutin’ educated buzz words and phrases by people more educated than”

      Pereira and Sauda it is, Sept. 4!!!

  15. *** Bob baby, why even justify what actually happened to someone whose only intentions is to ridicule and throw ice water on anything you say on your behalf? Anyone who knows you from an average friendship level can tell in general terms you’re a standup guy! *** Don’t sweat the traffic on one-way streets! ***


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