Vallas: Steering Schools Out Of Years Of Dysfunction

Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, in a commentary that also appears in the Connecticut Post, highlights improvements made in city schools including a rise in the high school graduation rate. In two weeks the Connecticut Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments about his certification to lead a state school district. His essay follows:

The first day of school arrived this past week in Bridgeport. With it came the feeling of promise that accompanies each new school year. As I wrote to staff, though, this year is different. This year, that feeling has a real foundation.

In steering our public schools out of years of dysfunction, we have implemented wholesale changes that will translate the hard work and dedication of teachers and principals–and the support of parents and communities–into real progress for students.

Additionally, thanks to the work of our teachers, administrators and support staff last year in adopting and personalizing a new curriculum and instructional program, the district is now in a position to succeed at a much more sophisticated level in every school and classroom. The payoff for students could not be more critical. Instruction they receive in Bridgeport Public Schools is now designed not merely to prepare their transition to college or meaningful work, but to give them the skills necessary to succeed once they are there.

Change is not simple or even obvious. In our effort to provide teachers and administrators with ongoing information about student performance so that they would be able to better differentiate instruction and intervene when students fell behind, we embraced a new benchmark assessment system that in hindsight was both burdensome and time consuming. This was a hard lesson to learn, but I am pleased to say that teams of teachers and administrators worked hard over the summer to dramatically simplify and streamline this system.

I have always believed the path to improving school district performance is not through elaborate testing and evaluation systems but through giving empowered school and classroom leaders the tools they need to be successful. Thanks to the work of these teams of teachers and leaders this summer, I firmly believe we are back on the right path for students.

While there will be new challenges to embracing change necessary to transform a long-struggling system, as I look around Bridgeport this fall I see real progress and new opportunities emerging for all our students. It is made possible entirely by the talented leadership in our classrooms, schools and community at large, and I am both proud and humbled to share some of these results below.

Our efforts to improve and support our existing high schools have begun to take hold:

We saw a significant rise in the high school graduation rate, in large part due to our focus on supporting over-age and under-credited students, with 66.3 percent of the Class of 2012 graduating, compared to 60.5 percent in 2011.

Twice the number of students are academically eligible for enrollment in the “Early College Program,” which enables students at each high school to take courses for college credit for free at local colleges and universities.

A dramatic expansion of new choices and opportunities for Bridgeport families is underway:

For the first time in 50 years, Bridgeport families will have new high school options–the three new Fairchild Wheeler Inter-District Magnet Schools, Bridgeport Military and First Responders Academy, and the new Pride Academy which focuses on better serving and supporting our most at-risk high school students.

We have also expanded choices at existing high schools by giving more support to existing academies and creating new themed academies.

Additionally, we are doing more to duplicate and expand what is already working in Bridgeport, expanding great schools such as Classical Studies into 7th and 8th grade.

We are committed to support and turn around our struggling schools:

At Curiale, through an innovative partnership with the teachers union, a longer school day and focus on wraparound supports for students in need has already shown signs of improvement.

Likewise, Dunbar School, which has long been threatened with closure, is now on the path towards improvement, thanks to a new partnership with the nonprofit Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE). It has restored life and energy to a school in dire need.

Finally, the broader community is emerging as a critical partner in the work to support our students:

Teachers, parents and community leaders volunteered across the district as coaches to help serve hundreds of students in a reborn middle school sports program.

Over a dozen new principals and assistant principals have been hired this year, all with full support of parent and teacher representatives on the local school governance councils.

Whether volunteering in classrooms through the School Volunteer Association, participating in school cleanup days or serving as mentors to students in need, we have seen community members throughout Bridgeport rally to support students.

These examples are a snapshot of a new dynamism that is beginning to characterize Bridgeport schools. Reflecting this past week on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, it was inspiring to think about the daunting but essential work of equity teachers and staff in Bridgeport public schools have committed to this year. To be sure, there is still a long and hard road ahead, but if we continue to work together, focusing above all else on the needs of our students, I have no doubt that Bridgeport Public Schools will help those students get there.



  1. In order to save money, Vallas convinced the BOE to approve the idea of changing the time classes were to start and requiring the school buses to pick up students from 2 or 3 different schools. School buses are arriving late; bus drivers are driving faster and coasting through stop signs; students are getting off in the wrong schools.

    “… focusing above all else on the needs of our students …” What are the needs of our students as far as the administration knows? Are there primary needs to the ones the administration has identified that the BOE and/or the administration are not aware of or ignoring?

  2. Just out of curiosity, I am neither a supporter nor enemy of Mr. Vallas, how does one determine the Dunbar School after two days has been restored with new life and energy? A longer working day for Curiale? I’ll make sure I do not take a sub position there, every school seems to have new starting and end times. I hope there is positive change in the BOE. For me it is time to go back to the real world. I think the teachers union is part of the problem and the teachers do not want to work with Vallas, so where the hell is the improvement going to come from and more importantly, who is going to implement it? I have been in nearly every school in this city. There are some great teachers. I have not yet spoken to one who has praised Vallas. How do they promote some of these assistant principals? It is sad being on the outside looking in from within. There is still one constant, there is no respect for substitutes. They really need to implement permanent positions in the schools. I have seen it all. I am hopeful Mr. Vallas, while still employed with the City will be able to make an impact. I’d start by developing a rapport with teachers in the school. Make believe you are running for Mayor. Right now Vallas would lose by a wide margin to Michelle Bachmann and she is dumber than a box of rocks. I’d like to look back and say wow Bridgeport really did it. After all, education is the key to future development in this city. I have been actively engaged with the students in every class in every school I have been to. These kids deserve the best! I’d like to think I made some impact. I know I have met some teachers who have definitely changed the lives of students. I would hate for them to leave the system because they have not been recognized. I wish everyone involved good luck. In the end it is all about the kids … not the union.

    1. Bob, I am not an enemy but apparently many on this blog are. I just want the schools to succeed. Personally, the identity of the individual is of no interest to me. It is definitely of interest to the only people who have the power of implementation.

  3. *** Whatever positive or negative results if any, will come about in the Bpt school system during the Vallas reign will not be totally apparent ’til years after his departure. Presently it’s hard to really pinpoint anything of true value due to all the political infighting, courtroom drama and BOE soap opera! But as JML would say, “Time Will Tell,” no? ***

  4. Vallas is a privatizing gun for hire. He ran into the Pereira buzz saw and now he is outlasting her.
    Teachers aren’t going to be happy when they go private and have none of what they have now, which ain’t all that much to begin with.

    1. He isn’t outlasting Maria Pereira. She left for personal reasons and she is going to be the Town Chair of the Working Families Party. The article is in the Post. She is not going away, but I wish Vallas would. This is going on all over the country and so far the privatizing people backing Vallas have a whole bunch of losses. I hope that continues.

  5. *** New programs being adopted by parents, teachers, admin, etc. are all fine and dandy if given a chance to work. Many of the old school programs, rules, policies and procedures are not bad if actually followed. Besides, kids not doing well academically in Bpt public schools, what else is a major problem in the public school system? Something that affects everyone in the school from top to bottom? How about safety and crime in the public schools? Do you think the school system and BOE backs up their school policies concerning crime and safety in the schools or school grounds in general? Or does the admin look the other way and tends to sweep things under the rug? Are there kids who don’t belong in a normal school setting any more due to continuous disruptions but keep getting put back in the same class or school regardless of rules broken? Do the teachers get support from the parents or admin at times when disciplinary problems arise? And are the parents worse than their kids when they have to go to school behind their kids behavior! Some Bpt public schools are totally out of control and would be worse if not for the presence of school security in general that at times seem to get no backup from the school security admin or school admin in general. *** IF YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE RULES, ENFORCE THEM! ***

    1. Yeah, like show up to work on time. Why would anyone oppose time clocks in the workplace? Don’t park in fire lanes. Follow the city dress code just like the students have to. Stop abusing the sick day policy. Take the mini fridges, microwaves and coffee makers out of every available outlet. Enter the building through the secure entrances and stop propping the doors. The pot should stop calling the kettle black.


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