Connecticut’s parent trigger law, passed in 2010, was supposed to empower parents — but if what’s going on at Bassick High School in Bridgeport is any indication the law isn’t working the way it should.
Last week, it was announced that Bassick is getting a new principal. The tenth in less than a decade and the community is livid.
What’s concerning goes beyond picking a principal with little buy-in from the community.
To give you some history on Byron Williams: He was chosen for the job after being passed over for the position two years prior, by then Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz. Back in 2015, she said that Williams was “prevented from taking the job by a personnel issue that could not be discussed publicly.”
Exactly what that “personnel issue” was can’t be determined, but it was obviously bad enough to prevent Rabinowitz from going with the School Governance Council’s (SGC) original pick.
There’s more than that to the story. Long time readers may recall, Williams was the first principal at the Bridgeport Military Academy (BMA), who Paul Vallas fired because he didn’t receive his administrator certificate in time. After community outcry, Vallas gave Williams his job back, only for him to leave a short time later.
His bizarre track record is suspicious at the very least — but that didn’t stop Bridgeport’s current board and superintendent from hiring him to lead the district’s most struggling school — they hired him even though the Bassick’s SGC voted no twice.
According to the Connecticut Post, Bassick’s SGC — a council that’s mandated by the state’s parent trigger law to give guidance to superintendents and aid in school turnaround — voted to appoint Harding Assistant Principal Joseph Raiola to the position.
In one vote tally, the school’s SGC placed Williams third for the job out of five candidates, and in another, they placed him last.
Given the community’s response, it’s you’d think the city’s school board would have taken a second look at the superintendent’s pick, but only one member, Dennis Bradley, voted no.
Why Did This Happen?
What does all this have to do with Connecticut’s parent trigger law?
Easy — the whole point of SGCs, when they were created, was for them to advise on these kinds of decisions, but their power was weakened when the law was written. The teachers union worked to make sure that parent power was marginalized.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned this in a previous article, but I think it’s relevant to this story as well– Back in 2011, blogger Rishawn Biddle uncovered a secret AFT Connecticut power point entitled “How Connecticut Diffused The Parent Trigger Law.” Here’s a slide from it (you can view the full power point below):
This slide may seem innocuous, but if you read between the lines, AFT is saying the SGCs have no governing authority. Keep in mind, this powerpoint was used at a national convention to teach other AFT affiliates how to co-opt and defuse parent empowerment laws.
In their power point, they point out that the creation of SGCs, was a way to slow down the turnaround process, stopping parents from pushing for immediate change. They made sure “parent groups” were not at the table when this law was written.
Bassick’s SGC being sidelined is a by-product of AFT’s efforts — a measure AFT patted themselves on the back for. Before eventually apologizing when this all came to light, they used this as a playbook to train their other affiliates to undermine efforts to give parents more say in their children’s schools.
Meanwhile, Bassick is a prime example of a school where a parent trigger law with teeth would have benefited students. It’s a school that has been struggling for decades.
Over fifty-five years according to reporter Noami Nix with the 74 million, who last year wrote an in-depth story on the school’s history of low-performance.
According to Nix:
“Only 15 percent of Bassick students tested proficient in language arts on last year’s new Common Core-aligned state tests. None were proficient in math. Nearly half of all Bassick teenagers missed 18 days of the 2014-15 school year, compared to 10 percent of students in the state overall. Despite Connecticut’s high-school graduation rate of 85 percent—above national average—Bassick trailed at 62 percent in 2015.”
While parents can still appeal to the state, the law very clearly outlines the SGC’s role as “advisory,” meaning that there is limited recourse for when these kinds of decisions are made.
While there is still power in the state’s parent trigger law, it’s power was intentionally weakened by the teacher’s union. That’s how things like this happen.
A school in need ends up with a principal whose record is spotty.