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Connecticut superintendents look to the school year with “infinite possibilities”

State Board of Education Chair Karen Dubois-Walton
Molly Ingram
State Board of Education Chair Karen Dubois-Walton

The class of 2035 starts kindergarten soon — but in Connecticut, their classes will be bigger than usual.

School superintendents met at Bristol High School on Thursday to discuss the upcoming year, and one of the state education system’s most pressing challenges remains understaffing.

Last week, Connecticut officials reported more than 2,000 vacancies for teachers and paraprofessionals, many of them in low-income districts.

State education leaders say they are focused on diversifying and retaining their teacher workforce, improving student attendance and creating a healthy learning environment.

Those ambitious goals prompted state Board of Education Chair Karen Dubois-Walton to declare this year’s back-to-school theme “Infinite Possibilities.”

“We have infinite possibilities in front of us to prepare our students as global citizens through our work on educator diversity, on the provision of culturally relevant model curriculum through the multi-language models, and the work that we'll continue to do to end racial imbalance where it persists,” Dubois-Walton said.

The school leaders also heard from state Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker, who said despite challenges, there is much to celebrate in the Connecticut public education system.

She pointed to expanded mental health support for teachers and students, and partnerships with state colleges.

“Around 17,500 students, or approximately 25% of our 11th and 12th graders, are earning three or more college credits in a pathway of interest to them through our public and private colleges,” Russell-Tucker said. “More than a quarter of them are doing this through CT State.”

CT State is the new name for Connecticut’s consolidated community colleges.

Russell-Tucker also ran through some of the state’s student body statistics:

  • More than 513,000 students
  • 100,000 school staff
  • Nearly 270,000 students of color
  • Nearly 50,000 English-language learners, speaking 145 different languages (180 languages across the entire student body) 
  • More than 88,000 students with disabilities
  • Nearly 218,000 students are eligible for free or reduced lunch 
  • Nearly 4,000 students are dealing with homelessness or housing instability 

“We're committed to addressing the needs of all our student groups, those listed here for which we have data, as well as those not captured here,” Russel-Tucker said.

She referenced the recently passed English Learners Bill of Rights, the Special Education Call Center and new DCFS urgent crisis centers available to keep kids out of the ER for behavioral health crises.

To address staffing shortages, Russel-Tucker said the state is launching programs to attract talent across the region.

“We're continuing to expand our ranks through the Northeastern States’ Enhanced Educator Reciprocity Initiative,” Russell- Tucker said. “We're launching apprenticeship programs and more. And we're updating the way our educators are evaluated to create a process that better supports individual and collective practices.”

Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.