Within the next two weeks, Connecticut schools will be filled with students once again, and as educators prepare to welcome them, Commissioner of Education Charlene Russell-Tucker welcomed superintendents to the new year at a back-to-school event at Berlin High School today.
Russell-Tucker shared that the State Department of Education’s theme for 2023-24 is “infinite possibilities,” and she challenged superintendents to see the infinite possibilities in students, educators, and school staff.
“Infinite possibilities also abound in the ways we work together to achieve our goals. Staffing challenges very much persist, and we’re committed to continuing our work to make sure you have the very best talent in your district,” she said.
“We work best when we work together. That’s something else we learned during COVID”, Old Saybrook Superintendent and the state’s 2023 Superintendent of the Year Jan Perruccio said in her remarks.
“We’re starting the 2023-24 school year with what seems to be a little less chaos than we’ve had in past years. I feel like we spent a few years in a different profession, practicing as virologists and epidemiologists, and I don’t think we felt very comfortable with that. Even though we still have teacher and para shortages and buses without drivers, and we’re struggling with chronic absenteeism, we move into the new year with optimism.”
“As we welcome students back to school next week, our optimism and expertise lay the groundwork for infinite possibilities. But our hopes alone can’t meet all our students’ needs, especially in the face of a continuing teacher shortage crisis,” said CEA President Kate Dias. “What students need the most is a highly qualified teacher. We must continue working together to solve the shortage crisis and focus on recruitment and retention to make education an attractive and competitive career.”
“I was a public school kid,” Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz told superintendents. “I went to public school in Middletown k-12, and my kids went to the same schools I did. I think what you do is so important. I know in my life, my parents and my public school teachers are the ones responsible for my success and the success of so many people across the state.”
SERC Executive Director Dr. Ingrid Canady is one who credits her success to public schools. Describing herself an an immigrant, English learner, and Black Latina woman who experienced homelessness at one point, she encouraged superintendents to see the infinite possibilities in their students.
“Our young people can be just about anything they aspire to be if, 1, there is a desire to learn instilled in them by their ancestors and their families, and 2, there are committed educational leaders who believe in them,” she said, in emotional remarks. “It is because of you that I stand here today.”
She added, “Today I dare and challenge you to see the future doctors, superintendents, elected officials, commissioners, secretaries of education, and presidents in your young students looking to you. You have the potential to change lives. You changed mine and my family’s.”
Chancellor Terrence Cheng of Central Connecticut State University told superintendents that, despite the challenges facing public education, the work of educators has never been more important.
“The work is hard and it clearly isn’t getting any easier,” he said. “There are attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion. There are attacks on the books that can or cannot be in our libraries and can or cannot be taught in our schools. There are attacks on trans kids. There are attacks on history, just the facts of history. There are attacks on the value of education in and of itself. That’s a lot of burden. That’s a lot we have to go up against.”
He continued, “As a partner in public higher education, as an immigrant, as a first generation student myself, and as a person of color, I would tell you that I personally don’t think that this work has ever been more important than it is right now. It is the most noble work, the most valuable work, that I think one can do.”