Questions For The New CEA President- 4

The Connecticut Education Association will hold elections for a new president in May. The two candidates for president of the CEA are Jeff Leake and Bob Smoler. Jeff Leake is currently CEA vice-president, and Bob Smoler is president of the Fairfield Education Association and a math teacher at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield.  I have asked them twelve questions about issues regarding education that face us as a state. I have previously posted three sets of the candidates’ answers. Here are their answers to the fourth set of questions which all deal with the teaching profession:

Bob Smoler

7. How will you address the declining number of young people pursuing a career in education?

Many years ago, there was a severe nursing shortage and the industry developed a number of creative incentives for people to enter the field. I mentioned some of what I’d like to see happen in question 1, but we must recognize that teacher burnout, violence against teachers and the increasing risk to a teacher’s reputation as a result of a possible DCF referral or social media attack by a student or parent also plays a role in whether someone will enter and stay in the teaching profession.   The profession has also been under attack by sections of society that are anti-union, pro charter school and /or just looking to reduce the cost of public schools.

To counteract the above, the state needs to enact protections for teachers so becoming a teacher doesn’t involve putting your physical and emotional well being in jeopardy. Secondly, teachers need to take charge of our profession by making our voice heard in public forums and in the election process. Everyone wants to join a winning team and if teachers are viewed as respected and part of the solution, people will want to join the profession.

We also must recognize that many teachers are women, often with young families. Job sharing arrangements, paid time off to care for a sick child or parent, ability to continue your insurance at the standard teacher cost share rate after FMLA time has expired are all steps that could be taken to make the profession more family friendly.

8. Do you have any recommendations for the current way teachers are evaluated in Connecticut?

Teachers are in the business of helping student grow academically, emotionally, and ethically. We are striving to develop individuals that are capable of maximizing their own personal potential and contributing to society to the best of their ability. Teachers should be judged based on student growth over a period of time, not based on a given test. As mentioned before, student advancement in the key 21st century skills is part of the equation. As important, students need to learn how to advocate for themselves, how to handle the ups and downs of life, how to appreciate people from all backgrounds and thought processes. Personal development needs to be as celebrated as academic development. As a mentor, teachers play a critical role in all of these areas and teachers should be evaluated on how much they advance their students in each arena. I am on my district’s TeVal committee and am pushing to truly revolutionize the evaluation process.

9. What are your thoughts on teacher education programs in Connecticut, including the Relay Graduate School of Education?

Either teaching is going to remain a profession or it is not. Reducing standards for teaching certification, as the Relay Graduate School of Education does, is just going to allow less-qualified teachers into the classroom and degrade the type of education students will receive. From my perspective, teaching certification standards must remain high, and the state needs to create encouragements for individuals to get into the profession and meet those high standards.


Jeff Leake

7. How will you address the declining number of young people pursing a career in education?

  1. We need to craft a new vision of a teaching profession that is led by teachers and ensures teacher and teaching effectiveness;
  2. We need to imagine a profession built on the concept of collaborative autonomy, where teachers both teach and lead;
  3. We must identify, encourage and support minority candidates (high school and college) in order to change the racial makeup of our teaching force in CT;
  4. We must counter the negative narrative and demand the respect that our professionals deserve.

 8. Do you have any recommendations for the current way teachers are evaluated in Connecticut?

  1. With the help of strong union/teacher membership on the professional development and teacher evaluation committee, districts have developed evaluation systems that are comprehensive and that contribute to enhanced teacher practice and student learning and growth;
  2. In districts that have developed evaluation plans with limited union and teacher input, teachers describe limited confidence in the ability of the evaluation system to help them achieve continuous growth.

9. What are your thoughts on teacher education programs in Connecticut, including the Relay Graduate School of Education?

  1. Relay Graduate School of Education is not a true teacher education program but rather a factory for the charter school chains;
  2. Individuals interested in teaching as a career should enroll in institutions accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

Questions For The New CEA President

We are in immediate need for dynamic leadership in public education in Connecticut. Public education is under attack. Visionary leaders who recognize that vibrant public schools are an absolute necessity for the functioning of a democracy are essential.

Those currently in power in our state are about to change. We will have a new governor, a new commissioner of education, and a new president of the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. As the candidates present themselves, I will ask them the same twelve questions. I will then report their answers as a way to raise consciousness about the issues facing us as a state as well as to provide readers with detailed information for making their own choices.

The Connecticut Education Association will hold elections for a new president in May. The two candidates for president of the CEA are Jeff Leake and Robert Smoler. Jeff Leake is currently CEA vice-president, and Robert Smoler is president of the Fairfield Education  Association and a math teacher at Fairfield Warde High School in Fairfield, CT. I will post two of the questions and the candidates’ answers each day this week.

Jeff Leake

  1. How will you be a visionary and a transformative leader?

I offer these quotes:
Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader…they set out to make a difference. It’s never about the role-Always about the goal.
The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.


       2. What do you think are the three most pressing problems about education facing us as a state? Please explain in detail how you would address those problems as the President of the Connecticut Education Association.

a. Resources necessary for addressing the real educational, emotional and social needs of all our students are not available in too many districts, so problem #1 is funding. We need to fix CT’s tax and funding system and provide the necessary resources for our students, with a special emphasis on our least resourced communities;

b. We need to ensure that we are preparing the next generation of teachers for the changing needs of our students and the communities in which they live, and further ensure that the profession is attractive to those wishing to become educators;

c. End the growing privatization of our public schools;

d. Expand opportunities to develop and empower teacher leaders.


Robert Smoler

       1. How will you be a visionary and a transformative leader?

Transformative leadership comes from a willingness to embrace change. Change starts from gaining an awareness of your environment and the needs of your constituents, the ability to plan strategically, the ability to communicate that plan effectively, and the ability to bring people together to turn the plan into a reality. Those are my skill sets. It’s what I do. I was successful doing that at Oxford Health Plans where we took a start-up company and built it into a market leader with 7,000 employees and 2 million customers. Along the way, we improved the lives of countless people. I was successful doing that with Westport Baseball and Softball where I created one of the best town youth baseball programs in the state. That program turned a bad Staples baseball team into a perennial powerhouse that has won 3 league and one state championship in 12 years.   We’ve also helped dozens of young men to get into great schools due to their baseball skills. I’m doing it right now in Fairfield where we’ve helped to elect an education friendly Board of Education, Board of Selectmen and RTM; built coalitions of administrators and parents all working toward a common goal of creating a great education experience for students: and got teachers a seat at the table when discussing important issues affecting teachers and students.  Fairfield teachers feel proud to be part of the association and half of our 1,000 teachers have done something to advance our mission.

          2. What do you think are the three most pressing problems about education facing us as a state? Please explain in detail how you would address those problems as the President of the Connecticut Education Association.

a. Problem 1: The decrease in State funding for local public schools, especially inner city schools, coupled with the siphoning off of public funds for the benefit of unaccountable for-profit charter schools.

Solution: The narrative that funding for public schools is somehow just a line item in the budget to be cut is extremely short sighted. Exceptional public schools are critical to the growth of CT as a state, essential to maintaining and growing each town’s grand list and essential to the future of our youth. Currently, Connecticut’s education system is in the top 10 in not only results, but also as a state that is favorable for teachers to work in (This is despite our major achievement gap). These facts represent an asset for the state to build on. I intend to convince all state officials and the public that investing in education is the primary way for the state to thrive fiscally, socially and from an opportunistic standpoint as we move deeper into the 21st century.

The public relations component of this is just half the battle, though. It is harder to convince people to change their minds than to reinforce current thoughts. That is why the CEA needs to make sure that we elect at the local and state level public officials that already understand and appreciate how critical our public education system is to the future of CT.b

b. Problem 2: Outside parties are defining our profession. They have established how teachers are to be evaluated (the CT teacher evaluation system), what we will teach (common core), who can teach (Relay and elimination of CEUs) and how we will measure success (standardized testing). I fundamentally disagree with each of these approaches as I believe they denigrate the teaching profession and represent a lack of understanding of what is involved in growing a child into an independent adult capable of contributing to society.

Solution: The CEA must establish the CEA Academy whose mission is to establish best practice in teaching and child development.   The work of the Academy must be research based, data driven and take into consideration the skills students will need to be successful in the 21st century.   We also need to create many types of alliances (PTA would be one example). One key alliance should be with education and leadership departments in our state’s public and private colleges/universities. Public schools and our pubic and private colleges and universities represent the continuum of education that is responsible of developing/educating the vast majority of US citizens. We need to be aligned in our approach to this development.

c. Problem 3: We are looking at a serious teacher shortage all across the country and CT is no different. CT will never be able to maintain a high- quality education system without establishing the teaching profession as a desirable field for talented individuals to enter. Attacks on public school teachers; declining wages, benefits and working conditions; declining job security, i.e. attacks on tenure; and a lack of resources and support are all turning talented people off from teaching.

Solution: First, collective bargaining and interest arbitration must be maintained. That is the only way that reasonable wages, benefits and working conditions can be maintained. We must elect state officials that are committed to this process.

Second, I would be in favor of requiring all school districts to participate in the CT Partnership 2.0 health insurance program.   Insurance has long been based on the law of large numbers. The more people covered under a single plan, the less costly the plan will be, because the risk will be spread over a larger number of individuals.   I would also encourage the state to make a retiree version of the CT Partnership 2.0 plan available as the primary program for retirees. This will provide continuity of coverage for individuals as they enter retirement. This retiree program could either be a Medicare Advantage program or a supplement to Medicare. Ideally our state or country would adopt a universal healthcare program, but until that happens, the above will have to do.

Third, CT should encourage high school students to study education in college through financial incentives.   Scholarships to CT State Schools should be available to those students, especially minority students, who are willing to commit to the education field for at least 4 years. Students who enter college on this basis should be able to graduate in 4 years with a masters in education and full certification so they can begin their teaching career right after graduation.

Lastly, the state retirement system needs to be maintained and updated. More and more teachers are retiring before age 65, often with less than 25 years of service. Many teachers in their early and mid-term ages are as concerned about having amounts of adequate life, disability and health insurance as they are with their retirement. They also have worries about putting their kids through college. Those closer to retirement are concerned about paying for very expensive health insurance after retirement if they are under age 65 as well as long-term care needs. I think the CEA needs to take a comprehensive look at the profile of a teacher at all phases of their career and perhaps suggest a program that not only includes post-retirement income replacement but also the financial needs of a teacher throughout their whole teaching career. Attracting and retaining teachers requires a comprehensive approach and it can’t all be about what you get when you retire.