CT’s new interim education commissioner, a school counseling crisis, and the NEA presidential forum

Updated: Jul 17, 2019


This weekly segment by Democrats for Education Reform CT looks at the top education stories Democrats are watching, providing bite-sized analysis and links to recent articles. On the roster this week: CT’s new interim education commissioner, the school counseling crisis, and the NEA forum for presidential candidates.

Commissioner Update

Heading into the Independence Day celebrations, CT designated a new interim Commissioner of Education. Desi Nesmith, current Chief Turnaround Officer for the State Department of Education, will take the lead while the search continues for a permanent Commissioner. Before joining the state, Nesmith was an acclaimed principal in Bloomfield Public Schools, where he narrowed the achievement gap and earned a Milken Educator Award. The Chairman of the State Board of Education, Allan Taylor, says Governor Lamont will consider finalists who have been identified for the permanent position over the coming weeks. The Board is expected to recommend Bloomfield Superintendent James Thompson, under whom Nesmith served as a principal, for the permanent role. Outgoing Commissioner Dianna Wentzell is joining the University of Saint Joseph as Interim Director of Clinical Education.


Counseling Kids

The July edition of Governing Magazine took an in-depth look at a “school counseling crisis” in America. From adverse childhood experiences to the threat of school shootings, an alarming number of school-children have unmet mental health and counseling needs. Yet tightening school budgets have resulted in fewer school counselors. Here in Connecticut, about 20% of children have “a mental health need,” and about 10% have one that is serious--according to a story last week from The Day. The article looks at a new Issue Brief from the Child Health and Development Institute (CHDI), which highlights the “Bounce Back” program as a potential tool for schools building a mental health approach. Bounce Back boasts a high rate of completion, and participants show a 75% reduction in symptoms of PTSD. Notably, a New London school psychologist observes, many schools currently suspend or expel students who act out, a strategy that fails to teach students coping mechanisms or the skills to behave appropriately.


NEA Presidential Forum

Over the weekend, the National Education Association held a forum featuring ten Democratic primary candidates. Pertinent topics included the next Secretary of Education, charter schools, the need for childcare and pre-K access, and school safety. After the forum, NEA members voted at their annual conference against a measure that would have required a Democratic candidate seeking their support to publicly oppose the expansion of charters. (That’s good news for Booker--who has historically promoted charter schools, and for O'Rourke--who affirms that there is a place for public, non-profit charters.)

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