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State Schools Chief Won't Hold Fairfield Back

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Stefan Pryor knows that Fairfield’s school system is one of the state’s high performers. So before his “listening tour” stop with Fairfield’s Board of Education , the new state education commissioner told the board he wanted to find ways to “get out of [the district’s] way,” while pushing it to boost student performance.

“A very high priority for us at the state Department of Education is that higher performing districts continue to receive our attention, but the right kind of attention,” Pryor said.

Gov. Dannel Malloy appointed Pryor in September, calling him “the whole package.” Malloy citied Pryor's time as the deputy mayor of Newark, N.J., and as the co-founder of the Amistad Academy, a New Haven charter school. Since then, Pryor has been meeting with boards of education to plan his tenure as the head of the state’s schools.

One aspect Pryor touched on was limiting test-driven regulations, to give high-quality school systems more room to experiment. Pryor said he would have to balance that with federal requirements but would try to avoid state policies that might be “a hindrance” to already strong school districts.

Superintendent David Title suggested one method. He told Pryor he would like to see Fairfield and its fellow high performers be allowed to keep non-tested subjects such as art and music to enhance the educational experience.

“If the state’s going to push for greater achievement for all children, I just want to make sure we’re covering the waterfall on what an educated citizen in the 21st century is, and not limit it to just what’s on the national assessment of educational progress,” Title said.

Still, Pryor cautioned the board that, “The state as a whole, we’re not as high-flying as we think we are.” He pointed out that Connecticut has the nation’s worst achievement gap between low-income and high-income students. He also noted that the state’s test scores have been “stagnant” compared with other states.

As one example, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Texas, North Dakota and South Dakota score higher in eighth-grade mathematics, because they have showed more gains in those areas. Pryor said he hopes to look to districts such as Fairfield to push up those figures.

“We ought to aspire to be No. 1,” Pryor said. “The fact of the matter is, Connecticut is per capita the wealthiest state in the union. I’m sure in all of our view, it’s the finest state in the union. We ought to aspire for greater.”

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