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Josh Esses Disappoints Parents in Flip to Support Superintendent's Contract

In an e-mail exchange, Board of Education member Josh Esses told Stamford Parents United that he is "likely to support renewing the Superintendent’s contract" at the Board of Education's vote on June 27th.


This is both extremely surprising and disappointing.


Below we will reprint our questions with Mr. Esses' responses, but first we would like to share a video from June of 2022 and to make a few points.


Just one year ago, Josh Esses articulated very clearly and calmy, yet passionately, the persistent leadership failures of Dr. Lucero and why he was voting no to a contract extension.


Has anything really changed? We don't think so.

As Mr. Esses and most of the board members did at this meeting last June, we will give credit to Dr. Lucero for her work on the mold issue and developing a long-term facilities plan. However, the sentiment Mr. Esses expressed at the beginning of his statement in the video above, still holds true:


"The skills [Dr. Lucero] possesses that brought that [long-term facilities plan] to fruition are very different skills than the district needs in its superintendent moving forward."


This year's mid-year data was dismal and while Dr. Lucero has finally - four years into the job - presented a plan for the district, Vision 2025, as you can see from clicking on the link, the plan lacks details. When pressed for specific metrics and goals by BOE member Jackie Pioli, Dr. Lucero only offered to follow up at some time in the future. Regardless, Dr. Lucero has demonstrated she lacks the leadership skills, and frankly the expertise, necessary to implement it and get our students on a path to proficiency.


Dr. Lucero's reactionary leadership style is captured perhaps most infamously by the lawsuit she erroneously brought against the Board of Education in 2021 (an ordeal that cost the taxpayers almost a half of a million dollars), as well as by last year's 4x4 scheduling debacle. These are just the two biggest examples demonstrating a pattern of distrust and lack of transparency in the Lucero administration.


Just as recently as the end of April of this year, the Lucero's administration tried to cover up an incident that took place on a bus involving police. The BOE only found out because parents reported it to them during public comment and in the follow up special meeting, never once did Dr. Lucero or anyone in the administration come close to apologizing to the public or taking responsibility for the lack of communication and lack of official protocol for such a situation. Additionally, many parents felt that Dr. Lucero actively shirked responsibility and tossed the highly revered Scofield principal under the bus (pun intended).


Dr. Lucero has been in a top leadership position in the Stamford Public Schools since 2013 when she became assistant superintendent of elementary school education. She was named Deputy Superintendent in 2018 and then a year later she replaced Earl Kim as Superintendent when he resigned. She has had a decade to prove her leadership abilities and expertise as an instructional leader. Each of the last 3 years, the debate over her contract has been extremely controversial and political.


In his explanation, Mr. Esses claims: "Tamu and her team spearheaded the curriculum audit." In the next sentence he writes "it was no surprise that it revealed many deficiencies."


Our question is, why did we have to pay nearly $200,000 for an outside company to come in and do what our HIGHLY-PAID and supposedly expert administration already knew was a problem?


What was Dr. Lucero doing from 2013 to 2018 as the assistant superintendent of elementary school education to get curriculum in the hands of our teachers? At the very least, she should have been THE EXPERT in knowing the state of curriculum in our elementary schools and should have come ready on day one as superintendent - as soon as there was no one above her to hold her back - ready with a comprehensive plan to address the issue.


Only now that she has been forced to do an audit and forced to face the facts is she appearing to do something.


For all of the reasons listed by Mr. Esses less than one year ago, and many others, Dr. Lucero is NOT the right person to lead our teachers and students through the crucial phase of curriculum development and implementation.


Below is the email communication we had with Mr. Esses where we asked him to explain why he is now supporting Dr. Lucero's contract. In addition to offering zero specific metrics or data points to support his position, Mr. Esses will make the argument that Dr. Lucero's past actions should not be considered as representative of what we should expect from her and her administration in the future. He goes a step further to suggest that it is the "constant criticism" of SPS from parent advocates like us that "actually undermines the district." Apparently, it's the fault of parents who have the courage to share the struggles of their students in Stamford Public Schools, that the schools are in their current state and not the person we paid of $427,021 last year.


We ask that you reach out to Mr. Esses and express your disappointment with the news of his flip-flop and impress upon his the necessity that he do what he promised and find us a superintendent who possesses the skills to reverse the downward spiral of Stamford Public Schools: jesses@stamfordct.gov


 

What are the specific positive steps that Dr. Lucero has taken and what data is there to show this has translated into improved classroom instruction from teachers and improved student performance, particularly in Math and Reading proficiency? We've seen the absolutely miserable mid-year data, is there some data yet to be revealed that tells a different story and if so, why hasn't the public seen it? Tamu and her team spearheaded the curriculum audit which put the focus of everyone in the district on curriculum, instruction, and achievement. It was no surprise that it revealed many deficiencies, and it is to Tamu and her team’s credit to undergo such a public evaluation of our district’s flaws. I want that level of transparency from our leaders. Constant criticism of what the audit shows actually undermines the district, as it discourages any administration from being honest and transparent about deficiencies in the district. As far as improvements, Amy and team are working to comprehensively provide standard curriculum for all of our classes. This is being done through a mix of curriculum committees or simple RFPs—I believe each department was given a choice as to whether they wanted to create their own or purchase curriculum. And it’s my understanding—and I will be sure to make sure this is brought to board, if it comes to that (which I think unlikely)—that we will have transparency in curriculum, such every class’s curriculum will be available for any parent or student to review at their leader. This will increase accountability throughout the district, as it will be clear as to what should be taught in our classrooms. Moving forward, central office is being reorganized to provide for accountability and evaluations across like schools—e.g., we will have an administrator that oversees middle schools. That person can evaluate all our middle schools to make sure that they are using the curriculum provided, pacing appropriately, using engaging instructional methods, and so on. There is far more the teaching and learning than simply having solid curriculum. The reorganization makes complete sense to me, and I support it. Do I wish this was done years ago? Of course. But it’s being done now. And these structural problems existed long before Tamu and team arrived. I like Tamu’s vision on bringing rigor and accountability to the district. And I have been generally supportive of the district’s decision making since the high school scheduling issues have passed. As far as achievement data, that is a lagging indicator with respect to whether we are using best educational methods. The means of delivery and instruction are what I want to measure, along with the development of curriculum, and the evaluation process for teachers and admins I expect will be revamped to make sure we are evaluating the right things. This will happen over a period of a couple of years, in part due to pending legislative changes at the state level that govern the evaluation process, and then to actually implement the changes.

What are Dr. Lucero's specific goals and what metrics will be used to hold her accountable? What will the terms of her contract renewal be? Her goals are voted on by the entire Board of Education, so I can only speak to what I expect we will see based on my conversations. The goals I would like to see will be related to putting in place and executing on the processes needed to use educational best practices. E.g., we will have curriculums for these classes with standard assessments by this date; we will publish curriculums online by that date; we will revamp the evaluation process, we will collect data on the pacing of instruction in the classroom, on whether classes are using differentiated instruction, and we will triangulate data so we can compare grades with test scores (e.g., mandatory state exams, AP exams, etc) to make sure grades reflect academic achievement. I am not on the negotiating committee and do not know the details of a proposed contract extension, although I will note that I understand it will be an extension of three years (i.e., through the 25-26 school year). As you can see, there is so much work to be done. I doubt this district has ever done it. But Tamu and her team want to do it now, which I fully support. If you had a child of school age, would you send them to the public schools in their current state? Why or why not. Please be specific and tie your answer to the realities of the district such as the fact that next year, a student will have at best a 65% chance of having written curriculum in their core courses. How would you justify sending your child into that environment if you could afford private school or homeschool? The state of public schools throughout our state leave much room for improvement. I am not persuaded the pedagogical problems in Stamford are any better or worse than in neighboring districts. What percent of Greenwich classes have gold standard curriculum? I bet they have no idea. What’s the average in the state? How do I know what’s “good” or “bad”? The decision on what my fiancé and I will do with respect to educating our children, if we are so fortunate as to have them, is a deeply personal one, and it is too early to say in the abstract what we will do. That said, I am confident that by keeping the current administration in place, the many issues in our district will gradually improve, and that I would be more likely in future years to send our children to Stamford Public Schools than I would today.




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