October–November 2021 • Volume 64, Number 2 • Published by the Connecticut Education Association • cea.org CEA




We Are Stronger Than Ever! Leading: Our Perspective

The start of the school year, with all its familiar routines, is also a time of adjustment and change. Teachers love the energy of getting back to school, seeing

Your mental health is a priority, and we want to help. CEA will be continuing this important work all year long and keeping you apprised of opportunities. (See story on page 15.) As if COVID-related stress and new school-based initiatives weren’t enough, we are facing strong attacks on

Kate Dias, CEA President

friends, catching up, and meeting new students. But there are also the long days of planning, professional development, and figuring out what the new initiatives look like. So, September brings with it both great energy and sheer exhaustion. This has been a time of great energy for us at CEA. We have been out visiting schools, welcoming new staff, and meeting with local union representative councils and leadership. Those conversations and opportunities to get to know members are like getting to see old friends and meet new students. The work is invigorating and reminds us of why it’s so exciting to lead the state’s largest teachers’ union. Our members are awesome. We loved getting to watch teachers deliver convocation speeches and welcome new educators into the profession. We

us personally and professionally by those who wish to paint our curriculum and our intent as manipulative or lacking integrity. Quite frankly, we have had enough of these abuses. We are well- educated professionals who have committed our lives to encouraging and uplifting children. To have our motives questioned by people who have no idea what we do is insulting and degrading. Enough is enough. To those who wish to denigrate teachers and public education, our message is simple: No. No, you cannot twist our intent into something repulsive. No, you cannot change public education to bend to your narrative. No, you cannot silence truth because it makes you

Joslyn DeLancey, CEA Vice President

mini-golfed in Darien, broke bread in Granby and Windsor, and bowled in Manchester and Bridgeport. (See stories on pages 6-7.) Stamford alone signed 160 new members in a single day—that is some serious stamina! Our people are impressive. We were also privileged to join the talented teachers who brought you the Stronger Than Ever awareness campaign,

uncomfortable. No, you cannot be racist and call it righteous. Just NO. We will not let these attacks go unanswered, and we will be raising calls to action. We are also urging all of our members—a powerful electorate—to get out and vote on November 2. Dozens of educators are running for their local boards of education and town councils, looking to ensure


Donald E. Williams Jr. CEA Executive Director

CEA ADVISOR STAFF Nancy Andrews • Communications Director Lesia Day • Managing Editor Sandra Cassineri • Graphic Designer Laurel Killough • New Media Coordinator Eric Ahrens • Web Designer and Developer CEA GOVERNANCE Kate Dias • President Joslyn DeLancey • Vice President Stephanie Wanzer • Secretary David Jedidian • Treasurer Tara Flaherty • NEA Director Katy Gale • NEA Director October-November 2021 Volume 64, Number 2 Published by Connecticut Education Association 1-800-842-4316 • 860-525-5641 cea.org CEA Advisor The CEA Advisor is mailed to all CEA members. Annual subscription price is $5.72 (included in membership dues and available only as part of membership). Institutional subscription price: $25.00. Advertising in the CEA Advisor is screened, but the publishing of any advertisement does not imply CEA endorsement of the product, service, or views expressed. CEA Advisor USPS 0129-220 (ISSN 0007-8050) is published in August, October/November, December/ January, February/March, April, May/June, and summer by the Connecticut Education Association, Capitol Place, Suite 500, 21 Oak Street, Hartford, CT 06106-8001, 860-525-5641. Periodicals postage paid at Hartford, Connecticut. Postmaster: Send address changes to CEA Advisor , Connecticut Education Association, Capitol Place, Suite 500, 21 Oak Street, Hartford, CT 06106-8001.

honesty in education. In this issue of the CEA Advisor , we have highlighted a few of them. (See page 13.) Actions are important. Action shows itself in those who are willing to step up and run for local office. These agents of change are willing to continue to work for us all to improve our communities. Action also managed to get $904 million added to our teachers’ pension fund. CEA leadership worked with State Treasurer Shawn Wooden to ensure portions of last year’s budget surplus were added to this fund. (See page 5.) Actions matter. Our combined actions continue to highlight the need for improved indoor air quality in our schools. Almost every teacher we speak with shares stories about poor ventilation, mold, excessive heat, or cold classroom temperatures. Together we are bringing the message to legislators that it’s time to invest in our schools and overhaul or upgrade ventilation systems. Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions, and they matter. (See story on page 9.) As we move forward in this school year, we want you to know that we appreciate your efforts and energy, and we look forward to using our collective voice for our students and our profession. We hope to see you at upcoming events so that we can keep connecting and collaborating. Know that CEA is fighting for you every day. You matter. And we are stronger than ever. October 7, 2021

highlighting how we ensure safe, supportive, in- person learning environments for our students. New London Education Association President Rich Baez did a great job bringing educators together and helping us secure the location. Special shoutout to New London teacher Cheryl Viveiros for bringing a cadre of talented students from her district to participate in the campaign—and to all the educators who helped spread this important message. It was wonderful to take time to sit with these amazing professionals and talk for a few moments about life in their schools and why they are so committed to education. (Read the story on page 4.) This time of year, of course, is not without stress and worry—especially now. As you returned to your classrooms, you did so knowing that the pandemic brings added layers of responsibility to everything you do. We are working hard to keep you informed and protected in today’s COVID environment, where the only constant is change. (See story on page 10.) Early on, it was clear that anxiety about returning to school was going to take a toll on members, and we wanted to provide an initial outreach of care. Our work on Mindful Mondays with Dr. Marc Brackett, founder of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, serves as a reminder to “put the oxygen mask” on yourself first. To that end, take some time for peaceful reflection, camaraderie, and fun. Attend a county forum. Join your colleagues at a UConn hockey game with discounted tickets from CEA Member Benefits. Use those same CEA Member Benefits to save on a virtual or in-person yoga class. ON THE COVER CEA President Kate Dias (foreground) stands strong with teachers featured in CEA’s Stronger Than Ever ad campaign, filmed at New London’s Science and Technology High School. Left to right are Tracey Lafayette, May Reitz, Christopher Marsala, Rich Baez, Colleen Delaporta-Wells, Cheryl Viveiros, and Elsa Batista. Not pictured, EfraÍn DomÍnguez.

Production date: 10-13-2021


News Briefs



LEADING CEA leaders speak up for teachers, speak out against threats to school safety and academic integrity, and celebrate union victories that include a boost to the teacher pension fund. ADVOCATING CEA’s Stronger Than Ever campaign celebrates a safe return to in-person learning and the commitment teachers bring to their students, their profession, and public education. STRENGTHENING CEA’s push for securing teacher pensions pays off with a nearly $1 billion boost to the State Teachers’ Retirement Fund. New and returning teachers across the state receive a warm welcome and support for the year ahead from CEA leaders. Connecticut educators share how they teach a generation born in its wake. PROTECTING CEA’S 2021 Back-to-School Survey shows indoor air quality is a major— and largely unaddressed—concern in schools. Read how CEA continues to advocate for immediate investments that will improve conditions in school buildings not only in the midst of a pandemic but for the long term. CEA has compiled FAQs about vaccination mandates, masking in schools, COVID testing, and more to ensure teachers are informed and protected. Teachers have increasingly come under attack for doing their jobs—adhering to their school’s curriculum and COVID safety protocols, and promoting equity, honesty, and respect. Small but vocal groups are disrupting school board meetings and threatening to take over decisions about how and what you teach. Read how CEA members are upholding honesty in education in the classroom—and why they need your vote on November 2. EXEMPLIFYING Watching students succeed is every teacher’s reward. Often, teachers are also rewarded in ways that honor their courage, creativity, and determination. Meet some exemplary educators who have been recognized by their community and their peers. CARING See how your colleagues have been taking care of themselves and others, and how you can too. CEA-RETIRED When Lisa Thomas retired in June, she swore she’d never pack another lunchbox for work again. Fast-forward to the fall—and the substitute teacher crisis hitting districts throughout the state—and the 37-year veteran teacher found herself back in kindergarten…and loving it. REPRESENTING Inspired by the work of your union? Why not play a bigger part in it by serving on CEA’s board of directors or as an NEA state delegate? Get your nominations in by December 1. From Ashford to Westbrook, teachers throughout the state gathered on the green for the Connecticut Education Foundation’s annual golf tournament to benefit schoolchildren in need. REMEMBERING On the 20th anniversary of 9/11,

Planning for retirement? It’s never too early to start, and CEA’s free workshops give you all the tools you need. (Workshops are kept small to ensure any questions you have are answered on the spot.) Love to shop but hate to overspend? CEA saves you money on everything from groceries to prepared meals, automobiles to vacation getaways. Get these and other member benefits at your fingertips with your CEA membership card. Your member ID number, found on your card as well as on the mailing label of your CEA Advisor , is unique to you and unlocks all of these resources and more at cea.org . Be sure to keep your card in your wallet, as it’s also your passport to CEA Ask the Commissioner What are the most pressing things you want to know about the school year ahead? Connecticut has a new education commissioner, and she’s eager to hear from you. Join a live webinar on Monday, October 25, from 5 to 6 p.m. as Charlene Russell-Tucker and members of her staff answer teachers’ questions about what to expect in their classrooms in the pandemic and post-pandemic eras. Hosted by CEA President Kate Dias and AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel, the webinar is open to members only, and registration is limited. Register for the webinar and submit your questions in the registration form at cea.org/ event/askthecommissioner_102521 . At its September 10 meeting, CEA’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to appoint Stamford Spanish and ESL teacher Mary Enright to a three- year term on the Connecticut Advisory Council for Teacher Professional Standards (CACTPS). The 17-member group advises the State Board of Education, the governor, and lawmakers on issues related to teacher preparation, recruitment, certification, professional development, and evaluation. CEA is responsible for appointing four of the group’s members, who include CACTPS Chair Lynn Rice Scozzafava (Litchfield), Christopher Stone (Wallingford), and Sandra Mangan (Torrington). CEA-Retired members Ann Grosjean and Bob Brown also serve on the council, and CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey is the CEA liaison. “During the pandemic, especially, we have seen



Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker (center), shown here with CEA President Kate Dias and Executive Director Donald Williams, will answer teachers’ questions in a live webinar on October 25.


Stamford Teacher Appointed to Advisory Council for Professional Standards

the importance of teachers’ voices in shaping the narrative and creating good policy, and it is imperative that our state’s decision- makers hear directly from educators currently teaching in our classrooms,” says Enright, a 23-year veteran teacher. “Our union is only as strong as our members, and as part of a leadership team, I’m committed to



Mary Enright is the newest CEA member of CACTPS.

staying active and informed. Advocating for our profession is one of the ways we advocate for our students.” Enright’s term begins in October 2021.


Your Ticket to Members-Only Training, Events, Resources, Discounts Looking to ace your teacher evaluation? CEA will walk you through it.

discounts at numerous retailers and venues. Can’t find your member ID? Create a personal profile at mynea360.org/s/join-now . Once your profile is complete, you can retrieve your member ID anytime.



CEA Speaks Out Against Latest Harmful TikTok Challenge September saw multiple incidents of vandalism in schools around Connecticut attributed to a challenge circulating on TikTok. October’s new, potentially violent challenge is “Slap a Teacher,” and a list of future challenges that are harmful to students and teachers and disruptive to schools is circulating online.

conversation with students and parents.” She adds, “This is not the problem we want to be addressing—we want to be focusing on educating students, and on their needs and well- being.” The education community urges administrators to establish strong discipline policies for any students who participate in the challenges, taking into account the nature of the behavior. Watch TV interviews with Kate Dias on the subject at cea.org/education-community- outraged-over-latest-harmful-tiktok-challenge .



Taking a strong stance against the social media platform, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong told TikTok, “I want action, and I want to know from the CEO himself what they are going to do to stop this.” He added, “I’m going to hold you responsible and accountable, because I have a lot of tools in the toolbox to make that happen.” “We want to end this before it begins,” CEA President Kate Dias told Channel 3 in a recent interview. “None of us wants to get into a contentious relationship with students and parents. Let’s get in front of this. Let’s come together and talk to students about the disruption it creates to our community and the amount of trust it erodes when we have to start to look over our shoulders. A lot of this is about prevention and having a




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CEA ‘STRONGER THAN EVER’ CAMPAIGN SHINES SPOTLIGHT ON TEACHERS TV, radio, online ads highlight educators’ commitment to safe, welcoming learning environments

P ublic school teachers throughout the state enthusiastically welcomed students back to in-person learning this fall, prepared to create safe, nurturing learning spaces despite the unknowns and demands of the pandemic.

That was the core message of a statewide public awareness ad campaign sponsored by CEA and the National Education Association, featuring eight Connecticut educators with a wide range of experiences. “Responding and adjusting quickly to the chaos of the pandemic, teachers have shown their tenacity, flexibility, and perseverance,” said CEA President Kate Dias. “Our ad campaign captures their excitement over being back at school, ready to make this a great year for their students.” The ad opens with a reminder of the school experience last year— with the challenges of virtual learning and the pandemic’s toll on teachers and students—before transitioning to this year, showcasing vibrant, effective, safe classroom environments with dedicated professionals on the front lines. Teachers are celebrated for their professionalism and their commitment to children’s health and safety, social emotional well-being, and academic success. Reflecting a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, educators featured in the campaign include New London teachers Rich Baez, Colleen Delaporta-Wells, Efraín Domínguez, Chris Marsala, May Reitz, and Cheryl Viveiros; East Hartford’s Tracey Lafayette; and Newington teacher Elsa Batista. Baez, a former municipal law enforcement officer who teaches at

Jennings Elementary School—and serves as president of the New London Education Association—said, “After a year and a half of recreating what teaching is like and shifting back and forth from remote to in-person to synchronous teaching, we see just how resilient and strong teachers are. Regardless of everything that was thrown at us during the pandemic, we got the job done.” Lafayette, who teaches at East Hartford’s O’Brien Elementary School, agrees. “The last two years were challenging for everyone, testing us in many ways,” she says. “But teachers came together to help each other and their students. We got creative with solutions. We never stopped trying to make meaningful connections.” That creativity, resilience, and emphasis on relationships will be key this year as well, she adds. Reitz, who teaches alongside Baez at Jennings School, explains, “After 20 years of being in person with students, we had to go online. Now that we’re back in the classroom, we want students to know we are here to keep them safe. We are a family here at school. I’m excited to see my fourth-graders face to face—and parents, when they pick up their children, are excited to see teachers.” Delaporta-Wells, a Nathan Hale

hard for everyone. “Last year was very difficult. The hardest thing wasn’t the technology or the learning curve, but not being in our classrooms with our students. The most important work we do is building relationships and connections with students—which, while not impossible, is made more difficult remotely. I am excited to have students in front of me this year. It is a much richer experience.” An early-career educator who was finishing his master’s degree during the pandemic, Marsala—a music teacher at New London’s Harbor Elementary School—has a unique perspective on the challenges of distance learning. “I was a learner at the same time I was a teacher,” he explains. “Coming into this ad campaign, I am excited to get the message out that we are compassionate, we are helping students with social emotional regulation—which is key to 21st-century skills—and we are about community well-being. What matters is what is in the hearts of our students.” Viveiros, a math teacher at Bennie Dover Jackson Multi-Magnet Middle School, and Domínguez, a bilingual teacher at the same school, echo that sentiment. “The reason I’m excited about this campaign is the same reason I went into teaching,” Viveiros says. “It’s important that students and families know we are invested in their future and we see their potential.” CEA’s Dias said the campaign aims to give Connecticut families a

sense of confidence and optimism about the school year and to underscore that safe, in-person learning is the best way for students to learn and grow. “It drives home the message that Connecticut teachers and schools are about more than just academics,” she says. “Teachers are professionals trained to navigate the unexpected and here to ensure every child feels safe, supported, and loved.” “Even though the pandemic is not over,” says 2020-2021 Newington Teacher of the Year Elsa Batista, a foreign language teacher at Martin Kellogg Middle School, “I want to reassure students, parents, and our community that we will do everything in our power to provide a quality education and the resources and services needed. We are back stronger than ever.” The month-long ad campaign began airing September 19 on Connecticut’s major television networks, radio stations, cable channels, streaming platforms, and news sites, as well as Spanish television and radio. It was filmed at the Science and Technology High School on Jefferson Avenue in New London, following all safety procedures and CDC guidelines, including mask-wearing, cleaning and disinfecting, and social distancing. Joining CEA members in the ad campaign were students from New London, Newington, Norwich, Bridgeport, and Fairfield.

Arts Magnet School special education teacher and New

London’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, says not being in the classroom was


Left to right: Efra Í n Dom Í nguez, Elsa Batista, Cheryl Viveiros, Rich Baez, Chris Marsala, Tracey Lafayette, May Reitz, and Colleen Delaporta-Wells.



TREASURER WOODEN GIVES TEACHER PENSIONS A BIG BOOST CEA leaders and members help the state keep the promise for teacher retirement

Teachers’ pensions are vital to their security in retirement, which is why State Treasurer Shawn Wooden’s decision to make a huge supplemental contribution—nearly $1 billion—to the Teachers’ Retirement Fund is such great news for educators. This contribution is in addition to the $1.4 billion in regular pension contributions that the state has already appropriated for this fiscal year. Connecticut is able to make this impactful contribution due to a large, unanticipated budget surplus from the last fiscal year and surging financial markets. “This lifts a weight off the minds of teachers,” says CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey, who sits on the State Teachers’ Retirement Board. “Whether we’re planning to retire next year or in more than 30 years, this extra contribution goes a long way toward ensuring the state will be able to keep its promise of a secure retirement for Connecticut teachers.” For many teachers, their pensions are their only retirement income, and this contribution helps ensure a secure retirement for every teacher—whether they are veterans or newcomers to the profession. “This is both exciting and reassuring for teachers and our future in retirement,” says CEA President Kate Dias. “Connecticut teachers’ pensions had been underfunded for decades, and thanks to continued advocacy by CEA members, the state is now making a concerted effort to put our pensions on firmer footing.” Though the Teachers’ Retirement Fund (TRF) remains underfunded, each additional contribution by the state above what is actuarially required saves taxpayers money down the road and ensures pension benefits will be there for all teachers, including early career educators, when they retire. “Improving the funding level of the teachers’ retirement system means the state can budget less for teacher pensions in the future,” says CEA Retirement Specialist Robyn Kaplan-Cho. “It’s truly a win-win. The state saves money over the long term, and active and retired teachers can sleep better at night knowing that the fiscal stability of their retirement fund has improved.” The TRF is responsible for paying out pension benefits to teachers after they retire. While they are teaching, educators contribute to the fund out of every paycheck, and the state is also supposed to contribute its share, based on an actuarially determined formula. In recent years, the state has been contributing its share, but for decades—even as teachers always paid their statutorily required contribution—the state paid less than actuaries deemed necessary, resulting in an unfunded liability that will take several decades to pay down. “Teachers’ weekly salaries are 27 percent less than those of other college-educated professionals, and most teachers receive a reduced Social Security benefit for work they have done in addition to teaching,” says Dias. “That’s why it’s so

liabilities and working for sustainable and responsible fiscal policies. During the 2019 legislative session, he authored a plan that the legislature ultimately adopted, at the urging of CEA members, to ensure the long-term solvency of the TRF without placing an additional burden on teachers or taxpayers. His plan stabilized teacher pensions by restructuring the pension debt: reamortizing the unfunded liability of the Teachers’ Retirement Fund over a 30-year period to smooth out payments and lowering the investment earning assumption to a more realistic rate. “Wooden’s actions on behalf of CEA members and their retirement remind us how important it is to elect pro-education, pro-teacher public servants to office,” says Williams. “Treasurer Wooden is always open to discussion with CEA leaders and members, and his actions as treasurer have strengthened teachers’ retirement.” Your advocacy matters Through the 1980s, ’90s, and into the early 2000s, the Connecticut legislature contributed less than it should have to teachers’ pensions. Teachers became fed up that they were contributing to their pensions out of every paycheck while the state shirked its responsibility. Thousands of teachers attended Keep the Promise rallies at the State Capitol and in towns across Connecticut, demanding that the state fulfill its promise to dedicated educators. Finally in 2008, at CEA’s urging, the state issued pension obligation bonds to cover part of the unfunded liability of the Teachers’ Retirement Fund. In 2019, CEA members successfully advocated with lawmakers to adopt Wooden’s plan to restructure the pension debt, which further stabilized teachers’ pensions. Most recently, CEA advocacy ensured that Wooden prioritized the Teachers’ Retirement Fund for this substantial supplemental contribution. “Sometimes we wonder if meeting with state officials, sending a postcard, or attending a rally will really make a difference,” says Dias. “We don’t always get what we want as soon as we ask, but long-term concerted advocacy pays off in a big way. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your voice. Our collective activism to safeguard our retirement is yet another example of how we are stronger together.”

State Treasurer Shawn Wooden, seen here at a 2019 CEA Conference, has made a nearly $1 billion supplemental contribution to the Teachers’ Retirement Fund.

important that our pensions guarantee us a defined benefit when we retire. A guaranteed pension makes it possible for individuals to afford a career in teaching.” CEA Executive Director Donald Williams adds that attacks on teachers’ pensions have been rampant across the state and the country, which is why it’s so notable that Connecticut has chosen another approach. “This significant investment helps protect teachers’ pensions,” he says. “This historic contribution to the Teachers’ Retirement Fund continues my commitment to teachers and your retirement security since I entered office as treasurer,” Wooden said in a statement to CEA. A champion for teachers Both the State Teachers’ Retirement Fund and the State Employees’ Retirement Fund have substantial unfunded liabilities, and Treasurer Wooden could have sent the entire surplus to the state employees’ fund—as some were urging. CEA held numerous discussions with the treasurer urging him to use the surplus to strengthen teachers’ retirement. “We extend a big thank-you to Treasurer Wooden for choosing to deposit the state’s surplus into both pension plans,” says Williams. “Wooden decided to pay down the unfunded liability of both the teacher and state employee retirement funds, making a $903.6 million contribution to teachers’ pensions, and $720 million to state employees’ pensions. He kept his promise to teachers with a responsible and wise fiscal decision.” This $903.6 million represents a substantial boost of approximately UNDERSTAND AND PLAN YOUR RETIREMENT Register for a free workshop at cea.org/retirement- workshops.

4.7 percent of the actuarial value of Teachers’ Retirement Fund assets. Surplus dollars from the previous fiscal year must go toward state pensions due to a volatility cap rule the legislature adopted in 2017. This provision requires the state—after the rainy day fund has reached a legal maximum of 15 percent of the General Fund (currently about $3 billion)—to use any surplus dollars to cover underfunded pension obligations. A provision in state statute requires the treasurer to place any surplus into only one state retirement fund, up to 5 percent of the unfunded liability, with any surplus over and above the 5 percent able to be contributed to another pension fund. Because of this year’s unprecedented surplus, Wooden was able to place 5 percent of the unfunded liability—$903.6 million—into the TRF and the rest of the surplus into the state employees’ fund. “I appreciate the hard work you do every day, inside and outside the classroom,” Wooden says. “We have all been through so much these past 18 months, and we have a long way to go. Education has long been a catalyst for change, and I will always support you in preparing the next generation of leaders to make the world a better place. Part of that support includes doing everything we can to strengthen your pension fund.” Wooden has been state treasurer for three years, and in that time, he has made himself known as a friend to teachers and an advocate for their secure retirement. He is committed to responsibly paying down pension

“Our collective activism to safeguard our retirement is yet another example of how we are stronger together.” CEA President Kate Dias

In 2006, thousands of CEA members stood up for their pensions, attending Keep the Promise rallies at the Capitol and around the state. “Our collective activism to safeguard our retirement is yet another example of how we are stronger together,” says CEA President Kate Dias.




days in the classroom are about getting to know students, getting steeped in the curriculum, finding your way around the building, and establishing routines. “There’s so much to learn and do, it can be difficult to strike a good work-life balance and hard to know where to turn for help and advice. Our local associations put tremendous thought and effort into providing that extra help, support, and fellowship.” From Granby to Greenwich, Southington to Stamford, local associations have been hosting meals, outings, and other gatherings where members could come together. In addition to convocations, special events for new teachers have been held everywhere from cafeterias and banquet halls to bowling alleys and minigolf courses. “It’s important for members to meet their leaders at the state level and know that we’re advocating for them at the bargaining table, at the state legislature, before the State Board of Education, and everywhere in between,” says Dias. Having served as presidents of their local education associations, both Dias and DeLancey have years of experience organizing similar events for new teachers. As statewide leaders, they’re committed to meeting with all educators at the local level and hearing firsthand about their triumphs, aspirations, and concerns.

As schools welcomed first-time and returning teachers to their classrooms, CEA President Kate Dias and Vice President Joslyn DeLancey attended convocations, orientations, and new teacher socials to meet some of those who are new to the profession and to let all educators know they are seen, heard, and supported. They also spoke at press conferences, roundtable discussions, and other events aimed at ensuring safe, in-person learning. “This is an especially challenging time to be an educator, and we are here to show all our members— from our newly minted teachers to our veterans and leaders—how much we value and support them,” Dias says. For early-career educators, she adds, those first

IN A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN: MANCHESTER, BRIDGEPORT BOWLING OUTINGS CELEBRATE NEW TEACHERS Being a new teacher can be overwhelming—which is why the Manchester Education Association (MEA) and Bridgeport Education Association (BEA) made a special effort to bring their newest educators together in a way that allowed for team-building and fun. New teachers in both districts traded in their street shoes for bowling lowtops, practiced their backswings and strikes, and were treated to catered meals, raffle prizes, and new teacher survival kits. “These events allow our new teachers to build relationships with their colleagues,” said MEA President Shelley Carlson. “It’s nice to see their nerves go down. It also gives them a chance to meet our executive board.” “I love welcoming our new teachers and seeing them mingle,” said executive board member Jill Kilgus. “None of them really knew each other before today. Giving them a warm welcome before they start is a great way to ease stress and build excitement about teaching.” Katie Tetrault and Sabrina Torres (pictured, next page), among more than 70 new teacher hires in Manchester, are both beginning their careers after student teaching last year during the pandemic. “I’m looking forward to meeting the kids and their families,” said Tetrault, who is teaching kindergarten at Martin Elementary. Torres, who is teaching at Waddell Elementary, noted that in spite of the stress and uncertainty about how the pandemic will affect schools this year, she is eager to be with her students. “I’m excited to get to know them.” “In Bridgeport,” said BEA President Ana Batista, “at our bowling outing and in our schools, we are so proud and excited to welcome these talented men and women into our association and into the most rewarding profession there is.”

BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS: WINDSOR’S NEWEST TEACHERS GET A WARM, HEARTY WELCOME Windsor Education Association leaders welcomed 75 new teachers into the fold with a buffet breakfast and words of encouragement from veteran educators, including CEA President Kate Dias. “We make sure your voices are reflected here in your community and at the state level,” said Dias, “and that you are safe and protected in your jobs.” WEA Secretary Stacey Paley, who helped organize the morning event, said it gave the district’s new teachers an opportunity to connect with each other, prepare for the school year, and meet state and local representatives who will advocate for them in the classroom, at the bargaining table, at the state legislature, and everywhere else teachers’ voices need to be heard. “You have friends in powerful places with CEA, and you are part of a family,” said WEA Membership Chair and Treasurer Melissa Herman. WEA Co-Presidents John Scanlon and Jennifer Delskey noted that their local association is in negotiations this year and will be working on

new contracts for Windsor teachers. “This is not an easy profession,” said Delskey, “and we wanted to gather our newest teachers and let them know they’re valued. Support from their union helps us retain great teachers.”

After the breakfast, Windsor’s newest cohort of educators attended New Teachers and the Law, professional development offered by CEA’s Member Legal Services team to help them navigate legal issues that could arise in the course of their work and understand their rights and responsibilities. K-2 special education teacher Noranita Mohdyusof and school social worker Latisha Balbachan said they looked forward to getting to know their students and appreciated the warm welcome from WEA and CEA. “Meeting my union representatives today makes me feel welcomed into the district,” said fifth-grade humanities teacher Eriya Tateishi. “This get-together is very informative. They’re making sure we as new teachers feel comfortable and ready to go.”

“It was so good to be back in a bowling alley!” CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey posted to social media. “Thanks to the Bridgeport Education Association for inviting me to their new teacher event. It was great to meet some young and motivated teachers and to hang with the BEA. We won’t talk about my second game’s score.” DeLancey (second from left) is shown here with UniServ Rep Eric Marshall, BEA President Ana Batista, and CEA President Kate Dias.




Anyone who’s been new to a school remembers that mix of new- chapter excitement and first-day jitters. The same goes for teachers. That’s why leaders of the Darien Education Association pulled on their bright blue DEA T-shirts, grabbed a stack of Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards to hand out, and invited every new teacher in their district to join them for a round of minigolf and ice cream on the beach. Also giving a warm welcome to Darien’s newest members were CEA President Kate Dias and CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey, who offered words of encouragement and advice. (A 17-year veteran Darien elementary school teacher, DeLancey too wore her DEA tee.) DEA Elementary Vice President Jen Fischer, a third-grade teacher at Ox Ridge School, helped organize the new teacher social. Her goal? “I want everyone who walks into school that first day to see a friendly face.” DEA President Barry Palmer agreed. “We’re here to support our newest teachers and let them know that if they have any questions, they can come to any of us. And once they’re in their classrooms, if they need help, we can point them to the right teachers. DEA and CEA do so much for their members, and having a social like this shows them their union’s work is so much more than what’s in their contract.” “This is still an uncertain time,” added DEA Secondary Vice President Kate Curcio. “We’re in uncharted territory with the pandemic, so extra face time with new members is important to make them feel confident. Support is key as they transition into our schools.” Bringing their ‘A game’ New teachers were grateful for the chance to meet each other and their union leaders.

Tedesco admitted she had a lot to figure out for herself during the pandemic. She hopes the start of the new school year will help her become better acquainted with her colleagues, and the summer social provided a chance to make that happen. Understanding her new caseload and her students’ needs will be top priorities, she said, as schools continue to work through the pandemic. Fourth-grade teacher Kelly Milicia teachers who can support each other and navigate the pandemic as a unit.” The Fairfield Education Association held a similar pre- orientation event for its newest teachers in the main courtyard of Fairfield Warde High School. The outdoor meet-and-greet featured a food truck and ice cream truck, and Dias and DeLancey came out to welcome the association’s newest hires. looks forward to “creating a community of classmates and

Darien Education Association leaders, together with CEA leaders and staff, welcomed Darien’s newest teachers.

Sam Parton, a second-career educator who previously worked within the foster care system, was eager to “dive in and get to know people.” Hired as a social worker at the high school, Parton met several of his school’s new hires at the minigolf event, where they cheered him on for scoring a hole in one. His colleagues, including school counselor Sarah Burzin, echoed Parton’s enthusiasm for connecting with educators not just in their own schools but throughout the district. “I’m excited!” Burzin said. “Why not?” added middle school science teacher Callie Jackson. “No one wants to go in blind, so tonight is a good opportunity to meet others. Plus,” she added with a smile, “I like minigolf.” Also teaming up on the green, music teachers Madi Aug and Elizabeth Ward quickly hit it off. A first-year teacher, Aug is anxious to have her very own classes and get to know fellow educators outside her subject area. Also a recent graduate, Ward found it comforting that DEA reached out and provided a chance to meet her future colleagues face to face.

“After a year of seeing my own professors only virtually, this is a welcome change,” said the UConn alum. High school math teachers Alex Larkin and Gretchen Kmetz, both of whom come to Darien with professional classroom experience, also teamed up and found one of their own—CEA’s Dias, a Manchester High School math teacher—in their midst. Dias stressed the importance of leaning on your union for support and expressed how much value new educators bring to their school communities. “The work you’re doing is so important, and we’re here for you,” she said. Having a ball Larkin and Kmetz, both of whom taught previously

in New York, were anxious to come to Darien. The minigolf social was their first introduction to their new union. Hired midyear last school year, elementary special education teacher Emery

ARE YOU A NEW TEACHER? CEA has a wealth of resources to help you during these first months in the classroom as well as at every stage of your career. Visit cea.org/new- teacher-resources for an in-depth New Teacher Guide that covers everything from managing parent-teacher conferences to acing your own evaluations. YOU’VE GOT THIS. CEA HAS GOT YOU COVERED.

Dias and DeLancey’s school visits took them to cities and towns across Connecticut, including (clockwise from top) East Hartford, Granby, Greenwich, Monroe, Southington, and Manchester.



20 YEARS LATER: EDUCATORS ON TEACHING 9/11 This year marked the 20th

“On that day, we were not equipped to explain why. The causes and long-term effects became clearer over the years. Over the next days, we watched how things were unfolding in New York City, D.C., and elsewhere. There was a general element of fear. No one was sure what was going to happen next.” Bosso remembers that the invasion of Afghanistan came not long after. “It felt like things were happening really fast. Social studies teachers were trying to piece everything together.” Like his colleagues, Berlin High School social studies teacher Michael Sobolewski was in the classroom on 9/11; however, he was a second- grader at Cheshire’s Norton Elementary School. Sobolewski tells his students he doesn’t have many vivid memories from elementary school, but he remembers that day quite clearly. “Another teacher came into our classroom. We had an old TV that hung in the corner, and I remember my teacher turning it to face her. I found out later that this was after the first plane crashed into the tower. She was visibly upset soon after, when she saw the second plane hit.” Sobolewski says that seeing a teacher show a strong emotion was so unusual; that moment has stayed with him. It wasn’t until he got home and talked to his parents that he learned why his teacher had been so distressed. Teaching 9/11 to the students of today Bosso points out that teachers usually aim to take an objective view of historical events and put them in a broader historical and political context. While he does that when teaching 9/11, he also works to personalize the experience. Talking about his own memories from that day, he says, is what resonates most with students. “I’m mindful not to get too into the textbook version of history and focus instead on the national, local, and personal impact,” he says. “History always seems distant and objective, both in time and space. One of the things I’ve always tried to do with 9/11—and everything I teach—is to make connections.” “One of my goals when teaching 9/11 is to

anniversary of the September 11 attacks, prompting educators to reflect on their experiences and consider their significance for students today. While many teachers remember the events of that day in great detail, for today’s students, 9/11 is a moment in history that predates them. CEA members say that makes teaching about the terrorist attacks and helping students understand the impact all the more important. Recalling that day This is LéAnn Murphy Cassidy’s 34th year in the classroom. In 2001, she was teaching sixth grade in Meriden. “We got word that something had hit the first tower,” she says. “TVs in classrooms were new then, and a lot of people were turning them on. I turned ours on—and then right off, because I didn’t want the kids to see.” The Region 15 middle school teacher has two brothers—one who worked in Manhattan’s financial district and another who was supposed to be on a flight out of Boston that day. Fortunately, both were safe, but Cassidy remembers the uncertainty so many families faced that day. A school counselor, she recalls, couldn’t reach his daughter who was attending school in Manhattan that day. He drove as close to the city as possible and walked the rest of the way to make sure she was safe. Berlin High School teacher David Bosso, in his fourth year as a social studies teacher at the time, had been teaching students about the balance of power between nations and how the relative strength of the United States made it unlikely that we would be attacked by another country. “I was thinking in terms of an attack by another nation, a more conventional attack.” When he learned what had happened on 9/11, he says, “There was a moment when I had to collect myself.” With monumental events, he adds, the big question becomes, “Why?”

Michael Sobolewski and David Bosso are colleagues in the social studies department at Berlin High School. On September 11, 2001, Bosso was a fourth- year teacher; Sobolweski was a second-grade student.

connecting 9/11 to conflicts in the Middle East and the war on terror makes that day more relevant to students. “That clicks with them, since that has been their whole lives—it’s grounded in a reality they can hold on to.” Cassidy, now a social studies teacher in Middlebury, began to use poetry and carefully selected images to teach 9/11 not long after the attacks. One image is a shoe lying in the ashes, and she encourages students to make connections to the human impact of the event. Now that she has students who were born almost a decade after the attacks, she also includes a piece to explain the events of the day. This year she used part of a video from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum that features first-person accounts from survivors and the children of people who perished. A 9/11 first responder who is featured in the video stresses the need to find joy and have compassion for others. 9/11 has many history lessons to teach, but Cassidy believes that in the middle of the pandemic we most need to focus on the social emotional lessons students can learn from the resilience of survivors and the way the country came together in the wake of the attacks.

“How do we continue to be our best selves and see the good in the world?” she asks. “Given where we are as a society and the world right now, we need to focus on what brings us together and how we can help one another.” Cassidy worked for many years with a paraeducator who lost three family members on a plane that day. “She emails me every year to ask if I’m going to do the poetry lesson,” she says. The woman stresses to Cassidy that children need to understand 9/11 and its human impact. “We learn from the past to make a better future,” Cassidy says. “We look at a horrible experience and think about how we can then teach people to be better, kinder human beings.” Bosso notes that most Connecticut educators, not just social studies teachers, find ways to discuss 9/11 and share their experiences with students. “It’s something teachers discuss and want students to learn about.” “At the end of the day, it’s a part of our history,” says Cassidy. “For some people, it’s part of their trauma. And for everyone, it’s a piece of our resilience as a nation. We can’t ever forget.”

help students think about it in ways they haven’t before,” Sobolewski adds. He finds students have often heard facts or know about the timeline of the day, but he wants them to have a new perspective. This year he showed students a virtual reality documentary that shares the story of 9/11 survivor Genelle Guzman- McMillan—the last person to be rescued from Ground Zero after spending 27 hours trapped under the rubble. The VR experience recreates New York to show what the city looked like before 9/11. He also finds that


You can help alleviate the growing problem of childhood hunger by holding a Working Together to Feed Families food drive in your local union. CEA will provide you with publicity materials and other information you need to run a successful food drive. Contact joez@cea.org or brendanm@cea.org for information.

LéAnn Murphy Cassidy, a teacher at Memorial Middle School in Region 15, goes over an assignment with a student. She uses poetry and images to encourage students to make connections to the human impact of 9/11.



CEA’S PUSH FOR INDOOR AIR QUALITY IN SCHOOLS INTENSIFIES Back-to-school survey finds improvements not being implemented in most schools

“CEA has consistently advocated for all the state’s public schools to have high-quality cooling, heating, and air filtration systems to enhance the health and academic performance of students in our schools and the safety of all the adults who work there,” CEA Executive Director Donald Williams told reporters at a press conference outside Manchester High School earlier this school year, announcing results of CEA’s Back-to-School Survey. In a key finding, virtually all Connecticut teachers surveyed (97 percent) identified school air quality as a top safety priority and concern, but barely over a quarter (27 percent) said that air quality issues were actually being addressed at their schools. Improving indoor air quality in schools has been a major priority for CEA, prompting efforts to establish statutory minimum and maximum temperatures and humidity levels in schools, a pilot program to track and publicize excessive classroom temperatures, demands for building remediation and protection for those harmed by poor indoor air quality, and more. CEA’s campaign to improve air quality in schools got a big boost recently as other unions and stakeholder groups joined the state’s largest teachers’ union for a news conference calling on the state to be a funding partner in improving school HVAC systems. “This was important before the pandemic,” said Williams, “and CEA has promoted legislation at the State Capitol to fix the air quality and ventilation problems in every school, because we know that the incidence of childhood asthma has been on the rise for years. We see it especially in underserved districts, in high-poverty districts. There is a real equity issue as to the districts that can afford to put air conditioning in all of their schools and those that cannot.” “If we fail to act, we fail not just the educators in our buildings, but also the students,” said CEA President Kate Dias. “We’re asking that politicians stand up and take care of our students, teachers, and communities.” Setting standards A math teacher at Manchester High School, Dias recalls temperatures in her

second-floor math classroom rising to 95°F in the warmer months, with 70 percent humidity. “It’s not only incredibly uncomfortable but also not conducive to learning.” During the pandemic, she adds, poor air circulation meant teachers were forced to leave windows open on freezing winter days. “It’s unreasonable. Nobody would want to work under those conditions.” “Your teachers’ working conditions are your students’ learning conditions,” CEA Vice President Joslyn DeLancey explained. “We need to look at the infrastructure of our buildings and the indoor air quality. We need to look at the data and make sure that our teachers are being supported. As a state, we have to take the time to care for our teachers and our schools, because only when we have well-supported teachers will we be able to give the best to our kids.” Williams pointed out that while regulations governing minimum and maximum temperatures and humidity levels exist for animals in pet stores (no colder than 65°F and no warmer than 78°F), those same protections are not in place for students and teachers in school buildings. Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents—a coalition member that has joined CEA’s campaign to improve schools’ indoor air quality—spent most of her career in Bridgeport, including three years as interim superintendent. She said she frequently had to send kids home after a half-day in school because of extreme heat in school buildings. “The heat in the buildings was so high that I deemed it to be unsafe for our children. And honestly, it was a difficult thing to make that decision midway through the day. Our children could ill afford to lose that learning time in school, but that was real life. Calling parents and saying, ‘Come pick up your children,’ was a thing that happened often in the month of June, and it’s unacceptable.” More recently, sweltering classrooms have forced the closure of several buildings already this school year, cutting into precious learning time just as schools attempt to

L-R: CEA Executive Director Donald Williams, President Kate Dias, and Vice President Joslyn DeLancey hold a press conference outside Manchester High School to share findings from CEA’s Back-to-School Survey.


they stop working. “Here in Manchester,” said Dias, “the community at large voted to contribute and really make a solid commitment to school facilities. We’re looking for that to be a theme across the state, because we see a disconnect between what is a priority—a real, considerable working condition—and whether or not people feel it’s being responded to. That really spoke to us in CEA’s survey. Our teachers are tracking far ahead of the community at large in terms of vaccination rates, and they are excited to be back to school— but also apprehensive.” Wealthier towns are more likely to be able to make investments and find ways to update their schools’ ventilations systems, she added, which quickly creates an equity issue. “You have the haves and have nots lining up across the state. Extreme heat and poor air quality are creating additional barriers to learning that disproportionately affect populations that don’t need more barriers.” “The stars are aligned for legislators and the governor to make a commitment right now,” said Williams, urging districts to make use of federal funding and the state to broaden its criteria for when schools can use bond funding. “Few things are as important as the quality of air in our schools.”

rebound from pandemic closures. Among the many towns where schools had to close due to high heat were Canterbury, East Hartford, Killingly, Monroe, New Milford, Scotland, Thompson, Watertown, Winchester, Windham, Winsted, and Wolcott. In addition, mold issues have been identified in nearly a dozen school districts—the latest among them, Cheshire and Derby. Time to invest For years, a lack of funding has been the excuse not to upgrade HVAC systems or install air conditioning in schools. “Connecticut has received $1.1 billion in federal aid to assist with enhancement and capital improvement in education,” said Williams. “That’s spot-on in terms of upgrading air quality systems and providing air conditioning where it doesn’t exist.” In addition to federal aid, he added, towns and cities also need assistance from the state. The state makes annual bond funding available to towns for school construction and repairs but has so far not permitted HVAC updates to be considered for bond funding. Proponents of HVAC updates have pointed out that outdated air quality systems should be treated the same way as roofs and windows that need replacing. The state has determined that school roofs and windows have an “end of life” that requires replacement, but HVAC systems are often updated only once


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