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Bridgeport brings hope to new school year

August 27, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — The 2018-19 school year was proclaimed a year of hope, promise and advocacy by Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson in a welcome back video message delivered to 2.800 staff members on Monday.

“While over the past school year we endured our share of fiscal challenges, we remain steadfast to the true purpose of our mission and vision of a culturally responsive, high performing learning environment,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s upbeat message, in which she accentuated the positive — slightly higher test scores, attendance records and graduation rates — came on the first day back for staff.

School starts on a half day session for all students on Thursday, August 30.

This was the first time in several years the district has delivered a virtual convocation address. The last time a live-streamed message was attempted it lacked audio in some schools, froze in others, and in some places just didn’t work. For the past several years convocations moved to the Arena at Harbor Yard which was large enough to get all district employees together and gave school staff a chance to sit together wearing respective school colors. But the show of unity became too expensive and also posed a logistical challenge as staff rushed back to their respective schools.

This year, the welcome message was prerecorded from the Claytor Magnet School library and streamed without technical difficulties on YouTube.

During it, Johnson said the district enters the school year with a balanced budget and she pledged to continue efforts to train staff and students in the area of social, emotional intelligence and restorative justice practices.

“None of this would be possible without or dynamic teachers,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s comments were followed by “Welcome Backs’ from School Board Chairman John Weldon, presidents of both the teachers and school administrator’s union, and even a cameo by Mayor Joseph P. Ganim.

“Thank you for your commitment and hard work,” Ganim said during his segment. “It’s one more year and it starts off hopefully with smiles ... little by little, step by step we are working in partnership to make this the best school district we can.”

Weldon reminded staff he was a product of the city school system and told them the new year starts as a new chapter for Central High School — which starts the year completely renovated — for Harding, which is in a brand new building — and for Bassick which is under new leadership.

“I have every confidence this will be the year Bassick turns itself around,” Weldon said.

Bridgeport Education Association President Gary Peluchette reminded the district’s 1,564 teachers that 40 years ago, district teachers started the new school year by voting to go on strike. In groups they were sent before a judge, arrested and sent to jail.

The strike led to not only better wages, but collective bargaining, smaller class sizes.

Despite present day challenges, Peluchette said the best thing teachers can do is stick together.

“It’s that simple,” Peluchette said.

Victor Black, a principal at Fairchild Wheeler and president of the district’s administrators union said budget cuts have reduced district leadership to 82 members for a student body of 21,000 students.

“The challenge is great but we are resourceful,” he said.

To hear the full convocation, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLR7T9acFaQ

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