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Hartford Courant-Teachers Group Wants End to Major Standardized Testing

By Gregory Hladky

HARTFORD – Connecticut’s largest teachers organization is calling for the elimination of major standardized testing, which the state had planned to use as part of teacher and school performance evaluation. The organization wants to replace it with more flexible “progress testing.”

Officials of the Connecticut Education Association said Monday they commissioned a survey that shows broad public support for placing more emphasis on classroom learning and less on time-consuming standardized tests.

The CEA, which has about 43,000 members, is urging the General Assembly to reform standardized testing. The group is launching a two-week, $250,000 TV ad campaign to encourage public support.

“Over-testing has overtaken our schools,” said CEA President Sheila Cohen, a teacher in Orange. “Over-testing is overwhelming our students.” Cohen said schools and teachers shouldn’t be evaluated simply on how students perform on “high stakes” standardized tests.

Cohen said her organization’s proposal is to phase out the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium standardized testing program that is intended to measure student, teacher and school performance.

“Many of the issues raised [by the CEA proposal] are based on steps the state is already taking,” said Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the State Board of Education. Donnelly said those include “reducing burdensome testing, developing holistic criteria to improve learning and develop teachers.”

“It’s important to remember these are federally mandated exams,” Donnelly added. “Without a singular, objective statewide assessment, parents, educators and policymakers would be unable to compare performance of students and specific underserved groups of students across the state.”

The amount of time Connecticut students spend on preparing for and taking standardized tests has come in for criticism from educators, parents and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. But the state’s new testing program also has its defenders.

Jeffrey Villar is executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, a nonprofit organization backed by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and funded in part by Connecticut corporations, which has a goal of closing the achievement gap between students in wealthier suburban schools and kids in poor urban districts. Villar said the proposal to eliminate the current testing “fails to acknowledge the quality of the standardized testing.” He said the current test has been proven “to be accurate and reliable.”

Villar said the CEA’s proposal is clearly aimed at protecting teachers. “The CEA exists for the purpose of protecting its members,” Villar said.

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Hartford Courant-Malloy Proposes Significant Cuts for Higher Education, Flat Funding for Local School Districts

By Kathy Megan

He’s often said that education is a top priority, but now some advocates are saying that the swipes Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made at higher education funding and the continued flat funding for schools districts could be a serious setback.

University of Connecticut officials said that Malloy’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 would leave them $40 million short of what they need to operate in the budget year that starts July 1. Similarly, the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system would be $38 million short of its target.

Higher education administrators said that such reductions would require significant cuts and could lead to greater increases in tuition than planned.

“While we don’t yet know its full impact, this level of spending reduction will almost certainly require a significant increase in student tuition and changes to how [Connecticut State Colleges & Universities] conducts its operations,” said Gregory Gray, president of the CSCU system.

That said, Gray emphasized that he would try to keep the cuts “as far away from the students and the instructional process as possible.” But he added, “There’s a line there. We are getting very close to that line where we simply cannot operate in the way that we need to operate.”

A statement from University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst said that “managing a reduction of that size will necessitate deep and significant cuts throughout the university.”

On the budget proposal for primary and secondary school education, legislators say they were pleased that Malloy did not cut funding in the state’s education cost-sharing system, but they raised questions about the additional funding targeted for charter and magnet schools.

According to Malloy’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year, $36 million more would be allotted for 1,800 more seats in magnet schools and an additional $12 million would go for 1,250 new charter school seats. In addition, $7.9 million in fiscal year 2017 would go for an additional 612 charter seats.

The budget also includes a $4.7 million reduction in funding for low-performing schools targeted for additional resources through the Commissioner’s Network.

‘Doesn’t Quite Add Up’

Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, and co-chairman of the legislature’s education committee, said he was concerned that the budget has “significant increases for magnet schools and charters, but at the same time talks about level funding [in Education Cost Sharing] and reducing dollars for the Commissioner’s Network, which includes the state’s neediest schools. All of that doesn’t quite add up to me.”

Fleischmann said he would have to examine the budget in greater detail. “To the extent that we find additional dollars for education, it seems to me those dollars should be going to ECS first and foremost.”

Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, the co-chairwoman of the education committee, said: “It’s terrific that there aren’t cuts [in ECS funding], but on the other hand, to see the numbers increase so dramatically for non-traditional schools, but leave the schools where the majority of our kids are without additional funding is of concern to me.”

Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, said he was concerned that progress made by the state’s low-performing 30 Alliance Districts — also targeted for extra resources under the Malloy administration — would slide backward without an increase to reflect the districts’ increase in costs.

“The position I would take is that flat funding for the Alliance Districts represents between 2 [percent] and 3 percent in cuts because of the increase in costs they experience year over year,” Villar said.

He said the budget also includes a $6.7 million cut to struggling school districts to cover the cost of extended day programs and summer school to help raise achievement.

Villar said that Malloy’s budget does include bright spots, such as his call for full-day kindergarten by the fall of 2017. However, he said, “[W]e are disappointed that the [proposed budget] does not seem to make education a top priority in 2015.”Read More »

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–Education Remains Best Investment for Connecticut’s Future

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
EMAIL: Nicki.Perkins@ctedreform.org
PHONE: 203-506-5799

CCER: Education Remains Best Investment for Connecticut’s Future

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, February 18, 2015, Governor Malloy delivered his biennial budget address. In response, Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), made the following statement:

“We are pleased that the Governor’s proposal prioritizes capital investments in the Alliance Districts, emphasizes the importance of full-day Kindergarten, and continues state funding for preschool. Investing early will save us money in the long run by setting students up for success.

“However, we should also be strategically investing now in programs that bring the best and brightest in the teaching profession to the lowest-performing districts. For example, if we want every classroom to have an exceptional teacher, we need to invest in incentives that will attract and retain them in the neediest public schools.

“The proposed budget also outlines a hiring freeze. We recognize that this is an important measure because of the impending budget deficit. However, we need to ensure that the next Commissioner of Education is able to staff the State Department of Education with enough capacity to provide high-quality technical support to our neediest districts, and hold them accountable for results. We are concerned that a hiring freeze may impede an incoming Commissioner’s ability to effectively narrow the achievement gap.

“Narrowing Connecticut’s widest-in-the-nation achievement gap is of incredible moral importance, but it is also an economic imperative for this state. We need to continue our commitment to a long-term investment in improving outcomes for our students if we want to ensure Connecticut’s economic viability.”

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About the Connecticut Council for Education Reform

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER)–a statewide, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) not- for-profit organization–works to close the achievement gap and raise academic outcomes for all students in Connecticut. The achievement gap is the disparity in academic achievement between children from low-income families and children of color, and their peers. We advocate for state policies and local practices that research shows have the best chance of raising achievement for high-need student populations.

For more information on CCER, go to www.ctedreform.org

NBC Troubleshooters-Parents Unable to Opt Kids Out of State Testing

By Christiane Cordero

 

Access the original story here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–CCER Congratulates Crosby on Approval of Turnaround Plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
EMAIL: Nicki.Perkins@ctedreform.org
PHONE: 203-506-5799

CCER Congratulates Crosby on Approval of Turnaround Plan

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, February 4th, the Connecticut State Board of Education (SBOE) approved a turnaround plan for Crosby High School in Waterbury. Crosby joined the second cohort of Commissioner’s Network Schools in 2013. These schools gain greater school-level flexibility and autonomy in exchange for additional state-level oversight, including the need to have their turnaround plans approved by the SBOE. In response to the SBOE’s approval of Crosby’s plan, CCER Executive Director Jeffrey Villar made the following statement:

“CCER congratulates both the Waterbury Board of Education and the Turnaround Office of the State Department of Education on getting this plan approved. They took a hard, honest look at the data, and developed a realistic school turnaround plan for Crosby High School.

“Turning around a school with a long history of low performance is very difficult work. I am pleased that the proposed plan seeks to address the needs of diverse learners; recognizes the need for a rigorous and engaging curriculum; promotes a positive school climate; and maintains a focus on parental engagement.

“I also applaud the State Board of Education for requiring the plan to focus on chronic absenteeism. Absenteeism is a fundamental problem in many low-performing schools, and any investment in school improvement is wasted if we cannot ensure that students are attending in the first place.

“It’s vitally important to the turnaround process that approvals of these plans not become merely a rubber stamp. By making sure that the Crosby plan was sound, the State Board of Education has demonstrated that it takes this process and this intervention framework very seriously. Now that this plan has been approved, it will be equally important for Crosby, the State Board of Education, and the State Department of Education to hold each other responsible for showing that real, measurable progress is being made. Connecticut’s students deserve nothing less.”

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About the Connecticut Council for Education Reform

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER)–a statewide, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) not- for-profit organization–works to close the achievement gap and raise academic outcomes for all students in Connecticut. The achievement gap is the disparity in academic achievement between children from low-income families and children of color, and their peers. We advocate for state policies and local practices that research shows have the best chance of raising achievement for high-need student populations.

For more information on CCER, go to www.ctedreform.org

Hartford Courant-Legislators Likely to Consider Education Proposals on Charters, Magnets, Uconn Foundation

By Kathy Megan

Legislators say that improving the oversight of charter schools and maintaining the momentum of education reform during a tight budget year are among the key education concerns likely to be addressed this session.

Other topics that have been raised by legislators and by advocates for education include the financial sustainability of magnet schools; the development of incentives to attract teachers to struggling districts; and the need to improve bilingual education.

Among bills already filed, one would require more transparency for the UConn Foundation, and another reflects the frustration of at least one legislator — calling for the elimination of the state Board of Regents for Higher Education.

Here is a look at what various legislators educators and advocates have to say on these issues.Read More »

Big 6 Statement of Principles and Policy Recommendations

INTRODUCTION

Every student in Connecticut, regardless of their zip code, deserves a world-class education. That is the clear message and ongoing commitment of a partnership formed by our organizations, which represent six of the State’s leading education and business groups.[1]

Although our groups represent different stakeholders and perspectives, including school boards, superintendents, principals, advocates, and the business and civic community, we continue to be united in a desire to see systemic change come to our State’s public schools. A shared commitment and resources to support implementation of the reforms that were passed in PA 12-116 will be essential in determining whether these changes bring about true transformation or simply more of the status quo. Further systemic improvement is needed if we are to ensure that every child in our State has access to a great public education.

The decisions our State’s leaders make in the upcoming months will be particularly important to maintaining momentum. Connecticut’s fiscal challenges will force tough conversations and choices about priorities for State spending. Given the importance of education to our State’s economic and civic survival, we must renew our commitment to students in the State. Connecticut has the potential to dramatically transform its public school system, but only with ongoing leadership and commitment from all of us who are working to achieve this goal.

In this spirit, our group is dedicated to working together on the following issues and core principles in 2015 to strengthen public education and equip Connecticut’s students to live full and productive lives. As the legislative session gets underway we will release more specific recommendations.

We remain dedicated to moving these principles forward. 

TEACHER AND PRINCIPAL EVALUATION AND SUPPORT

We know from research that teachers and principals are the most important school-based factors for driving student achievement. Excellent teachers transform children’s lives. Similarly, a strong principal provides invaluable support, guidance, and leadership in establishing a positive school culture and coaching teachers to become more effective at their classroom practice.=

Ongoing and effective evaluations are an essential tool to help both teachers and principals identify their strengths and areas of growth. Across the country and in Connecticut, the strongest evaluation systems are based on multiple measures, including student achievement, and incorporate professional development and support so that these individuals are better equipped to teach and lead. To ensure that these evaluations lead to real change, rather than mere compliance, we must create local and State capacity for these evaluations to be fully implemented in every school across the State.

We recommend the following:

  • Student achievement growth, measured in multiple ways, remain an essential component in both the evaluations of teachers and principals.
  • Teachers receive quality professional development closely linked to evaluations so that they can make true strides and improvement where it is needed most.
  • School and district leaders receive ongoing training and support, given their central role in observing and evaluating the educators on their staff. The State prioritizes funding to support an effective implementation schedule to fully implement the teacher and principal evaluation tools. 

EDUCATOR PREPARATION AND CERTIFICATION 

Every Connecticut student deserves to be taught by an effective educator. The first step in building a corps of strong teachers begins with improving the quality of the State’s teacher preparation programs.

More work remains to ensure that prospective teachers are indeed graduating from university training programs with full mastery of content and skills, rather than simply fulfilling seat time (credit) requirements for their coursework. Higher education must remain an active partner in evaluating and improving the rigor of Connecticut’s new teacher corps.

We recommend the following:

  • The accreditation of teacher education programs include measures that directly focus on teacher effectiveness, such as the results of teacher evaluations and student achievement growth.
  • The State makes the results of the preparation programs’ evaluations available to the public.
  • Encourage the growth of non-traditional educator training programs, such as those run by districts or non-profits. These could bring quality options and flexibility to the system and more closely match the needs of schools and students.
  • All training programs require a significant amount of clinical experience in a diverse set of demographic situations.
  • Revise teacher licensing to base it on demonstrated competency and results in the classroom during the clinical experience.

STUDENT-CENTERED LEARNING 

If we want to close our achievement gaps and ensure that all of our students are prepared to succeed in a globally competitive marketplace, we must move away from the traditional “one size fits all” models of schooling. We need to flip the current philosophy of measuring student learning by time on task (“seat time”) to one that sees time as a flexible element and measures learning based on content mastery. In addition, we must provide teachers with the skills and tools needed to personalize student learning and provide each student the greatest opportunity for success, consistent with their primary learning style.

This new system will require us to use technology in innovative ways and to rethink how we use time, allocate resources, and assign both staff and students. It will also mean providing students and families with a variety of public schooling options based on students’ unique learning needs. 

A more student-centered learning environment allows for different areas of focus and learning styles, both of which require schools and districts to think differently about how they structure and allocate their resources. Public school choice is one strategy that can help create a learning experience closely tailored to each student’s needs.

We recommend the following:

  • The State removes statutory and regulatory barriers that prevent schools and districts from reforming the relationship between time and learning. It is overly cumbersome to expect districts to come to the legislature for every exemption and change needed.
  • The State provides increased flexibility and pilot initiatives to allow schools and districts to award credit and degrees for students who can demonstrate content mastery rather than fulfilling Carnegie Units or seat time.
  • The State creates incentives for districts to reevaluate contracts and restructure them to focus on student learning needs.
  • We believe that state law on binding arbitration must be amended so that students’ learning needs are the primary factor guiding the binding arbitration process.
  • The State expands innovative public school options to address the learning needs of every student. 

SCHOOL FINANCE

The challenging budget situation facing Connecticut in the upcoming years provides an important opportunity to consider how education dollars can be spent more strategically and effectively. We strongly believe that the way Connecticut currently funds its public schools is flawed and needs to be fixed. The ECS formula is a challenge to work with from both the educational and municipal perspective.

We encourage State and district leaders to use our scarce education dollars in the most efficient and effective ways possible.

We recommend the following:

  • Utilize a funding formula that is transparent and equitable for students and can be consistently followed by the state to help enable schools and districts to provide every child with an excellent education.
  • Funding should include students across all schools, including magnet and charter schools. Connecticut needs an education funding system that fairly funds students at both traditional and nontraditional schools.
  • In light of the State’s challenging fiscal situation, we strongly advocate that the State make public school funding a top priority and support the successful implementation of the new reforms.

SCHOOL AND DISTRICT ACCOUNTABILITY

All schools and districts in the State must be held to high standards to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and career. Connecticut needs to improve its accountability system to make sure that all children get a high-quality education.

Connecticut’s current school and district accountability system is based solely on student achievement test scores. Student achievement growth is critical, and should be the primary factor, but should be considered along with several important criteria for determining whether a school or district is serving children well.

As the State move towards full implementation of the new Smarter Balanced assessments (SBAC), Connecticut must adopt a rigorous and holistic framework for accountability that prioritizes student achievement growth and uses multiple measures to determine whether schools and districts are making progress.

We recommend the following:

  • The State must develop a clear definition of college- and career- readiness. This definition must clearly articulate the knowledge, skills, and character traits students should master in order to achieve success in life.
  • The State must then work in partnership with districts to develop a rigorous and holistic framework for accountability that tracks the progress of district and school improvement on an annual basis. The accountability framework should include measures of student achievement growth as the primary factor, along with other critical variables, such as student attendance and school climate.
  • An improved accountability system must be paired with increased flexibility for schools and districts that are improving and serving all groups of students well. School and district leaders that are performing at high levels must be empowered to make good decisions to meet students’ needs at the local level.
  • The public must have timely access to data about how schools and districts are performing. Parents and communities should have easy-to-understand information about the quality of their schools.

RAPIDLY IMPROVE LOW-PERFORMING SCHOOLS AND DISTRICTS

Many students across Connecticut are getting a great public education; however, there are still too many students that attend consistently underperforming schools. Dramatic improvement is needed; the students in these schools shouldn’t have to wait any longer for a high-quality education. 

Both the Alliance District program and the Commissioner’s Network have the potential to dramatically boost student achievement and transform schools, but only if all of the parties involved are equally committed to implementing dramatic change and if funding for these efforts remains intact.

We recommend the following:

  • The State must ensure sufficient capacity to intervene in the lowest performing districts and schools and to provide school districts with support to set and implement effective and transformative improvement plans. The State Department of Education needs additional internal capacity so that it can serve as a strong partner in the development of effective turnaround plans, which are implemented with the best teachers, leaders, and staff in place.
  • Provide schools in the Commissioner’s Network with sufficient flexibility to make effective and strategic decisions about hiring, teaching assignments, time, instruction, and resource allocation.
  • The State should partner with and support Alliance Districts so that there is sufficient urgency, resources, and capacity to spark bold transformation. Additional funds should go to those that are making strong improvements and seeing results.

EARLY CHILDHOOD 

Preparation for the ultimate goals of high school graduation and college and career readiness begins in the earliest grades where the foundations of learning are set. Unfortunately, many students enter preschool and kindergarten already behind their peers in literacy and core skills. Quality early childhood experiences are critical for all students in the State, and they can especially have a meaningful impact for our highest-need students.

We are committed to ensuring that all children have access to programming—beginning at age three—that is developmentally appropriate and staffed by highly effective teachers. The recent expansion of early childhood slots is an important step in the right direction.

We recommend the following:

  • The State continues to strategically target early childhood programs and expanded learning opportunities so that the children who need them benefit most.
  • Continue to improve teacher quality in early childhood programs as well as ensure that these programs are rigorous and standards-based.
  • Ensure that parents have access to clear and accurate information about the quality of early childhood programs.

 


[1] Our partnership includes the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE), the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS), the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), and the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER).

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE–CCER’s Progress Report: We Must Do More In 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
EMAIL: Nicki.Perkins@ctedreform.org
PHONE: 203-506-5799

 

CCER’s Progress Report: We Must Do More In 2015

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, December 11th, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) released its 2014 Policy Progress Report. The report uses a rating system to track the state’s progress in effecting the changes needed to narrow Connecticut’s widest-in-the-nation achievement gap and raise academic outcomes for all children.

According to Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of CCER, “Last year’s report charted the tremendous progress that had been made over the last few years. But this year’s report shows that progress has slowed. The complex and difficult work of transforming Connecticut’s schools and narrowing the achievement gap requires our firm resolve and continued commitment to improving student achievement. CCER stands ready to assist our school districts as they engage in this important work.”

Some of the findings in the report are that Connecticut should:

  • Intervene earlier, as soon as students start falling behind;
  • Broaden its leadership pool by developing Alternate Routes to Certification;
  • Better prepare new teachers, especially to work with low-income students;
  • Do more to reward and retain effective teachers;
  • Create a more transparent and fair funding system for the state;
  • Give the School Turnaround Office more autonomy and hold it more accountable; and
  • Develop a longitudinal data system to drive informed decision-making.

To view the full report and rubrics, click here.

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About the Connecticut Council for Education Reform

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER)–a statewide, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) not- for-profit organization–works to close the achievement gap and raise academic outcomes for all students in Connecticut. The achievement gap is the disparity in academic achievement between children from low-income families and children of color, and their peers. We advocate for state policies and local practices that research shows have the best chance of raising achievement for high-need student populations.

For more information on CCER, go to www.ctedreform.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: At CCER Event, Districts and Parents Plan Communications on Common Core

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
EMAIL: Nicki.Perkins@ctedreform.org
PHONE: 203-506-5799

event

At CCER Event, Districts and Parents Plan Communications on Common Core 

New Haven, Connecticut – On Tuesday, October 21st, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) hosted an event designed to help leaders of schools and the PTA work together on communications about the Common Core State Standards. The event was co-sponsored by the CT PTA, CAPSS, CABE, CAS, and ConnCAN.

There were over 120 attendees, representing parents and educators from over 25 Connecticut districts, the Connecticut State Department of Education, and policy and thought leaders. A keynote address by Otha Thornton, President of the National PTA, addressed the distinctions between standards and curricula, as well as the importance of common standards between states in our increasingly mobile economy. A panel—comprised of CAPSS Executive Director Joseph Cirasuolo, Branford Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez, Meriden teachers Marjorie Eager and Angela Fragoso, and Chief Academic Officer for the CT SDE Dianna Roberge-Wentzell—engaged the audience in an open and honest dialogue about the practical realities of implementation. Then, the event concluded with an exciting segment on communications strategies, led by KNOWN Branding’s Jeff Turner.

Reflecting on the event, CCER Executive Director Jeffrey Villar said, “The Common Core State Standards are an important part of our nation’s future. This event was designed as an opportunity to bring district, school, and PTA leaders together so that we can make sure we get implementation done properly, and so that we can start thinking about how to better include parents and communities in that work. I think this venue was a great first step in that collaborative effort. After all, one of the main purposes of Common Core is really to assure families that the time students spend in school will be time well spent on preparing them to succeed in the future.”

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About the Connecticut Council for Education Reform

The Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER)–a statewide, non-partisan, 501(c)(3) not- for-profit organization–works to close the achievement gap and raise academic outcomes for all students in Connecticut. The achievement gap is the disparity in academic achievement between children from low-income families and children of color, and their peers. We advocate for state policies and local practices that research shows have the best chance of raising achievement for high-need student populations.

For more information on CCER, go to www.ctedreform.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: CCER Chooses Branford Public Schools as Winner of Common Core Contest

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: Nicki Perkins
EMAIL: Nicki.Perkins@ctedreform.org
PHONE: 203-506-5799

Branford

CCER Chooses Branford Public Schools as Winner  of Common Core Contest

New Haven, Connecticut – Today, September 12, 2014, the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER) announced that Branford Public Schools has won CCER’s Common Core Communications Contest. The contest was designed to showcase the creative and effective methods that districts and schools have used to communicate with parents about the Common Core. Branford is one of only three winners.Read More »