Stamford Advocate

Tutoring program falls short again

Deadlocked 4-4 school board vote results in rejection of $574K contract

- By Ignacio Laguarda

STAMFORD — A Board of Education vote Tuesday night has wiped out a math tutoring class for about 150 Stamford high school students scheduled for the upcoming school year.

Members of the Stamford education board were deadlocked in a 4-4 vote resulting in the rejection of a $574,000 contract with nonprofit Stamford Public Education Foundation to provide the course to struggling high school students.

Member Jackie Heftman was not present. Superinten­dent Tamu Lucero questioned the timing of the vote.

“School starts on Monday,” she said. “These students are expected to be in these classes with support systems ... and now we’re scrambling a few days before school starts to get the supports these students need.”

The tutoring program was created about seven

years ago to help students who are struggling pass the critical Algebra I course. The SPEF service has been offered to lowperform­ing students at Stamford High School in years past, but the contract would have expanded it to Westhill High School as well.

The contract for the program had been discussed previously, and did not garner enough votes to pass late last month, when member Andy George was absent.

It was brought back for a vote on the board’s Teaching and Learning Committee earlier this month, and passed with three votes in favor from George, Jackie Heftman and board president Jennienne Burke, and two abstention­s from Jackie Pioli and Becky Hamman. That brought it back to the full board Tuesday night, where it failed to pass yet again.

Pioli, Hamman, Fritz Chery and Mike

Altamura voted against the contract. In favor were George, Burke, Dan Dauplaise and Nicola Tarzia.

It’s unclear exactly what will happen to the schedules of students enrolled in the tutor course with so few days left before the start of the new school year.

George speculated that the class could be converted to a study hall instead, but Lucero said she would confer with the high school principals to come up with an alternativ­e.

Michael Fernandes, associate superinten­dent for interventi­on and student interventi­on, said on Wednesday that the district is looking for solutions.

“We’re trying to address the impact,” he said. “We’re certainly going to try to figure out a way to provide academic supports.”

At the Tuesday meeting, Pioli said she voted against the program because, she said, the tutors who provide the service are not trained teachers nor are they certified specialist­s. Students in the SPEF tutoring program are deemed “Tier III,” meaning they require the most intensive support,

often from a scientific research-based interventi­on specialist, or SRBI.

Pioli referenced state guidelines that call for specialist­s or trained teachers to work with Tier III students. Since the tutors do not qualify as either, Pioli questioned the legitimacy of the program.

On Wednesday, Fernandes said state officials are well aware of the SPEF program and endorse it.

“They support this program, and actually, state and (federal officials) have recommende­d this model as a preferred model for interventi­on for students,” he said.

The SPEF tutoring is meant to target students who score lowest on middle school math metrics and to provide free support for many families who cannot afford it.

Students in the tutoring program in the 2018-19 school year performed better than all other students on class tests by a difference of about 10 points, administra­tors said. The passing rate for the tutored students in 2018-19, according to a document prepared by the school district, was 82 percent. In comparison, about 72 percent of students not in the program passed the course that year.

The numbers were similar for the final exam, where 77 percent of the tutored students passed the Algebra I final test, compared with 68 percent of the general population of the school.

On top of that, students surveyed about their experience in the tutoring class were overwhelmi­ngly positive about it, with 100 percent saying they felt the tutors cared about them.

Pioli previously questioned the effectiven­ess of the program. Data from the last year showed more than 50 percent of the students in the program still scored a D or worse on their year-end grades.

Fernandes said last year results do not paint an accurate picture because of the challenges presented by COVID-19.

By Wednesday afternoon, a special meeting of the board was posted online and is scheduled for Thursday. Among the items on the agenda is the SPEF contract.

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