Community of Bridgeport, Conn., comes together to elect pro-education candidates


by Colleen Flaherty

In a stunning upset of so-called education “reformers,” three candidates backed by parents and educators won in a Board of Education primary election in Bridgeport, Conn., all thanks to grassroots community engagement.

Katie Smuckler, a fifth grade teacher in Bridgeport, worked tirelessly with fellow educators and parents to spread awareness of the election and the pro-education candidates they were supporting.

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“It’s so important to get involved because children are being affected by the decisions made by the Board of Education,” said Smuckler. “If the parents want good education practices, we need [board] members who want what’s best for students instead of members with corporate ties.”

The winning candidates, Andre Baker, Howard Gardner and David Hennessey, all won handily over their opponents, all of whom have ties to the current administration that is pushing unproven reform and relying more on outside influence instead of community input.

Fifth grade teacher and activist Katie Smuckler.

“The parents knew something was wrong,” said Smuckler. “There are so many new initiatives coming at us. It’s too many for the teachers to implement at one time. Students aren’t getting the right education because we have nonstop testing, more than ever before.”

Smuckler said what really won this election was people power. While the opposition had larger expenditures thanks to their corporate allies, activists canvassed more than 10,000 households in Bridgeport and spoke to voters directly.

“It was a grassroots effort. The other side had a lot more money than us, but what really won this election was just people talking to people. That is more powerful than just pouring money into an election.”

Smuckler said that what really motivated voters was seeing how misplaced the current administration’s priorities were, especially in the case of Superintendent Paul Vallas. The state Supreme Court is expected to rule this month whether Vallas, a national figure in the education “reform” movement, has the qualifications legally required of his position.

Rather than accept the decision, the city has spent taxpayer money defending Vallas.

“People knew we needed a change,” said Smuckler. “It should be about what’s going on in the classroom.”

With the general election coming up in November, Smuckler hopes to keep the momentum going and encourages concerned community members to get active.

“It’s not always easy knocking on strangers doors, but it’s so important. Talk to parents. Talk to neighbors. Go to school board meetings. See things for yourself. “

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