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Keeping high school students in school and preserving school sports…Bridgeport style

by Jon Pelto from Wait, What

For 31 years, students at Bridgeport’s Bassick High School have been participating in the high school’s indoor track program. That was until Team Vallas, under the direction of John Fabrizi, recently eliminated the program this fall.

When Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas blew into town with his $229,000 salary and his team of out-of-state consultants (most of whom worked for his private consulting company, The Vallas Group), former Bridgeport mayor John Fabrizi, whose tenure in office ended in 2007 following a drug scandal, was serving as the Director of Adult Services.

Today, Fabrizi is one of the most powerful players in Vallas’ “education reform” operation.

According to a recent Connecticut Post article, apparently one of Fabrizi’s newest duties is to be “in charge of helping rebuild a middle school sports program for the district.”

So, without the input of the Bridgeport Board of Education, Fabrizi eliminated the high school’s historic in-door track team and transferred the money to supplement the Bridgeport Parks and Recreation’s Middle School Basketball program.

As quoted in the CT Post, Frabrizi said, “Part of the thinking is to rebuild a solid foundation by creating a feeder program for high school sports.” And no doubt, creating “a solid foundation by creating a feeder program for high school sports” is definitely a laudable and important goal.

But what about the destruction of the in-door track program.

Call it ironic…

Just two weeks ago, Governor Malloy was just down RT. 95, right there in Fairfield County, lamenting the fact that Connecticut’s urban high schools seem unable to keep up to 50 percent of their students between the 9th and 12th grades.

At Bassick High School, for example, the class of 2010 lost 32 percent of its students between 9th and 12th grade. Compare that number to the fact that 13 percent of the middle school students down the street at the Curiale School left that school between 4th and 8th grade.

So, faced with an unprecedented dropout rate, what does Team Vallas do keep their high school students in school, they eliminate the popular indoor track team that serves 100 to 200 Bridgeport high school students, a program that is successfully keeping high school students in school and on track – literally and figuratively.

Retired teacher and coach of the girl’s in-door track team, Andrew Kennedy, was rightfully upset and wrote to the Connecticut Post reporting, “Approximately 180 to 200 students from the city’s high schools participate…Both the Boys and Girls teams take the same bus, there is only one meet a week, and when it comes to the FCIAC championships the coaches provide their own transportation for themselves and the participating athletes. There are no police to hire, no ambulance or doctors, no uniforms to buy (I bought tee shirts and sweats for the Girls myself), and the coaches are the lowest paid public coaches in the FCIAC!”

Coach Kennedy goes on to point out that’ “It’s too bad Bridgeport can’t take a clue from New Haven. Both high schools have outdoor track facilities. The lucky students from Hillhouse can step out of their school into the “world-class” Floyd Little Athletic Center. It’s no wonder that the Hillhouse girls have dominated Girls Track in the state recently! How does New Haven do it? It seems that Bridgeport just doesn’t think it’s that important to provide for its athletes…To lose the Indoor Track Program would be a shame. It’s vital to keep the athletes engaged.”

But instead, a Vallas political operative cuts the program that is helping some of the very students most at risk.

And perhaps the most amazing piece of all is that a decision of this nature was made without the approval, or apparently even the knowledge, of the Bridgeport School Board.

Cutting out this low-cost, popular program is just another sad reminder of the damage Team Vallas is doing to Bridgeport and its school students.

There is no question that Connecticut’s urban schools are being inadequately funded and short-changed. Without sufficient resources, good programs get cut.

However, above all else, successful schools need leaders who have the compassion and skills necessary to help schools overcome the challenges they face.

When the Bridgeport business community wanted a nationally known “education reformer” to take over the schools, a small group of Fairfield County’s wealthiest individuals dropped $400,000 to help pay for Vallas’ salary and related costs.

If those business executives really cared about Bridgeport and its students, they’d be there right now to cover the costs of Bridgeport’s in-door track team.

In the meantime, the Board of Education should step in and force Mr. Vallas and his “team” to stop talking about helping Bridgeport’s schools and start working to keep high school students in school.

And one of the first things they can do is undo Mr. Fabrizi’s bad decision.

The Bridgeport Board of Education has a meeting tonight, November 26, 2012.

Let’s see whether Mr. Vallas reverses this bad move. If not, the Bridgeport Board of Education should instruct him to solve the problem.