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Letter to the Editor: 'It is obvious that someone in the school system needs to be fired'

An open letter to Brookfield Superintendent Anthony Bivona, Assistant Superintendent Genie Slone, High School principal Bryan Luizzi and the Board of Education.

My name is Jacob Thomas. I'm writing to express the dismay I felt and my unhappiness with the Brookfield school administrators, after having sat through . As background, I was a coach of Whisconier Middle School MATHCOUNTS team for several years and my teams placed first in the regional and second in the state competitions. Many of the team members moved on to compete in Math League at BHS under the able guidance of Doc, and had great success in regional competitions year after year.

My daughters Veena and Sapana are '13-year members' of the Brookfield school system and were both valedictorians. Both consider themselves to be lucky to be Doc's students and think of him as one of the most influential teachers in their formative years.

Education reformers have pointed out that effective teachers make all the difference in educational outcome. Bill Gates recently said "the single most decisive factor in student achievement is excellent teaching." According to one widely cited 1996 study, if you take an eight-year-old student performing at the 50th percentile and give him a low-performing teacher, he will regress to the 37th percentile in three years. Give him a high-performing teacher, and he will succeed to the 90th percentile in the same amount of time — a swing of 53 percentage points.

Who is a high performing teacher? There may be many definitions, but most students and parents in a school district know who the high performing teachers are. In the case of Brookfield, Doc is one such teacher. One only had to listen to students (both past and present) and parents who spoke at . Over 1,400 have signed a petition supporting him, after it was announced that the Brookfield school administration is moving forward in an attempt to fire him.

During the hearing, . Fourteen of the 18 are more than 10 years old, and many of them sounded trivial. The reasoning of the school officials for the current action is not convincing either. It was obvious that they were mired in nitty gritty and trivial details and had lost sight of the big picture. The molehill of accusations was in stark contrast to the mountain of support garnered by Doc from the students he has inspired in 32 years of teaching as evidenced in the December 15 public hearing and the petition drive. How many other Brookfield teachers can expect that kind of support?

One of the administrators had the audacity, under cross examination, to claim that he had no personal knowledge of teachers using sarcasm with kids.

Contrary to what math department chairman Ed Bednarik, and Principal Bryan Luizzi stated, that they would not allow their children to sit in Doc's class because one wrong word from Doc might hurt them for the rest of their lives, I'm happy that my daughters had Doc as a teacher and they are better for having been in his classroom.

Taxpayers like me are paying the salaries of the school administration. And taxpayers have elected the Board of Education to ensure that the tax money is put to good use to improve the education of our children, and not wasted in legal fees in an attempt to get rid of one of the high performing teachers. Add to this the distraction this incident is causing to students, teachers and parents, and the lowering of the tax payers' faith in the school administration. The bad publicity created can only lower the reputation of the school system and, potentially, property values.

I urge the BOE to consider this matter seriously. How many Brookfield residents have supported the actions by the BHS principal and the superintendent? Will their actions benefit or harm the schools? It is obvious that someone in the school system needs to be fired. And it is not Doc.

Signed
Jacob Thomas
Steven DeVaux March 11, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Jacob, Thank you for an outstanding synopsis of this tragedy. We could not agree with you more.
Where Is the Common Sense March 11, 2011 at 10:38 PM
What a well written letter. Truly great teachers with great teaching are hard to come by. It's disappointing that 32 years of such teaching was overshadowed by the use of a single word or phrase. When did we, as a society, allow ourselves to get so soft? What ever happened to "sticks & stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"? It's clear that some of our most important lessons are too easily forgotten.
Michelle assad March 12, 2011 at 02:29 AM
Thank you, Mr.Thomas, for stating what should be the obvious in such a clear and well written letter. Doc is an outstanding teacher. I had the luck of having him myself, and although I wasn't one of his greats, by a long shot, he helped prepare me for college and the road ahead. I have nothing but fond memories and gratitude to hold when it comes to the man we all refer to as "Doc". Keep up the good fight for our future, Mr. Wolkind.
Mike Palicz March 12, 2011 at 03:51 PM
Great letter hitting all the right notes. With all the focus on improving education in our country, how can we be focused on something as foolish as this. We have a fabulous teacher (who yes has some unique challenges given his disability - but we knew that already so get over it and focus on results). Not only is this costing a ton of money to currently litigate but if the board fires him, good luck defending the counter lawsuit (which Doc would win under the American Disability Act). Why not save a great deal of time and just pay all the lawyers now- they will be the only ones who "win" here- the real losers: our children - the students - and our educational situation going forward. This whole thing look/feels tainted from the start. As the famous line from the Watergate investigations stated, "follow the money".
Susan E March 12, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Just because YOU had good experiences with Doc Wolkind, it does not mean other people did not have very bad experiences with him. Let the system do its work and determine if Doc Wolkind should be trusted back in a classroom.
Steven DeVaux March 12, 2011 at 07:20 PM
And let the system do it's work and dump the high school principal, asst principal, asst superintendent and superintendent for spending a quarter of a million dollars on legal fees instead of textbooks for the kids and elmination of parental fees for pay to play. You'll notice that there has been no "re-allocation of funds" from the Superintendent's 17+% raise this year.
Michelle assad March 12, 2011 at 08:27 PM
@Susan-- As I previously stated, I am a former student of Doc's. I did not by any means get good grades, because math was never my forte. On a number of occasions, Doc singled me out, not in a rude or condescending way, but did so none the less. I did not cry, or complain, or begin a lawsuit...... I TRIED HARDER. I wanted to prove to him, my fellow classmates, and MYSELF that I was capable of the great achievements he thought I could accomplish. And guess what? IT WORKED. Doc's sole purpose is to push students to do their best, and ready them for the future. Which he does very well. Unfortunately, in this "political correct" age, there are too many missing the point, or the angle of his lessons. I also have to agree that the counter-suit would be won by Doc, and the children are going to suffer with less money to be spent on the things that actually matter. Out of 32 years of teaching, and a handful of complaints, I'd say that's not half bad. In fact, in today's world, that's pretty darn good. It's time our kids realized the world isn't all lollipops and gumdrops, accepted things for what they are, and tried just a little harder. For the good of their future, and ours as a society.
Sapana Thomas March 12, 2011 at 09:11 PM
=) I agree with you. I used to be a high school teacher, and far too many students were used to having their hands held and egos stroked. Doing so did them such a great disservice.
Jerry Friedrich March 13, 2011 at 04:15 AM
Come on Steven, you know better ! You know this is not costing a quarter million dollars but, I agree, whatever the cost, it is a waste of money. Extravagant and inflammatory claims are not contributing to the conversation.
Steven DeVaux March 13, 2011 at 04:14 PM
I do know. Ridgefield did one back in 1994 and it cost over $200,000 almost twenty years ago. They have not even begun to defend the Dept of Justice action on the ADA and Civil Rights Violations. How much do you think the tribunal alone is costing? Any potential settlement? When the dust settles it will far exceed anything folks are considering right now. Of course that was based on rates from ten years ago but that was an actual case. CABE quotes that number for terminating a teacher all the time when it lobbies for a change in the legislation. Those are the FACTS. Go to the July 31st, 1994 article in the Hartford Courant at: http://articles.courant.com/1994-07-31/news/9407310350_1_tenure-law-fire-drill-dismissal-process to read the independent facts and not some public officials "opinion".
nicole gerace March 14, 2011 at 06:21 PM
I went through Brookfield's schools for 12 years, and I can say with certainty looking back that the teachers that left the biggest imprints on my life were the ones that pushed me to work harder - because it was easy for me to slack off, and not many teachers cared enough to say something - but some of them did. And those teachers - the ones who were unafraid to let me know they were disappointed in my lack of effort - are the ones I remember even now as having changed the course of my life. I didn't need my hand held, I needed a kick in the butt. And I am forever grateful for the ones who said what needed to be said, in a language I could understand.
nicole gerace March 14, 2011 at 06:25 PM
...and in case it's not clear from that last post- i think what's happening with Doc Wollkind is absolutely disgusting. what a waste of time and money for everyone - and what a disservice is being done to the kids who have missed out on Doc's talents. what an unprofessional, terrible shame that a talented teacher who is **just as flawed as any of us** should be hung out to dry like this.
Where Is the Common Sense March 14, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Well put, Nicole.
The Watcher March 15, 2011 at 04:55 PM
As a non-homework doer for 13 years I was well prepared for a teacher to be disappointed and possibly get smart with words. The kid he bombed on didn't do his HW the night before, whats Doc supposed to do let it slide and not motivate him to quit from messing up? Nah, not an OG like Doc. This kid is not only unfairly hurting the teaching methods of Doc but also the reputation of us fools pass on the chance to do school work at home.
The Watcher March 15, 2011 at 04:56 PM
True. Here's some math: -1 epic teacher = X a mount of students missing out on a 1st class education.

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