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Upward Citizen Spotlight: ConnCAN

Updated: Jul 15, 2019


ConnCAN holds a team meeting on Upward Hartford's balcony coworking area

“A strong economy depends on strong public schools. Some children in Connecticut are getting the excellent public education they need to succeed, while others — especially children in our most vulnerable communities — are still waiting for us to deliver on the promise of a high-quality public education.” - 2018 Field Guide to Education In Connecticut, a report published by Upward Citizens ConnCAN.


The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, colloquially known as ConnCAN, is a research & advocacy organization dedicated to the advancement of equitable education across the Constitution State. Since its foundation in 2005, ConnCAN’s mission has centered around the fundamental reformation of public schools through strategic and inclusive public policy. As the organization approaches its 15th year, ConnCAN is still actively pursuing excellence in education at the state and local-levels: connecting with legislators and citizen advocates whose actions can affect positive change for all students, regardless of their address.

Among the many locations from which the ConnCAN team works each week is Upward Hartford, located just under a mile from the State Capitol, and close to some of the state’s most socio-economically stratified public school districts. “We all work at the grassroots level: splitting our time between working from home, Upward, the Capitol, and within different communities,” says ConnCAN’s Public Affairs Manager, Stephen Sidorak. Sidorak, the newest member of the ConnCAN team, works diligently to promote the efforts of Executive Director Subira Gordon, Statewide Outreach & Advocacy Manager Toni Williams, and Policy & Research Director Hamish MacPhail. Meet the ConnCAN team below:


Subira Gordon,

Executive Director


As ConnCAN’s Executive Director, Subira wears many hats throughout the week, including that of the community advocate, educator to legislators and local school administrators, and general manager of her team’s strategic initiatives. Connect with Subira here.






Toni Williams,

Statewide Outreach and Advocacy Manager


Toni’s day-to-day involves connecting with community and parent advocates at the local level, understanding and identifying their issues, finding ways to connect them to other individuals or organizations through networking opportunities, and working with these individuals to influence legislators on the state level. Connect with Toni here.



Hamish MacPhail,

Policy & Research Director


Hamish’s role as Policy & Research Director involves a two-pronged approach: working from the “grasstops” to provide fact-based information to policy makers, and the “grassroots” to help local influencers and community groups to understand existing data, policies & strategies so that they can act. Connect with Hamish here.





Stephen Sidorak,

Public Affairs Manager


Stephen acts as the amplifier for ConnCAN’s work across traditional and digital media channels. Be sure to follow ConnCAN on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and add yourself to their e-newsletter! Connect with Stephen directly here.






One of ConnCAN’s primary goals for 2019 has been to level the playing field for high-quality teachers of color in Connecticut schools, particularly those with a high minority student population.


The day Upward interviewed the ConnCAN team was one of celebration, as the Appropriations committee had just passed Senate Bill 1022 An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention the day before (May 2, 2019). This accomplishment was born of collaborative efforts between ConnCAN and the Minority Teacher Recruitment Taskforce, the Connecticut Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, and the Office of Governor Ned Lamont. Read Subira Gordon’s blog post on Clearing The Path For High-Quality Teaching Candidates of Color here.




Another mission of ConnCAN’s this year is to connect young people in urban areas from school to viable career options, as data shows that kids in most urban centers are not engaging in higher education.


In a recent blog post, Hamish MacPhail detailed the findings of ConnCAN’s latest high-level analysis of Connecticut’s existing Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and posed the following action areas:

There’s more we can do and Connecticut has a great deal of assets, including K-12 public school systems, state colleges and universities, philanthropy, private companies and public officials. Together, with backing from state government, this cross-sector group can collectively:
  1. Identify existing CTE programs, assets and gaps, trends in high-demand jobs and skill needs;

  2. Discuss the state’s needs with a wide variety of stakeholder groups;

  3. Remove duplicative/defunct programming to clear the path for a coherent, accessible CTE system;

  4. Recommend policy changes to the governor and legislature to vote on by early 2020;

  5. and Recommend opportunities that the private sector and schools can collaborate on that do not require government action.

Read the entire post here.



Executive Director Subira Gordon conducts an interview from Upward Hartford's downtown coworking space

The ConnCAN team agrees that their efforts would create even greater impact with increased data transparency & effective collection methods at the state and local levels. “Good data is not readily available to parents or advocacy groups,” said Toni Williams. “We need to provide fact-based, research-based information to citizen advocates so that they can identify the trajectory of their child based on their current school, among other factors that will help the outcome of their kids having high-quality education.”


ConnCAN is currently working alongside Connecticut’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus at the state level to move forward with rich and accurate data collection, but also sees an opportunity to work with Upward Hartford’s community of startups to collect data. “It would be great to partner with startups to identify what skills sets they’re looking to hire and where they’re currently finding talent,” said MacPhail. “It’s important to find this out from corporate employers as well, but the tech startup world is definitely an area of interest.”


Wondering how you can get involved in ConnCAN’s mission to create an equitable educational landscape? Click here to learn the many ways you can take action.


We look forward to connecting our community of tech, arts & nonprofit innovators to the ConnCAN team. Through active collaboration, we believe Connecticut’s public schools can #moveUpward in achieving educational excellence for all students.




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