Connecticut State Representative Christopher Poulos, '97, seated in the chamber of the Connecticut House of Representatives

Bridging the gap between teachers and policymakers

July 18, 2023

Every vote matters. Just ask Christopher Poulos, ’97. He won the November 2022 general election for the Connecticut House of Representatives District 81 by one vote, receiving 5,297 votes to his opponent’s 5,296 votes. After a hair-raising, hair-splitting recount, he was declared the winner—no small feat for a moderate Democrat running for office in a long-standing Republican enclave of Connecticut.

His love of education served as his entrée into politics.

“Early on, I figured out that I wanted to have an impact on the communities to which I belonged, and education is a place where I could do that,” he said about his decision to become a teacher a few years after graduating from the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies.

Since 2000, Poulos has taught Spanish at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, Connecticut, and later also became an instructional leader for the humanities at his school. His innovative teaching led to his selection as the 2007 Connecticut Teacher of the Year and many subsequent awards, including his 2022 induction into the National Teachers Hall of Fame and his 2023 Jepson Alumni Award.

“I quickly realized that with the honor of being named Teacher of the Year, came the responsibility of serving as spokesperson for Connecticut’s teachers, students, and families,” said the lifelong resident of Southington, Connecticut. “In my new role, I observed a disconnect between well-intentioned policymakers who did not fully understand the implications of their decisions on classroom practice and extraordinary teachers who did not understand the rationale behind, or the parameters for, the laws that govern their profession.”

For 10 years, he said he tried to bridge the gap between policymakers and teachers. Then a stint on the Southington Town Council from 2017-2021 gave him insight into how to collaborate and effect change as an elected official. When supporters approached him in 2022 about running for state representative, he agreed.

“During my campaign, I knocked on over 5,300 doors, willing to talk to anyone who would listen to my vision of a return to moderate, civil, and productive government,” he said.

His message resonated with enough voters to earn him a seat in the Connecticut House of Representatives. During his inaugural General Assembly session, he served on the education committee, while continuing to juggle his responsibilities as a teacher.

“I believe no one should get involved in government without first gaining knowledge and experience within a sector,” he said. “For me, that sector is education.”

But he was committed to doing his homework on all pending bills, not just those related to education, he said.

“Knowing my votes mattered and would be scrutinized, I went into every discussion overly prepared,” the freshman legislator said. “I want to represent my town as best I can without compromising my moral compass.

“The most rewarding aspect of the legislative session was the passing of a bipartisan state budget that included the largest tax cut in state history. I was proud that in the divided political climate in which we live, legislators put aside their differences and came to a consensus on how we could benefit over 1 million tax filers in our state. The civility of the process reaffirmed my faith in government.”

Connecticut’s legislative session wrapped up June 7, and Poulos is already strategizing ahead of the 2024 session.

“I want to focus on introducing legislation in three areas: giving teachers more voice in governing their profession; exploring legislation that addresses the uptick in crime; and finding ways to help small businesses, in an effort to promote economic development.”