To the editor:
There is no question that Manny Rivera’s decision to leave Norwalk Public Schools came after much thought and foresight of Norwalk’s political landscape. After all has been said, Dr. Rivera’s interest is in our education system and closing the achievement gap for our children. We have to ask ourselves as a community, why a man of high caliber and national recognition came to bear a decision that ultimately left Norwalk in a state of shock? Dr. Rivera is exactly what we all craved for, a professional with integrity and the gravitas to bring our school system into the 21st century. He had a mission, a vision that most in our community embraced with the exception of a small group that worked hard to ensure his demise.
It is sad to read and watch some of the episodes and political theatre on the BOE. The dynamics are an interesting one as some felt the need to be obstructionist and overly micromanage an extremely competent superintendent. Most of the members on the board are tenured and have had the training and experience to fully understand their role as elected officials. It is an unfortunate reality that some feel the need to object without cause. A board is never perfect but in serving on one, we have to find common ground. Elected members must remember that it is all about the children not power, position and control. I realize that some complain about exclusivity and feel sidelined by board governance. However, a position on the BOE requires relationship building, understanding personalities and being able to play the political chess game. It is about agreeing to disagree respectfully, having a dissenting opinion that is articulated in a professional manner; it is about respecting so that one can be respected.
Giving our superintendent the proper tools, creating the appropriate infrastructure and hiring or firing personnel to carry out a vision that would change the culture seemed to be a no brainer. The reality is that when you have entrenched bureaucrats and subordinates undermining you every step of the way, it makes anyone’s job difficult. When you delegate but end up doing the work, how can a superintendent really do his or her job successfully? When you have senior members on your team orchestrating or politicking about board leadership, how can one operate? This is clearly an ethical problem or conflict of interest, if not both. There is no trust in an environment of manipulation. I would encourage Manny to hold those accountable prior to his departure.
Now there is the issue of race baiting. If we do not change our messengers or the narrative, we are in big trouble. We cannot use the term racist just because we do not get our way or what we want. Through my experience in politics, I have found this to be used often as a chip to freeze an adversary. I have also personally experienced others use race as a political tactic to advance their agendas. This is wrong and should not be tolerated in our city! We have to start standing up to this despicable call for attention. If you are to be in politics, learn how to play the political game to obtain what you desire. Be smart, embrace change, respect others, and learn how to articulate a message in a civil manner. Only after we change shall we see the change. There needs to be private and public discourse about the fact that 1960’s racial divide politics still exists in Norwalk today.
Warren A. Peña
President & Chairman of the Board
South Norwalk Community Center, Inc.