Letter: Group urges efforts to boost minority understanding, education

To The Editor:

We gathered together at the South Norwalk Branch Library on February 25, 2014 for a community conversation about helping children succeed in a diverse society. With the hope of sharing concerns, solutions and action items with Norwalk legislators and Board of Education members, our group (one of three groups), discussed two topics related to diversity in our schools: “Racial/Cultural Awareness” and “Respect for Others.”

Our group included students, parents, educators, professionals, administrators and community activists from diverse backgrounds. Sherelle Harris, Board of Education member and Norwalk Public Library assistant director, sat with our group.

Early in our conversation, we heard from a middle school student who expressed aspirations to attend Yale University and to run her mother’s business. This student described her educational experience of being taught by one Black, female teacher who has high expectations for all her students. The middle school student acknowledged that she needs all of her teachers to help her achieve her goals to attend college and expressed her wish that all of her teachers would challenge her with such high standards. The student’s story touched the group.

Our group had a rich and compelling conversation about various issues, including the following: professional staffing, curriculum, home-child-school connection, the negative impact of labeling and tracking students, school climate and systems of accountability. While there were several concerns and solutions discussed, these are the collective concerns from our group:

• It is believed that many children have a hard time connecting with teachers and the instructional material and information being used in our schools, and their interest is continuously being lost.

• Too many students within the community are dropping out of school – perhaps because of the disconnect the students have with the educational and instructional experience. Harmony is needed in the school environments.

• Some expressed concern that that Norwalk needs to be more effective in making parents aware of the resources and services available.

• Many teachers appear to be unable to connect with the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural student body in the Norwalk Public Schools, and many parents believe this is impacting the students’ educational achievement.

• We need a more diverse staff of teachers and administrators, to be aligned with the diversity and needs of the student population. It was suggested that the teaching staff should reflect the student body.

• We need more accountability on all levels: administrators with policies and practices; teachers with teaching; students with learning, and parents with school involvement and ensuring that their children are properly applying themselves and learning.

Some suggested next steps or call to action included the following:

• Recommend that the Board of Education recruit, retain and hire more minority teachers. Also recommend the BOE examine current hiring policies and practices. For example, teachers should know during the interview that we embrace all of the students in our schools and that they are expected to bring out the best in all of their students.

• Continue this conversation. Engage the community in a public forum to help us all learn more about the subject of diversity and preparing our students to become culturally competent citizens in the 21st century.

• Encourage community members to attend board of education and other public meetings, and to join education organizations and groups.

Please be mindful that inclusion is a solution, not a problem and that diversity is not an imposition, but an advantage. We urge administration to look for ways to bring our diverse cultures, experiences and talents to the table.


Pierre Antoine

Mary Mann

Chiquita Stephenson

Demetria Dash

Tiffany C. Roberson

Antoinette Wiggins

Karmen El Nadira

Naliya Santiago

Antoinette Williams

Lorena Fisher

Eneisha Simmons

Haroldo Williams



10 responses to “Letter: Group urges efforts to boost minority understanding, education”

  1. EveT

    Agreed that diversity is a strength, a resource. But how would the “Board of Education recruit, retain and hire more minority teachers”? Isn’t it illegal to give preference to a job applicant on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin? Perhaps the Supreme Court decision in Ricci v DeStefano (New Haven fire department hiring practices) would be relevant.

  2. Inquiring Mind

    Seems to me that education is a two way street. It’s not only what the school district brings to the table, but it’s also what each individual student brings to the table. The teachers bring the information and the method to the classroom, but at the end of the day, it’s the student that has to put in the effort to learn. God alone knows how many million immigrants came and still come to this country not speaking a word of English and managed to find jobs, feed their families and provide a better life for their children through sheer force of will. They didn’t care what culture the teacher came from, they were there to learn — and learn they did. The teacher didn’t care what language the students spoke at home. The point was explaining “A” makes four sounds, the “A” in apple, the “A” in car…..

  3. Bill

    How about the parents who are demanding more “diversity” instead work on reinforcing education with their kids at home and teaching them the value of education. No one is to blame for a kid dropping out but the parents. No amount of diversity will fix the lack of parent involvement. Our teachers are already overpaid as is, we shouldn’t over pay what could be less qualified minority teachers just so there is “more diversity”. This is a recipe for worse education for our community’s minority students, not better.

  4. the donut hole

    More cultural/racial awareness? We need leaders who remind children that respect is a two way street and that you have to respect yourself first. Piercings, tattoos, jeans around your ankles, and a work ethic devoted to gaming the system isn’t a path to happiness, nor will it land you a decent job anywhere.
    We need leaders who stop pounding into these children’s head that they are disadvantaged because of their culture/race. President Obama is exhibit A. It’s time to look inwards instead of blaming the man for everything.

  5. Bill

    @the donut hole, AMEN!!!

  6. coddled children (cultural sensitivity) = coddled adults (affirmative action).
    All this equals reverse discrimination.

  7. Mitch Palais

    Non partisan
    I have been in 100’s of schools, in multiple districts, in 3 states and have come to 2 conclusions:
    1. We have good teachers, great teachers, and some not so good teachers. We don’t really have a problem with our education system ( yes there is much room for improvement) What we do have is an absolute failure to parent and too many children start school unprepared to learn.

    2. We have an entitlement society- everyone is entitled. The poor are entitled to their social programs, the middle class is entitled to tax deductions, govt employees are entitled to pay and benefit packages that their neighbors in the private sector do not get. The wealthy kid is entitled to the corner office.

    All a function of our parenting skills.

  8. LWitherspoon

    I agree with those who say that the schools could improve a little, but why are there no calls for Parental Accountability along with all the calls for Teacher Accountability? Some kids attend Norwalk Schools and graduate to the Ivy League. Others fail to even graduate. Are the kids who go to the Ivy League succeeding in spite of our schools? Of course not. The schools provide a pretty good opportunity to those with the motivation to learn – the difference is between these students is most likely what happens, or doesn’t happen, at home.
    With that in mind, how about codifying a basic set of Parental Responsibilities that all parents or guardians are expected to fulfill? Such things as showing up for parent/teacher conferences, demanding attendance, demanding that homework gets done, arranging free extra help when necessary, etc. I would even go so far as to assess fines to parents who are blatantly flouting their responsibilities. Taxpayers spend enormous amounts on schools for educating your children – if you won’t see to it that your child makes a concerted effort at learning, then you should pay us back for the waste you’ve enabled.
    If the parents can’t execute those basic functions, then I’m skeptical that increased diversity, better communication, or the other recommendations in this letter will make a difference.

  9. anonymous

    How about let’s get teacher and administrator evaluations finished up first, that is still a mess. Evaluating parents will make teacher evaluations seem easy. Placing the extent of failure seen in today’s public schools on parents is scapegoating.

  10. Bill

    Teacher evaluations and accountability are as important to a child’s success as parent involvement. Diversity plays absolutely no role.

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