Rivera, noted educator, fire up Norwalk schools’ staff to start school new year

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk educators started their new year Monday with inspirational speeches built upon one idea: there are ways to see that every child does well.

“We need to ensure success for every one of our children who come through our doors,” Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera said to the teachers, administrators and school resource police officers who filled the auditorium of Brien McMahon High School beyond capacity, with many having to stand at the back of the room for the annual Norwalk Public Schools convocation.

The sentiment was driven home by prominent education advocate Geoffrey Canada, the keynote speaker. “Every day in our schools and our classrooms come examples that nothing has worked, people have given up, they have thrown in the towels and guess what? The kids believe them,” Canada said, urging the educators not to give in to the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Canada, 62, is most noted for serving as CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, a position he retired from in February after 31 years. In his spirited and often humorous presentation, he urged his colleagues to employ great determination in making sure every one of their students succeeds in his or her studies.

“We have decided that some of our kids cannot be educated, cannot be saved,” Canada said. “Because we think we have the proof. The proof is 30 years of failure for certain kids in certain communities who look like certain kinds of folk. … People in our industry have decided, ‘We know these kids aren’t going to be able to get a job so guess what we are going to do? All the guys who can’t work will end up going into that alternative way of making money. We are going to make sure we have plenty of jail cells in America for them.”

The United States of America has the number one incarceration rate in the world, he said. North Korea is not even close, he said.

“People keep saying we don’t have the money to educate these kids. This is what drives me crazy,” he said.

It costs an average in $30,000 a year to incarcerate someone in America, he said. But it’s $60,000 in New York state and $157,000 in New York City, he said. Budget cuts to schools are rampant in America but the programs being cut are the ones that keep kids in school, he said. “There’s this idea that kids come to school to suffer,” he said, getting laughter with his line about the “six kids who live for algebra.”

“If you work with kids you should have the same expectations for those kids as you have for your own kids,” he said. “…We have to think outside the box.”

Canada concluded his presentation by reading one of his poems, at the end of which the audience cheered and gave him a standing ovation.

Rivera also spoke of his effort to change the school system. “Last year I jokingly referred to the Old Norwalk Way. I’ll tell you, that’s a tough monster to bring down. Changing bad habits, bad practices and the old ways of doing businesses, it’s not easy,” Rivera said.

Time to take the gloves off, he said.

“We can no longer tolerate the old way of doing business when we know that some of our students are getting shortchanged. We need to be relentless about doing what is right for every child and creating a culture that works. Let’s not tolerate anything that gets in our way,” Rivera said.

Mayor Harry Rilling, Board of Education President Michael Lyons, and the president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, Bruce LeVine Mellion also spoke to the teachers,

“We are on the path to greatness under Dr. Rivera,” Mellion said.


16 responses to “Rivera, noted educator, fire up Norwalk schools’ staff to start school new year”

  1. Lisa Thomson

    At long last 🙂

  2. Norewalk Lifer

    I’ve heard this speech before, it’s inspiring to be sure, but where are the metrics to prove the “new way” is working?
    The school’s test scores have not changed, that’s the money point.

    Norwalk Lifer

  3. Lifelong Teacher

    The Old Norwalk Way is still deeply entrenched. As Rivera said, it’s a tough monster to take down.

  4. anon

    @Chapmans, this post was a public service, well done.

  5. Lisa Thomson

    Lifelong Teacher – But at least he is trying and it’s out in the open now.

  6. Mike Lyons

    Lifer, test scores are up, we have established metrics for the system, and Dr. Rivera has proposed metrics for his own performance. Nancy, let’s work on an article about those topics – lots to discuss!

  7. Lifelong Teacher

    Lisa, I agree 100%. I am very hopeful and it looks promising. He’s also working with Mellion, and that’s a good step.

  8. MarjorieM

    Bruce and Manny working closely together…….Tis true!

  9. Admo

    Lifer ,Read article about Jensen and brain based teaching . It’s about teaching children from poverty. That is the main issue . Forget test scores if you cannot reach these children. It is not the same as teaching New Canaan Darien and Greenwuch kids.

  10. LWitherspoon

    Geoffrey Canada is a talented speaker and an inspiration. Impressive choice by Dr. Rivera.

  11. Broderick I. Sawyer

    Not too fond of this part, “filled the auditorium of Brien McMahon High School beyond capacity with many having to stand.

  12. One and Done

    How much exactly did this pep talk cost us? I don’t think I’d need any more motivation than the fact that I just got a fat raise for showing up to work after a ten week vacation.
    Until we expect professionalism, we will get mediocre results. Teachers wearing shorts is just a little telling of much larger issues. For the money we are spending, we deserve better.

  13. One, if you’re referring to Mr. Canada’s speech, the ‘pep talk’ cost us nothing.
    The Convocation is a tradition in all school districts to kick off the school year. Most of the teachers I saw were dressed in business casual (though there were a few in shorts).
    And we’re working to assure professionalism and better results. See https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/08/norwalk-boe-approves-teacher-school-administrator-evaluation-process, and https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/08/test-scores-norwalk-tops-among-cities-but-lags-behind-state. Still a long way to go, but we truly are working at it.

  14. One and Done

    Mike, indeed you are making great strides and a great leader. Don’t take my pessimism the wrong way please. I wasn’t there and I don’t have a transcript, so maybe I am going out on a limb. But, my hunch would be that no where in this pep talk was mention of how good our highly paid teachers have it and how their level of enthusiasm, including dress and professional appearance should match that. Why did it have to come to things like evaluations to get teachers to not dress like slobs?
    Until you impress on this group that they are a protected class of worker who gets automatic pay raises just for showing up next year after a 10 week vacation, then the specter of evaluations probably don’t have much sway. It isn’t that I think workers should have a gun pointed at their head, but if there are no consequences to your actions then eventually the results will match the expectations. This is what we have now for what some say is one of the higher payrolls in the entire country.

  15. One, I agree; ‘accountability’ is meaningless without consequences. The heart of a good evaluation system is identifying shortfalls among employees and helping them improve. But part of it is also identifying employees who can’t or won’t improve, and moving them out. These evaluation plans have provisions for doing both.

  16. One and Done

    Excellent Mike. To be fair, I hope we can work in extra compensation for the over achievers.

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