NORWALK, Conn – Sherelle Harris has worked with children for many years as a librarian and, as a consequence, feels strongly about early childhood education. She has been active in the South Norwalk community, and is hoping to bring her skills and passion to the Board of Education to help ensure children from all backgrounds get an equal education.
NancyOnNorwwalk sent a set of questions to all BOE candidates. This is the final response. All BOE Q&A’s can be found by clicking on 2013 Norwalk Elections in the navigation bar.
NoN: Why are you running for the Board of Ed? What are your qualifications?
SH: I am running for the Board of Education because, above all, I care and I am willing to serve and learn; and having a child in the Norwalk Public School System gives me a vested interest.
Additionally, I have a B.A. in journalism and an M.S. in library and information science. I’ve worked as a freelance writer for a variety of magazines and as a features writer for The Hour newspaper. I managed a children’s library for 13 years and established the young adult collection for the Norwalk Public Library System. These positions have enabled me to understand Norwalk from a broad perspective.
Being on the Norwalk Early Childhood Council and being a 2011 Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce Leadership Institute graduate have given me both a focused and broader perspective respectively. Along the way, I earned a certificate from the Institute of Children’s Literature. My first children’s story, “Rules! Rules!!” appeared in Highlights for Children and has been used in educational settings in the state of Georgia. As a librarian without walls, I implemented a website for the South Norwalk Branch Library that served as a one stop shop for those new to Norwalk. It included information on our city and its resources, our schools, places where kids can be kids, etc.
I have a deep respect for education and I have always introduced educational and entertaining programs that reflect many cultures — African, Black American, Caribbean, Chinese, Hispanic, Indian, Irish, Japanese, Jewish, Russian, White American — in addition to doing extensive outreach in the community. That outreach included hosting successful book clubs in housing projects, elementary schools, at Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now, Inc. and Stepping Stones Museum for Children.
An academic librarian out of North Carolina nominated me for a national library advocacy award for the work I’ve done in Norwalk with our team. The beautifully engraved plaque is a constant reminder of his and the committee’s confidence in my work. I am currently the Assistant Director of the Norwalk Public Library System.
NoN: What are your plans if you get elected? What do you think needs to be addressed? Priorities?
SH: We need to embrace Norwalk demographics to better serve all students equally. Creating an inclusive climate where all children feel valued is a step toward closing the achievement gap.
We need to know how much of the budget is actually going toward educating our students and devise budgets with fiscal sensitivity to the entire community. We don’t want to pit taxpayers, senior citizens or those who live on fixed incomes against the school system and we want to make sure teachers have the resources they need to be successful in the classroom.
Curriculum is another area to tackle. Learning should be hands-on and fun, not a chore or simply a means to an end. We want to encourage administration to strongly support the teachers that demonstrate this expectation and to encourage toward this end those who feel overwhelmed. I’ve come across many performers and programs that enhance the curriculum and make learning come alive for students.
In our quest to ensure that each child is educated properly, administration and the board need to look at the relationship between enrollment and resource allocation and agree on a set of clear and measurable goals to detect issues early on. It still boggles my mind that a child can enter middle school and not know how to read appropriately. Numeracy is equally as important and should not get lost in the stressing of literacy.
We also need to bridge the divide between teachers, students and parents while holding all equally accountable. Please see the local links area of my website, harrisboe.weebly.com, for a list of the many community partners rallying together around the success of our children. It is my hope that parents will learn more about these organizations to bring more diversity to the table. We still have a long way to go with really listening to and understanding each other.
NoN: A lot of people think the professional staff salaries are too high. Do you concur? If so, what can be done about that?
SH: High demands are place on teachers. We have had the pleasure of having some really good ones — Kelly Braddock, Georgia Mack, Sue Remson, Keishia Sullivan, to name a few — who answer the call of duty and beyond. Dedicated teachers who work hard to teach in a way that students master and retain what they are taught, deserve to be compensated. The question might be: What are we getting in return for the salaries we pay?
NoN: Jack Chiaramonte said recently that he would be in favor of armed guards in the schools. What is your opinion on this topic?
SH: It is important to be able to be able to lock down schools and alert emergency responders in time enough to diffuse bad situations. Equip school offices and classrooms with emergency buttons that buzz the police station. Money is often an issue, so I would want to know how often police patrol the areas where our schools are and if officers make impromptu visits to the schools in a way that a routine cannot be detected. If we are dealing with violence between students, I believe teachers and administrators know where the issues lie. It is up to them to act quickly to remedy situations and not let them fester. Sometimes it may take confidentially getting children the services they need very early on.
NoN: Do you support the transition to Common Core State Standards?
SH: I am excited about the possibilities! I have high hopes for the Common Core Curriculum in developing students’ critical thinking skills and I am excited about being a part of international benchmarking. My biggest hope was that it would prevent the reliance on teaching to the test. There is an article on the blog section of my website about the first state to implement the Common Core math and reading lessons. Its teachers have embraced the changes and are encouraging hesitant peers in other states, and an article on where Massachusetts eighth-graders might fit in international benchmarking. This is fascinating stuff!
I heard President Obama, then a U.S. Senator, speak when I attended an American Library Association conference in 2005 in Illinois. He said, “We’re living in the 21st century knowledge economy; but our schools, our homes and our culture are still based around 20th century, and in some cases 19th century, expectations. … This is not the place for me to lay out a long education-reform agenda; but I can say that it doesn’t make sense if we have a school system designed for agrarian America and its transition into the industrial age …” Later, I began to hear about Common Core State Standards led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
NoN: Are you in favor of education reform? What are your reasons for your opinion?
SH: I am in favor of teachers who ensure that our children graduate well educated in reading, writing, arithmetic, government and history. I am in favor of a curriculum that incorporates nutrition in the classroom as well as the cafeteria. I am in favor of a curriculum that teaches to the long-term memory. Every child is not going to be Einstein or Charles Drew, but they deserve the chance to achieve to their highest potential. Even if students skip college and go straight to the workforce, they deserve to know how to read and digest information presented to them. They deserve to know how to write a decent letter and they deserve to know how to figure out the tax percentages that will come out of their paychecks and where that money goes, etc. They deserve to have a great foundation for whatever endeavor they choose when they leave our system.
NoN: Is anyone in your family a teacher? Work for the schools?
SH: There are two retired teachers in my family. No one in my family works for the Norwalk Public School System.