South Norwalk education discussion focuses on racial issues, parent involvement

West Rocks Middle School Principal Lynne Moore, left, talks about problems facing Norwalk Public Schools in the search for new hires.

NORWALK, Conn. – An attempt to get parental input on formulating Norwalk Public Schools budget priorities Monday night turned instead into a free-ranging discussion that touched upon racism and special education before landing on the topic of expanding parental involvement.

The last in a series of NPS focus discussion groups to develop priorities in multi-year planning drew only a small group of the usual suspects to Grace Baptist Church as Veterans Day drew to a close, so Superintendent Manny Rivera allowed the group to use the “intimate” gathering to give him an “earful on a bunch of other topics.”

Angela Harrison, a vocal parent who regularly attends Board of Education meetings, talked about school busing being unfair to African American students, calling it a “huge mistake” as the children attend schools with students who are unfamiliar and not part of their neighborhood. Brenda Penn Williams, vice chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee, said Rivera needs to recruit black teachers, which Carolyn Fuller said is especially necessary for elementary school students.

“I think sometimes these kids need to see people who look like them,” Williams said, drawing comment from West Rocks Middle School Principal Lynne Moore, who said one of the challenges is that hiring happens late because of budget cuts. BOE member-elect Shirley Mosby suggested getting a diversity hiring committee back into place.

Rivera said he didn’t believe the schools have a major recruitment budget but that he was on the same page.

Fuller, who works in special education, also said the identification of special education students needs to happen sooner, that parents are not aware of the issue and the opportunities for help.

“When a teacher has 24 to 25 kids in a room, how is she really going to pick, to see who (needs special ed)?” she asked. “… If they get can individualize some special treatment, these kids can soar, they can really go. It’s just the whole process of getting them into it. Plus I know the budget.”

Rivera said special education is a big issue that has drawn a lot of discussion.

“One of the things that we have to absolutely be certain about … is that he or she is getting the kind of intervention and support that they need. There is a concern and intention on our part to what I call proper intervention,” he said.

He’s been informed of inconsistencies from one school to the next, he said. “I think we need to as a district grapple with the issue of quality control,” he said.

Harrison said sometime black children are put into special education erroneously, and shared news of a study recently completed by Yale University of the Windsor school system, where, she said, well-off black children have not been doing well.

The key, she said the study showed, is parental involvement.

Rivera said that the Rochester, N.Y., chool system, where he was previously superintendent, sent children to a private school that was primarily for students with disabilities. In 2006, its director informed him that “at least 50 percent of the special needs students, who all happened to be black or Latino, never should have been labeled students with special needs.”

The school was very successful, he said, as most students went on to college. That was because the school got the parents involved as part of that educational team.

“These are kids who, if they were left in the system, would have been set up for failure,” Rivera said. “I say that for an example because when I think of parent education and involvement, I’m not thinking about PTOs, I’m not thinking about necessarily parent involvement – I love PTOs, but that’s my level of real meaningful parent involvement is when parents are connected to the school around the education of our children. That is what I would love for us to be able to get at, to connect on a more routine basis with the families, with homes, around parents, in understanding their children, their children’s educational needs and what they can do in the home to support the learning of their children.”


14 responses to “South Norwalk education discussion focuses on racial issues, parent involvement”

  1. M Allen

    A child’s chance for success begins and ends at home. No village or village government is going to replace the absence of parental involvement. We can pump more money into education, buy all the free lunches and breakfasts a kid can eat, and you will never eliminate the “family gap”.

  2. Casey Smith

    I thought the whole reason school busing was done was to racially balance the various student populations and to give the students the opportunity to encounter other students that they might not normally come in contact with. When did that change?

  3. Those Who Can’t Do

    2 hours on a bus every day versus 2 hours that could be spent in a neighborhood classroom building a community. Busing is a total failure and what is really racist is taking children who live across the hallway from one another and sending them to different schools in the name of racial balancing. Not to mention the wasted fuel and transportation costs that could be spent on classroom expenses. Integration can be done through after school activities. Keep the kids in their neighborhoods and watch the revival of our school system run with common sense instead of the failed liberal social policies that have brought us where we are today.

  4. M Allen

    Separate but equal is inherently separate but unequal. This has already been decided and thoroughly reinforced. I don’t discount that there are obvious issues with busing, but I can’t believe anyone would think this is going to change. Not after what it took to put in place. It it more likely to be expanded beyond existing school districts than it is to ever revert back to neighborhood schools.

  5. What is also proposed and probably be followed through is the hiring of minority teachers – regardless if they are of quality or not.
    The race card is being played at the expense of our children.
    If they can’t be taught at an early age that it’s not the color of your skin that makes you successful or that someone of a different color can’t help you be successful, then woe are the parents or the village (because everyone thinks it takes a village to raise a child)
    As for the reverse back to neighborhood schools, if the white group calls for it, its called “racism” or “segregation” but now that the “minority” groups call for it, it’s a cultural idealism that can’t be understood by the white people.
    I don’t know what the balance is but I would think neighborhood schools but SoNo does not have enough taxpayers (homeowners) footing the bill. I don’t think the taxpayers of Norwalk could pay for more open schools.

  6. Those Who Can’t Do

    Reverting to neighborhood schools, like it or not, would see an explosion in property values of the outlying areas of town. In turn people would stomach the increased property taxes it would take to open a few more neighborhood schools. The same $500,000 house in Silvermine goes for $800,000 in New Canaan and it is no mystery why.

  7. Ace22


    The race card isn’t being played here. It’s a matter of fact and the fact is QUALIFIED minority teachers are often overlooked, regardless of skill sets. Of course the color of your skin doesn’t make you successful (duh!) but it is also important that little children are able to identify with people of similar culture and traits. I’m far from a racist but I’ve coached/taught little boys and girls who were ALL Caucasian and you would not believe the backlash I received all because I am African American, and parents felt there was a disconnect between my methods and their culture. Ironically, to a small degree, I understood their concerns, but imagine the backlash if I were a school teacher instead? Complaint galore and for no reason, let me assure you!! Learning is deeper than a teacher standing before a class and giving instruction. When a child is able to identify with a teacher (culture, traits, etc.) and that teacher demonstrates sincere concern for their academic success, learning takes place. Of course there are other factors, but essentially this is highly beneficial. It is absolutely amazing to me that some people still think racism doesn’t exist. No, we’re not in chain and singing hymns any longer so to that degree, it doesn’t exist. Racism has been promoted to blindly stifle one’s career growth, produce enormous red tape for acquiring loans, and certainly many other factors when trying to move forward as a minority. This is certainly noticeable in the LACK of minority teachers in such a diverse city. By the way, this post is not written with hostility, but rather concern and fairness for all individuals.

  8. Sherelle Harris

    See the blog section of http://harrisboe.weebly.com/ I posted some articles from Ohio and the U. of Wisconsin at Madison, that give interesting perspectives. I also posted the Brown v. BOE (Topeka, KS) and the Sheff v.
    O’Neill (CT) court cases to give historical perspectives. Have things changed at all? Are we stuck in time? This is definitely a conversation that needs to be had with the realization that we all “share” Norwalk.

  9. Oldtimer

    At the time it was started bussing seemed like a good idea, or at least better than what neighborhood schools had been accomplishing. At that time, there were very few minority families in all-white neighborhoods. A lot has changed since then, in terms of where people live. Bussing has outlived it’s usefulness as a way to achieve integrated schools. It may well be time go back to neighborhood schools. The City still owns a couple of school buildings that are not being used as schools, both in South Norwalk. There are also several churches with school buildings that are not being used and could be rented, if needed. There is still a lot of room for improvement in integrating some neighborhoods and the “projects” should not all be so close. That is a problem that will take some time to fix, but should be a goal to work toward. Teachers should be hired as needed, based on qualifications, and skin color should not be a qualification. Rebuilding Washington village where it is as a primarily minority “project” goes against the concept of the City working toward integration.

  10. @Ace222,
    I stand my ground on the fact that if race is requirement for hiring (just like gender) then we are in it deep.
    I don’t know FOR FACT that “qualified” minority teachers are overlooked.
    As for the “duh” remark, that is very rude (since everyone is on the politeness bandwagon). Please enlighten me about how your coaching methods clashed with Caucasian culture (whatever that means because being Caucasian is not a culture but a classification based on skin color – cultural difference are people with different ethnic heritages; Italian, Irish, English, Swedish, French, Greek, German, etc… believe me there are VAST differences with all.)
    I do hope there is a balance somehow agreed upon (and my children have already gone through the NPS system when they were in elementary then I switched to private schools starting with middle school. Both are in top universities for their respective fields).

  11. Ace22


    First let me say that I was not trying to be rude earlier. The “Duh” comment was to emphasize an already known fact (skin color doesn’t make you successful). Secondly, race should not be a requirement for hire, however it shouldn’t be counted against you either, which history has illustrated throughout the years that this has happened and continues to happen. For more information, refer to the Civil Rights Act and Affirmative Action. Also, I DO know FOR FACT that qualified teachers are overlooked (inside information), and I will add that it’s not just teachers. Many other occupations have experienced this treatment and I have personally experienced it four times in my career, AND WAS ONCE TOLD afterwards by a Caucasian employee (whom I’ve known from earlier years) that the hiring manager thought I met all of the requirements but didn’t hire me because I’m African Amercian/Black. So please, believe me…racism is alive and kicking! Lastly, I know Caucasian is not a culture, but I was hoping you’d understand that many nationalities/ethnicity/classifications (as you say) have their own unique culture which is often different than other cultures. So my coaching style (by the way, I coached soccer) was rather different than what my players and their parents were used to. Anyway, without diving any deeper I will say that I respect your opinion. We both stand firm on our beliefs and it’s my hope that NPS come together to find skilled and qualified teachers to lead our children, and while doing so, it’s my hope they don’t skip past the resume/application of a qualified AFRICAN AMERICAN teacher in the process!

  12. mom

    That was interesting. Would think the discussion on the comments would involve a focus on Special Education, given all the rumbling by the same daily commenters about pinching every penny. Somehow the discussion turns away from socioeconomics and budgets to get the job done, to, something, as a lifelong Norwalker, is surprsisng, somewhat. A revival of long buried discussions on neighborhood schools. Some are showing your ages and mindsets. But than, that is not surprising from some. Thank you Ms Harris for reminding some, of us, with memeory loss of the battles already fought. Although, obviously, wars not yet won. And for some of you, shame on you. Your no Norwalker I know or have ever known. You did not grow up here thats for sure. This is an all inclusive society, government, school district and community news format. Update yur hardrives. Absolutely there is disparity and prejudice in many levels of our society, government included. The current shennigans in Washington are clear and complelling evidence of the distance we have yet to go. The ever elusive ideal of the “Fair Deal” for all Americans, begun with FDR and chased by JFK and DDE, pusrsued by MLK, is still the dream just beyond reach. dream that is still not yet fuly realised and in some case’es the dream is actually moving backward as we see in voter legislation and redistricting in N.C., AL., GA., Teaxas and Virginia. Locally much of this became visible here several years back with the strong right backdraft in attempts to improve conditions at the shelter and local housing communties. All this hot air is coming from many that are not Norwalkers but well, as they like to use the term so much, carpet baggers that are concerned with three things and three things only. Low Taxes, Rising Property Values and themselves. Not necessarily in that order. They made short term investments hoping to hit the jackpot and that is their sole motivation to become so vocal and negative to properly fund the schools, that and thier inflated ego’s. They seem to fail to understand that the education system (infrastructure) is a primary factor in home values. But I digress, ingnorance and severe myopia is abundant and yes, free. The worn out complaint about the grand list is so scratched out on the old lp vinyl its just noise now. Many factors come into play in corporations with good jobs searching for locations. Much has been given away to attract them, which in the long run is the wrong approach. ie In Stamford UBS and RBS among others. CEO’s look for infrastuctre and location and skill pool and yes how much they can get from politicians. What does Norwalk have and what do we lack to attract these CEO’s. We dont want to give away subtantial sums but we do want to make ourselves attractive and unique. Having an education district that is well respected, innovative and works seamlessly well with other private and public organizations can be a deal sealer. We have the location, we have the employee pool but we have to continue to work on the skill sets of this vast wealth of people resouces. Once you build a solid foundation, what you build atop that foundation has infinite possibilities. Personally, its getting real old and very stale to hear the same same, over and over, watch your wallet, bust the unions, no money to no one but me myself and I. Unions eneded child labor. Brought the 40 hour week. Overtime, Vacation and sick time. Yeah lets pound the guys that did so much for America because I want more, more, more and the other guy to have less, less, less. Through all the positioning and venting it comes down to this, you get what you pay for. You want a crumbling schools system because you dont want to pay for someone else kid to get educated, than ask yoursleves who payed for your, apparently somewhat limited, education expousre’s and your children’s? And do some research on property values and a school districts influence in determining a homes value. Yes Norwalk has minorities that other towns dont accept but thats one of Norwalks best, not worst but best assets. Back to the subject at hand, yes absolutely Norwalk needs to address Special Education. Out sourcing may have some benefits, short term, financially but is not the solution is far too costly in the long run and results are not astounding but as expected, at best, with the level of service provided. Cost wise, result wise no one has yet demonstrated and/or proven outsourcing LD/SPED students is cost effective or achieves succesful results. In fact its biased, and is far too stigmatiing to the students. We spend around 14,000 per regular student. Sped/LD outplaced students can routinely run above 6 digits with transportation and support. Shuffling accounts to cover these high SPED/LD expenditures mandated by state and federal laws is what caused last years gap of 2.4 or 4.0 million depending on who you ask and when. We know SPED is in dire need of attention and hopefully Dr. Riviera can address some of the glaring, well documented issues. It’s a management issue, just like the OT with the PD. You can pay for full strength and all the costs involved with those additional contracts and have no OT but end up paying more than OT for the additional benefits for each additional contract. Cross training for multiple tasks have been and are being explored by many managers. Same goes for SPED/LD. There is a trade off. Hire qualified staff and contiune staff development or outsource and scramble to scrub any and all accounts to cover sped vendors? Somethng Dr. Corda seemed to master, manipulating accounts to cover immediate contractual obligations, (see NEON), and that policy remains n effect to this day and coninues to distreess and displace students and budgets. Placing a student on a bus for as much as several hours a day, say to Trmbull or New Haven to get a 1 teacher to 3 or 4 students ratio. At what ten to twenty times an average per student expenditure? And stigmatize the student to boot? Yes absolutley Dr. Rivera Special Education needs a total and complete overhaul. It’s a big job but Dr Rivera is just the guy to get it done. One step at a time.

  13. Those Who Can’t Do

    Mom, update your hard drive. UBS is moving out of Stamford and taking 3000 jobs with it. Aetna hasn’t hired anyone in CT in 4 years and is steadily moving to Tampa and Phoenix. Cost of labor is too high driven by the cost of government and regulations. The internet age and telecommuting is rendering the entire state obsolete. Businesses know it and are adjusting. Government is doubling down on the same failed policies that helped get us here. Time for real change.

  14. M Allen

    @Mom – “Personally, its getting real old and very stale to hear the same same, over and over, watch your wallet, bust the unions, no money to no one but me myself and I. Unions eneded child labor. Brought the 40 hour week. Overtime, Vacation and sick time. Yeah lets pound the guys that did so much for America…”
    What is getting tiring is hearing the same old story of why we should overlook the unions of today because of what private-sector unions contributed long ago. Let’s be clear: public employee unions did little in the way of improving the lot of workers as they didn’t really come into existence until the late 1950’s. By that time the government had already taken over many of the duries of regulating the workplace. Today, they are nothing more than collective bargaining units designed to improve their personal situations at the expense of taxpayers. So when you look at public-sector unions and wonder who is crying me, me, me… it ain’t the taxpayers. Now I don’t personally want to do away with public sector unions – let them collectively bargain. I just want their ability to participate in organized electioneering be eliminated. It is an extreme conflict of interest. Even the unions that actually did something to make the workplace better for all of us don’t have that level of influence.

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