Site Meter Josh's Blog: Community Forum

Monday, October 15, 2007

Community Forum

Last week’s Community Forum at the Yerwood Center had a record turnout of 250 people. In case you missed it, the topic was the Supreme Court’s decision on school integration and its implications for Stamford Public Schools. We watched and discussed a portion of the compelling documentary, The House We Live In. Following that, I gave a presentation on the history of school desegregation in Stamford, offered some legal history, and explained the Board of Education’s proposed revision to the district’s student assignment policy. Please press ctrl + click on the following hyperlink to view the presentation:

Those who attended the forum brought a level of thoughtfulness and intelligence that was truly refreshing. The evening demonstrated to me that people need and want the context, history, and rationale behind the major issues we face as a society and a school system. I also realized how powerful it can be when we take the time to explain the back story. Our discussion about school integration is a building block to all of the issues that confront us, whether it is the budget, redistricting, or the need to respond to federal and state mandates.

Thanks to all of you who attended this forum and many others. I would like to announce that the first Community Forum Perfect Attendance Award goes to Dr. Mary Savage, who has attended every forum since I arrived in Stamford. Linda Darling also deserves top honors!


Anonymous said...

The numbers on page 28 of your presentation clearly indicate the need for redistricting in Stamford. What will it take to get parents and certain BOE candidates to realize this?

I recently had a conversation with a Toquam parent who said that even if they moved the entire Toquam progam, along with every teacher, the principal, and all the students into the Stark building (with the Stark students and teachers going somewhere else) she would STILL have to "think about" whether she would have her child go to Stark.

Does she think the Stark building has cooties? Are you ever going to deal with the perceptions of these schools?

The Toquam parents literally think that your plan is to take the Toquam kids with highest test scores and "sprinkle them" throughout the lower-performing schools in the district. Does this surprise you? THIS is what you're dealing with.

The Toquam parents have told me time and again that their school has a very high percentage of poor and minority children, and yet they still achieve. Very high percentage in relation to whom? Possibly in relation to Newfield and Westover, but not in relation to the schools you NEED to address NOW.

The magnet parents seem to forget that black or white, rich or poor, a magnet family has qualities that a district family DOES NOT HAVE and these qualities often lead to greater achievement.

You're not going to find a magnet child wandering into the main office a week after school starts because they "think they have to come here." This happens in district schools every year.

How much longer are you willing to ignore the children who are getting an unequal educational environment? And yes, I do mean ignore. Talking, having meetings and vitriolic public hearings, and drawing up endless proposals that never get implemented is the same as ignoring. It just takes longer.

This is shameful. Dr. Starr, you should be ashamed.

You have not explained to these parents that they live in the city of Stamford and HAVE to deal with the population HERE, not just the population in their own neighborhoods, or the population that the Research Dept. mysteriously (and often erroneously) gives low lottery numbers to.

If they want to move because of that, let them go buy a house in New Canaan or Darien (and good luck with that, by the way.)

You hide by saying that "no decisions have been made." Tell us that redistricting is going to happen--however that may be. Make it happen. Have the courage to make it happen.

Jeff Herz - My View of the World said...

Dear Dr. Starr and Anonymous,

I cannot speak for all Toquam parents, but I am proud to speak on behalf of the Save Toquam parents group, and we are in fact in favor of the new integration policy and support the redistricting initiative that the Board of Education has undertaken to help continue Stamford’s policy of having diverse and integrated classroom’s in every school.

We understand that this is a difficult process where the board has to balance the fiscal responsibility with the educational needs of all the students in the district and attempt to reorganize using the new integration standards.

Our position is that Stamford currently has one elementary school that should be examined as the model for diverse and integrated success in the future - Toquam today.

Our goal is to help demonstrate that Toquam does succeed with a population that Dr. Starr and the Board of Education would like to see in all schools and we welcome the opportunity to bring this successful model to other schools in the district. We are not about distancing ourselves from any other schools. As a magnet, we draw scholars from all over Stamford from every socio-economic background that speak different languages and come from every neighborhood across Stamford. That is one reason why Toquam today is the model for the future of Stamford Public Schools and should be reviewed and replicated, not dismantled and dissected.

As anonymous says, there are children that are getting an unequal education environment. This is unacceptable!

These students should be given every resource and opportunity to succeed, the same as every other single student across the district regardless of language spoken at home, socio-economic background or neighborhood they reside. We agree, until we find a solution that will help bring education standards up at all schools, for all students, then the entire system is broken.

The Save Toquam community is hard at work trying to assist the board in finding solutions, not just stating problems. We welcome productive input from other members of the community who believe that improving the entire district is in the best interest of Stamford.

Yes, we are interested in preserving our school community, because I believe every parent wants what is best for their children. But we are also seeking out ways to take the model that has succeeded for our children, our students, our scholars and determine how that success can be grown organically within Stamford, so that everyone is proud of and can succeed in the Stamford Public Schools district, regardless of socio-economic background, language spoke at home or neighborhood they reside.


Jeff Herz, Toquam Parent

2468teachers said...

Having attended last night's Cafe Conversation, (hosted by PLTI- thanks!) it was wonderful to see such a diverse crowd of families concerned about our schools. With all of these folks behind us, we have no excuse for not succeeding in improving educational opportunities for all of Stamford's students. Let's stop talking about ideas, since I heard many of the same ideas at Stamford Achieves 4 years ago, and let's start doing it!!! I commend Dr. Starr for his suggestion about an Office of Family Engagement, but it is sad that families loose out when budgets get cut. We know how important the whole child is for success in school, and the whole child includes the family standing behind him or her. Make it a priority at each school. Measure attendance at student conferences and open house nights, school attendance, requests for transfers, complaint calls, etc. and then report the results publically, by school. What gets measured is what gets done, and administrators and teachers will step up to the plate if they know it matters.

Anonymous said...

I have 2 children attending Westover, and I can say that Toquam is not the only magnet school that has a successful track record of educating EVERY type of child. Westover has had sustained success educating children of every race and socio-economic level. The simple truth is when you are dealing with parents who are fully invested in their children's education, as almost all magnet families are, there is an expectation of excellence. Both Westover and Toquam have this ethic in their staff, children and families, and it shows in the successes they have attained.

My problem with this whole community forum/redistricting situation is that it has pitted one parent group against another and it seems to foster the idea that in order to achieve some type of parity among the elementary schools in town, the BOE needs to 'dismantle' those schools that are successful. In addition, the conversation has focused on the two schools that are consistantly successful - where is talk of how to improve the bottom few schools. I haven't read a word about how the BOE is planning to redistrict Stark, for example, to bring it more into line with socio-ecomonic based student population averages. Why is that? Is it simply easier to 'bring down averages' (ie - water down the program at Westover) than it is to actually improve a program (ie - help Stark see some type of improvement)?

I hope that going forward successful programs such as those at Westover and Toquam are at least maintained, if not spread to other schools. To either water-down the program, as is suggested at Westover, or to eradicate it entirely, as is suggested at Toquam, is not the way to bring our district success. Josh Starr and the administration have been fond of 'data collection' over the past few years - here is an opportunity for them to use all their number crunching to help support successful, proven existing programs.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but why should a child who walks two blocks from school have to be bussed to the other side of town. Children should go to school down the block from their house or apartment in their own community. Bussing kids far from home is not the answer. If you're going to draw the lines, draw them with the well being and the safety of ALL students.