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Educator Diversity Panel, Racist Behavior in Westport

Legislators and Thought Leaders Discuss Educator Diversity

A legislative forum on educator diversity at the Legislative Office Building yesterday featured Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker, Education Committee Co-Chair Senator Doug McCrory, Representative Bobby Gibson, NAACP CT's Jason Teal, Relay Graduate School of Education’s Rebecca Good, and Language Educator and AFT member Richard de Meij. The panelists engaged in a hearty conversation about the current obstacles facing educators of color, as well as legislative solutions. 

Commissioner Russell-Tucker spoke about the Connecticut Educator Certification Council, which has interrogated where we are today and how the teacher career pipeline needs to change. House Bill 5436, she offered, is really a result of that hard work. “It creates a board, made up of majority educators… who will be looking at regulations and paths forward.” Last week, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) put out a press release with an update on its strategic efforts to address educator shortages and diversity. “The number of educators of color has increased from 4,372 (8.3 percent) in 2015-2016 to 6,313 (11.7 percent) in 2023-2024, resulting in nearly 2,000 additional educators of color teaching students across the state,” the statement notes.

But we can do more. Senator Doug McCrory spoke eloquently about the need to create opportunities for people of color to transfer their experiences from a first career into teaching credentials. 

Jason Teal and Richard de Meij each spoke to the impact upon students when they get to learn from educators who look like them and represent their communities. Representative Bobby Gibson also described how education can be enriched by offering a diversity of perspectives. 

Prominent themes were that Connecticut teachers need to be supported and respected as professionals, and that the state ought to eliminate the Praxis II exam, which does not ensure teacher effectiveness but does serve as a barrier to educator diversity. Watch the event in full here.

Concerns Continue Over Racist Behavior in Westport

“Kick me. I’m a slave.” These were the words that a Westport parent told her local board of education were put on her daughter's backpack at school. Her comments regarding racist behavior in the district, alongside those of other families, were aired during a meeting of the local board of education earlier this month—a meeting that CT Insider reports ended with most board members leaving abruptly due to concerns over time limits for public comments. As reported in the Westport Journal, the event followed months of ongoing discussion regarding incidents of racism and discriminatory behavior towards Westport students. In February, protestors called for stricter consequences for students who commit acts of racism against their peers. 

The Norwalk NAACP’s President, Brenda Penn-Williams chastised the board:  “You folks should be ashamed of yourself to allow this to go on.” In May, her chapter will host an event for members of the community in Fairfield county to share their experiences with racism in the area. 

Kevin Christie, the only Westport Board of Education member who stayed on to hear about the public's concerns, acknowledged that: "When members of our community are in pain and speaking up on issues that are important to them, and our bylaws put time limits on comments and prevent us from responding and reacting, it can feel like a lack of human decency, interest or care.”

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