Tough being Green in New London's Democratic stronghold

It’s tough to win in New London if you are not a Democrat. Take it from Mirna Martinez. She beat the odds to win the lone non-Democrat seat on the Board of Education in 2013. Voters should take the opportunity to return her to office Nov. 3.

Prior to the Sept. 16 Democratic primary, city registration numbers showed 7,091 Democrats, 6,073 unaffiliated, 1,039 Republicans, and 157 members of minority parties. Martinez inhabits that last category. She is a member of the Green Party, cross-endorsed by the Republicans.

The fact that she broke through the block Democratic voting two years ago to earn a seat on the school board is a testament to her community activism. A dual-language teacher, she set her career aside to raise two children. Martinez co-founded New London Parent Advocates to improve parental involvement in city schools.

In a recent interview, she conceded that trying to contribute on the Board of Education after her 2013 election was no easy task. The board is led by President Margaret Mary Curtin, an old-school Democratic Party loyalist who sees no point in parceling out positions to anyone but Democrats.

A partisan low-point — for the school board, not for Martinez — came last December during election of officers. Martinez nominated herself for board secretary. None of the Democrats would offer a second to give her a chance to make her case and the nomination died.

It would serve New London well to see some political diversity on the Board of Education as the school system continues the groundbreaking transition to an all-magnet-schools district that will attract more students from surrounding towns, provide greater diversity in the student body, boost state aid, and raise academic expectations.

However, breaking through the Democratic stronghold will remain difficult. Having done it once, Martinez probably has the best chance of doing so again.

Recently, she demonstrated the ability to get a policy objective approved when the school board adopted the Equity and Diversity Policy she had championed. Its goal is “correcting practices and policies that perpetuate the achievement gap and institutional racism in all forms, in order to provide all … students with the opportunity to succeed.”

It requires evaluating all policies and practices with an eye toward achieving educational equity, “even when this means differentiating resource allocations (meaning, spending more money or diverting resources) on the basis of student needs.”

It calls for recruitment, hiring, training and retention procedures that strive for a teacher and support staff workforce that reflect student diversity.

“Children of all races, cultures, and backgrounds benefit from seeing familiar role models in school,” states the policy.

It mandates that the superintendent “keep the board informed about the district’s performance and progress toward educational equity, staff diversity and development, consistent with this policy.”

Often such reports are forgotten, unless there is an advocate. This is another reason to return Martinez to the board.

As much as possible, Martinez said she wants to see children treated equitably, given the same chance to succeed, the same discipline when they violate the rules, free of any preconceived notions of what they can achieve.

Some may see this as Pollyannaish. That may be exactly what a school system striving for great improvement needs right now.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

Twitter: @Paul_Choiniere

p.choiniere@theday.com

 

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