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    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    Just what New London schools need

    Right now is a moment of opportunity for the New London Public Schools.

    The school system has an offer it cannot refuse if the board and administration sincerely want what they have been seeking for a long time: involved parents. Significant numbers of parents participating in their children’s schooling is a goal that has eluded families and schools for decades.

    The offer comes from Step Up New London, a grassroots organizing group that has been methodically building an impressive portfolio of advocacy in areas of racial justice. It is led and advised by two knowledgeable parents: former Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School PTO president Trina Charles, and former school board president Regina Mosley.

    The group has not, however, phrased its proposal so much as an offer as a demand: reorganization of the central office administration to improve communications with families and increase staff diversity. With the opening of the school year, Step Up New London is renewing its call for substantial changes in the interaction between the schools and the community, including changes in personnel.

    The Board of Education and Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie have basically asked for this, with a heartfelt Op Ed in The Day last December, and by structuring the new Birth- to Age Eight Early Childhood Resource Center around getting families involved even before the formal start of school. They should welcome the intent and the energy behind it.

    Numerous superintendents, dating back at least to Christopher Clouet, Nicholas Fischer and Manuel Rivera, have recognized the need for parental involvement for successful schools. They made earnest attempts to make schools welcoming to families, including public suppers.

    The good will was there, but parents joining in with Step Up New London -- some of whom have had high schoolers in the activist Hearing Youth Voices group -- are here to say those efforts left crucial steps undone. It can’t all be about social gatherings, although getting-to-know-you is key. What energizes the Step Up members is their firsthand experience, or lack of it, in being heard on issues that affect their children.

    Community members and school officials now have an opportunity to discuss their respective views on the potential for better communications. Both want what’s best for the students, and both are painfully aware of unresolved issues and their lasting effects.

    Stubborn obstacles to parent involvement before now have included transportation, child care, language barriers and lack of resources; those will still be factors. But the energy coming from the advocacy group as well as the city’s pandemic efforts to equip all neighborhoods and student homes with broadband access have changed the landscape.

    Step Up New London also brings resources unavailable in the past. Like Hearing Youth Voices, the group is sponsored by the Hartford office of A Better Way Foundation, which finances groups that work for equity and against racism. The foundation’s support has helped underwrite an organized effort to poll parents for their opinion of communications in issues involving their children, and issue a critical report card

    For their part, school officials must be willing to listen and adapt. They also must work within laws and the terms of contracts, including Connecticut’s statutory mandate for school boards to provide public K-12 education through the hiring of a superintendent of schools and taxpayer support. Only the school board has authority to hire the superintendent, to whom the board delegates the hiring of key administrators and principals.

    The board cannot give away those duties, but it can surely exercise them far better when it has the input of interested parents and, for that matter, students.

    The Day hopes to see parents and school officials recognize the golden opportunity before them. With its call for restructuring, Step Up New London has gotten the schools’ attention, without a doubt. Now the group has the opportunity to work constructively for better two-way communications. The school system has the same opportunity, and the board’s role is to ensure that the administration knows this chance is not to be missed.

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