Category: Education Matters
Can We Suspend Suspensions? Restorative Justice Is a Positive Option

This week’s Hartford Board of Education workshop centered on the alternatives to student suspensions – ways to keep the most at-risk students from missing even more school.  There’s a certain logic to this: Who needs to be in school more than the most challenged kids?

The student data are significant.  In 2009-2010, Hartford led the nation in the per capita  percentage of Latino students it suspended – and was in the top 10 for suspending African American students as well, Chief School Improvement Officer Jonathan Swan pointed out.  The 2013-14 school year brought more than 5,800 out-of-school suspensions, on which Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez focused – and which the District reduced by more than 1,000 the following year.

HPS Director of School Climate and Culture Mario Florez Tuesday explained the concept of restorative justice – “when you do harm, how do you restore that harm?” – and led a robust discussion of how the District is providing a menu of options to restore trust among both the students who perpetrate – and those who are the victims of – incidents, as well as the school community at large.

An illustration of conflict resolution Mr. Florez offered:  What if you were socked in the face and suffered a broken tooth in a fight?  What if, in a community conversation with the perpetrator, you not only arranged for a written apology to your family but participated in approving voluntary community service in a local dentist’s office?

As a concept, restorative justice returns offending students to the community, while putting them in positions to “pay it back” … so others can accept them back.

While suspensions are certainly not off the table as options for principals, disciplinary matters are teaching moments, Dr. Narvaez advised.  A new disciplinary paradigm, Mr. Florez added, would be to change attitudes away from “you gotta get out” to “how can we help you grow from the situation” – and move toward building peer, teacher, and community relationships.

The alternatives to suspension embody conflict resolution techniques – and switch the emphasis from conventional thinking (centered on the broken rules) to a focus on the people harmed.  Going further, the traditional notions are that behavior is a matter of the child’s will and that attention should focus on the behavior and its external motivations.  Using restorative thinking, behavior is instead regarded as a matter of the child’s skills – and is focused on problem solving and internal motivation, Mr. Florez explained.  Here is the digital presentation.

Like most improvements, the impact of this new paradigm on educators and students will depend upon the fidelity and speed of its implementation.  We are hopeful, and welcome further details on how this new paradigm is cultivated throughout the city.

Here is the video of this important discussion of alternatives to suspension.


Mayor Names Wareing, Colón-Rivas and Two Hartford Parents to Board of Ed

Keeping his commitment to appoint more parents – and not himself – to the Board of Education, Mayor Luke Bronin yesterday named Hartford parents Tiffany Glanville and Karen Taylor to amplify that kitchen-table voice.  He also re-appointed Board Chair Richard Wareing and Vice Chair José Colón-Rivas, which will help maintain continuity and historical knowledge on the nine-member Board.

Conference of Churches CEO Dr. Shelley Best, Hartford Public Library CEO Matt Poland, and former Mayor Pedro Segarra (who took on the task as the fifth mayoral appointment to the Board), are the apparent departures.  One of the five mayoral appointments to the Board remains to be made.  Michael Brescia, Robert Cotto, Jr., Craig Stallings, and Dr. Beth Taylor are the four elected members of the Board, whose terms do not expire for another two years.

Dr. Best, past Board Chair Poland, and former Mayor Segarra consistently demonstrated careful study of the issues, diligence, and equanimity in their work, which was passionate and inspiring in so many ways over the years.  Dr. Best remains an incredible advocate for students and families in Hartford, and her unique perspective on racial, economic, and community justice is one we all must strive to maintain.  Matt Poland’s leadership of the Board during two-plus tumultuous years at HPS was an incredible burden and sacrifice.  His service to Hartford, as past Board of Education Chair and CEO of one of the top library systems in our nation, will never be forgotten. Nor will Pedro Segarra’s attentiveness to the issues of equity.

Here is the Courant article on the four Board appointments announced yesterday.


Hartford Homecoming: All Together for Talent Development

When Lumina Foundation President and CEO Jamie Merisotis brought his America Needs Talent perspective to Hartford last week, it was a three-dimensional homecoming.

Having grown up in Manchester, he got to get back together with his family here.  The next day at a working lunch, he captivated some 220 attendees interested in his linkage of K-12, higher education, and business and industry to develop talent.

There, he also found agreement, among a Who’s Who of Hartford leaders, that the only practical and permanent path to workforce development is deep partnerships with shared goals.

Mr. Merisotis, now leading the Lumina Foundation for Education based in Indianapolis, worked on the creation of Americorps and also for 30 years at the intersection of higher education, public policy, and philanthropy.  At Achieve Hartford!’s “Hartford Needs Talent” event, sponsored by Lincoln Financial Group at the Downtown Marriott January 25th, he raised – and provoked – very good questions about the two million unfilled open jobs in America right now, of which two-thirds require some form of post-high school education.

Cross-sector investments in internships, transportation, and online opportunities for learners are just a few of the keys that could unlock a second, consecutive American Century.

But that will take real work.  Here are some additional perspectives from CEO Merisotis:

  • Talent is much more than innate ability.
  • The five ways to get to a more talented society are:

Redesigning higher education to better serve today’s students;

  1. Unleashing private sector innovation to help meet education challenges;
  2. Redefining the public role, including such strategic moves as creating a U.S. Department of Talent;
  3. Re-imagining immigration so as to meet the nation’s talent needs; and
  4. Tapping into the tremendous potential of cities as “talent hubs”.

Elaborating, Mr. Merisotis spoke of talent hub cities that are very nice places to live, but advised that one city’s success at the expense of another will not solve America’s talent problem.  Instead, where leaders work together to offer multiple pathways to success for all sorts of people, cities can serve as successful talent hubs, he recommended.  Here is a Washington Monthly article on his points of emphasis.

In his remarks, Mayor Luke Bronin echoed the fact that there are far more unfilled positions regionally than those served in workforce readiness programs.  “Not to be contrary,” he said, reiterating his call for a local Youth Service Corps visible in neighborhoods, “but Hartford’s got talent – we need to get a lot better at connecting that talent.”

Hartford could move the needle – and quickly – if every sincere stakeholder were activated in supporting internships and job training.

After the mayor and CEO Merisotis laid out the challenges, Hartford Promise Executive Director Richard Sugarman moderated a discussion with four panelists: Hartford Consortium for Higher Education Executive Director Dr. Martin Estey, Hartford School Superintendent Dr. Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, Capital Workforce Partners CEO Tom Phillips, and Filomena and Company Principal George Thomson.  A poignant plea came from Mr. Thomson:  “We simply can’t find people. Not being able to find young people holds us back.”  He meant not just his firm, but regional manufacturers, too, he added.

Mr. Merisotis noted that, of 6.5 million jobs created between 2010 and 2015, 2.9 million were “good jobs” – and 2.8 million were filled by young people with bachelor’s degrees.  Contrast that with CEO Phillips’ estimates that some 23,000 youth regionally and 6,200 in Hartford are neither in school nor working.

The Bottom Line.  The enthusiasm among the public, nonprofit, education, and business leaders we convened last week was palpable and powerful.  Equally powerful was the desire for more action … and less talking.  The era of opportunity is right now for Hartford, where, through much closer and deeper collaboration, leaders across sectors can agree on both the causes of our economic struggles and the solutions needed to address them.

We also need commitments from business, to ratchet up workforce preparedness opportunities for young people, and advocates leading this work – to set bold goals and communicate progress publicly.  This requires a coalition of organizations that include the Hartford Public Schools, Capital Workforce Partners, the City of Hartford, the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, Hartford Promise, Achieve Hartford!, and both the already dedicated businesses, non-profits, and universities as well as newbies.  Much more to come on this topic, this work, and the very significant players at the table, including you.


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