Democratic City Councilman Jimmy Sanchez grew up in the north end of Hartford, in a small, Puerto Rican enclave; later, his parents moved to become homeowners in the south end. He went to the old Barnard Brown School and the old Vine Street School (later named for Hartford’s first African American mayor, Thirman Milner – and now perhaps a school on the chopping block). So what priorities does he see for Hartford schools, based on his experience?
Councilman Sanchez’s parents pulled him out of public school and sent him to parochial school – but his travels in the Marine Corps, especially to Japan, have made him anything but parochial (please see his bio online here). Here are some of his perspectives about school improvement in Hartford:
- When his parents sent him to St. Joseph Cathedral School in his neighborhood, Mr. Sanchez landed in the Fourth Grade with Second Grade skills. He was branded with “F” scores; indeed, he and his brother were termed “mentally retarded” back in the day. “Little did they know, we just didn’t know the alphabet,” he said in an interview last week. Lesson One.
- Lesson Two: he graduated from South Catholic High School, joined the Marine Corps and traveled the world. He saw, in Japan, the importance of discipline, not just for academic subjects, but for what he terms etiquette – good habits, like saving money. Emphasizing financial literacy, he warns against the cultural tendency to spend every dime you have – and recalls when he was a transit coach operator early in his career. He encountered students who did not even know how to count out the right coins to pay their fare.
- So today Councilman Sanchez is all about emphasizing early childhood education, including spelling, grammar, punctuation, diagramming sentences, and understanding math.
- He appreciates the re-start of the school closure, consolidation, and relocation planning in Hartford, concerned about the level of community involvement in the consultants’ various proposed scenarios. “Buildings do not educate children,” he declares; it’s what happens within them and at home. “I am not against magnet schools,” he adds. “What I am against is taking the right of the neighborhood child away. There is a huge neglect in the North End and that neglect has traveled down to the South End.”
- Indeed, given the numbers of students who are bumped by the choice lotteries into low-performing schools, he believes, “There is no choice in this system for many, in my book.”
- As the original Hartford Public High School was knocked down rather than honored for a place on the National Historical Register, he argues, other landmark Hartford schools need to be preserved (the Dr. Martin Luther King School, the original Weaver High School, and the Burns Latino Study Academy come to his mind).
Recognizing that the City Council has a major role in financing public schools, Councilman Sanchez would set as a priority the improvement of neighborhood schools – and the presentation of disaggregated magnet school performance data, so that Hartford students’ progress is not masked by “the suburban lift” of those achievement scores. Moreover, he questions why the regional public safety academy is in Enfield – and why Hartford has such a low proportion of Spanish-speaking teachers.
“Education is the basis of all things in life,” he said in a recent interview. As unemployment, health, environmental quality, and housing deeply affect school quality, those issues must be faced, as should what he calls the “etiquette” he witnessed in Japan. There, teachers are respected and education is valued – and the good habits that come from the discipline of working hard are part of the culture.
The Bottom Line.
The life lessons of Councilman Sanchez are worth heeding. While many in Hartford do not see members of City Council as responsible for education outcomes in the city, their leadership can be invaluable, and we hope to involve them more in school improvement strategies.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a continuing series on the views of City Council members, with links to the earlier articles here.