At the 2017 Yale conference on educational leadership last week, parent empowerment, bitter partisanship, and cultural competence were amplified as roadblock issues.  We are mapping out a multi-part series of articles to illuminate each of these important considerations, which range from necessary improvements in classroom cultural competence to the closely-related realms of contracting, community building, and teacher recruitment. 


Several ear-to-the-ground indicators surfaced at the annual Yale School of Management (SOM) Educational Leadership Conference April 6-7:


  1. Incomprehensible Budgets Disempower Parents and Community Leaders.


  1. Community Organizing Can Activate People’s Voices – and Votes.


  1. Cultural Competence Is Not Just a School Issue – Our Entire Society Must Wake Up.


Today we start with Point #3, cultural competence (human understanding and responsiveness to children’s needs).


At the Yale SOM conference, New Haven Principal Joe Johnson described how his well-intentioned White teachers’ comments sometimes are misconstrued as racist – and how defeating that can be for them, even as he is trying to retain the best.  “That feeling of judgment can shut people down,” he said, advising that “Each of us needs to feel comfortable in our ignorance.”


With New Haven’s 80 percent Black and Brown student enrollment – and its 80 percent White teacher corps, his strategy, he said, is to teach humility – with “an open mind and an open heart” and to urge reliance on all staff members, as that broader staff complement may have “more cultural capital and awareness” than any individual.



Another Dimension of Cultural Competence


President and Director of Business Development Derrick Diggs of Diggs Construction Company gave voice to another dimension of cultural competence: hiring local employees.


In a panel discussion regarding “Schools as a Source of Community Vitality,” President Diggs detailed how his company awarded 21 percent of its $360 million in direct work on renovation and construction at 13 Hartford schools to minority- and women-owned businesses.  About three-quarters of that $76 million of work on the schools was awarded to firms in Hartford or Greater Hartford – and local residents constituted more than a third of the workforce, he said.


In data showing the results by Hartford’s 17 neighborhoods and six zip codes, as well as for each of the 13 school projects, Diggs set goals for minority- and women-owned business as well as Hartford resident worker participation.


In the work that included the Capital Prep, Mary Hooker, M.D. Fox, Sport and Medical Sciences, and University High projects, President Diggs said, his commitment is to provide economic opportunities to the local businesses and workforce.


As his fellow panelists spoke to the need to change mindsets about city schools, President Diggs made another observation.  Amidst renovated buildings and sparkling new facilities, he said, “Kids walked, acted, and dressed differently … that’s another kind of mindset change.”  It’s about dignity.


We will follow up on the Yale conference in future weeks with deep dives into the issues most relevant to Hartford.