The 10th annual Yale School of Management Education Leadership conference in New Haven last week convened an impressive array of leaders tuned in to some of the most pressing issues in our capital city: understanding the roots of institutional racism and how the past, present and future are intertwined.

Here are the highlights perhaps most relevant for Hartford:

The Importance of Collective Impact.  Finding that one in seven Chicago 9th graders earns a Bachelor’s degree in their next 10 years, Thrive Chicago President & Chief Impact Officer Sandra Abrevaya said in her keynote address, “In Chicago this is a statistic that we collectively own.”  Discovering that postsecondary counselors were trained to varying levels of quality, she said, her organization decided to develop a certification in college counseling and set up a credential; the first 92 postsecondary advisers participated in eight monthly trainings – and the number has now grown to more than 300 advisers from more than 20 organizations.

That “collective impact” plan grew out of the mayor’s office; then became a 501(c)3    organization giving voice to many educators and nonprofits previously unconnected to the political process, she explained.  Random commissions and committees typically don’t have anyone driving the work – but by sharing data and changing practices accordingly, a coalition of collective impact organizations can work, she said (this work is a great model for the Hartford Coalition on Education and Talent to learn from – more to come on that).

Race Has Asphyxiated Our Expectations.  In a follow-up keynote address, Northside [Minneapolis] Achievement Zone President and CEO Sondra Samuels argued that children do not fail; “We fail them … we do not dream high enough for our kids.”  Following 350 years of legalized racism and only 50 years of civil rights under law, she said, we should reflect on Thomas Jefferson’s not so subtle point: “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?  That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?  Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever.”  With 12 million slaves made “involuntary immigrants” and some two million dying at sea – and 400 Black men untreated for syphilis in the Tuskegee experiment, she said, racism has left a stench in our classrooms.

We need to know the history of Blacks being arrested for not having a job, walking next to a railroad track, and talking too loudly to a white woman – and understand that once-AMA President James Marion Sims bought 30 slaves to conduct gynecological experiments on them without anesthesia.  He was America’s Joseph Mengele, she said.

When people ask, “’Why can’t they just get over it?’” the answer is … not until we talk about it honestly, adopt Carol Dweck’s growth mindset approach and teach belief, grit and resiliency.

What Can Be Done to Promote Diversity in K-12 Schooling?  For one thing, learn Spanish, Hartford Public Schools Executive Director of School Choice Enid Rey advised a packed room at the Yale Conference.

“Diverse communities are here – and we’re not leaving,” she said in Spanish . . . and then in English.  “It’s an economic imperative that we adapt for the future.”

“If you don’t know Spanish, learn it – it’s coming at you,” she elaborated.  Poor people recognize quality, too, she also said, and their interests, regardless of zip code or background, must be served.  Marketing is not the silver bullet, she pointed out; “It’s all about relationships.  Who’s going to take whom to prom?  Where are we going to the movies tonight?”

Speaking as a lawyer, Executive Director Rey said, at one point, if the quandary over integrated schools, affordable housing, and workforce participation were a “mergers and acquisitions” question, experts would be talking about creating a new financing model.  In the school world, perhaps that means districts could get a bump-up in resources for doing a better job with integration – or from finding ways to attract more students from various communities.  “There’s almost a need to create a new line of business,” Executive Director Rey reflected.

The Yale conference this year had more Hartford-relevant panels and points than ever: We need to amalgamate community forces for collective impact, continue to confront institutional racism, and reinvent school choice for the modern world of both African-American and Latino cultures, paying close attention at budget time to the students who already are teetering on the edge of success … or failure.

The Bottom Line.

Five takeaways from Sondra Samuels’ morning keynote spoke volumes to us, and they were:

  1. We must adopt a new mantra of “Believing is Seeing,” and not the other way around, because it’s the lack of belief we have in our students and in our ability to help them that prevents us from seeing results.  It starts with belief.
  2. We don’t have to wait for everyone to believe in our students; not all will, right away.  But we must hold the belief for them until they come around.
  3. Our aspirations have truly been asphyxiated; we must breathe new life into them if we are ever going to overcome our challenges.  We must stop the “deficits” model of thinking and dream again.
  4. We can no longer let the experiences of America’s poorest children be known only to their families.  No more invisible children, right?  Are you feeling this?
  5. The inability to talk about slavery is the same as the inability to talk today about the conditions poor children grow up in, right here in America, calling itself the greatest country in the world … but not always putting its best face forward.