Members of the Board of Education must “put their ‘weapons’ down and focus on finding common ground and pursue a course of solutions based on problem solving instead of finger pointing and hostile acts,” according to a letter signed by 12 city pastors. Jorge Cabrera, a community organizer for the education advocacy group Excel Bridgeport, has been meeting with various stakeholders in the city in an effort to gauge community input on education issues.
Cabrera says the pastors fear personality conflicts and various issues such as new charters schools versus traditional public schools have sucked oxygen from the larger goals of the district. He shared the letter signed by the clergy.
For nearly four years Bridgeport has been at the center of an intense battle for control of our public schools: We have experienced a board of education surrender their rights to govern our schools; an appointed board of education take over the school system and hire a new superintendent; an intense charter revision campaign that would have given the Mayor the authority to appoint the entire school board; division among our parents; the election of a new school board majority; raucous shouting matches over the approval of two new charter schools and the building of a new Harding High School. These intense battles for control of our public schools has caused more division in our community and done little to advance the educational dreams of the tens of thousands of students enrolled in our 37 schools and their families.
Enough is enough!
As clergy collectively representing thousands of people in our respective churches we call on all the parties involved (directly or indirectly) to put their “weapons” down and focus on finding common ground and pursue a course of solutions based on problem solving instead of finger pointing and hostile acts. Anything less, has the tendency to “poison” the public conversation regarding our schools and force participants to choose “sides.” There is only one side we want to be on: the side of common sense.
We fully realize that there are serious and significant differences of opinion on what to do to reform our public schools. Some believe the achievement gap in our school system is primarily the product of poorly funded schools (i.e., the state’s broken education cost sharing formula, the city’s failure to fund the minimum budget requirement). Still others believe the solutions can be found in expanding charter schools, tying teacher pay to performance, closing “failing” schools or bringing in a “rock star” education leader. Clearly, there is plenty of room for disagreement.
Instead of focusing on the areas where we disagree we recommend that the various parties focus on things they can agree on and work on implementing those elements effectively. Several that come to mind are access to high quality, universal pre-school in every single school in Bridgeport and the expansion of local and inter-district magnet schools. The data is clear on the efficacy of high quality, universal pre-school and magnet schools. They can have a positive impact on closing the achievement gap and reducing racial and economic isolation.
We believe that a more common sense approach to reforming our public schools needs to be comprehensive in nature and encompass the many variables that contribute to educating a child. Proper support and funding is important but so is holding educators, parents and elected officials accountable.
Further, we have a very diverse student population and “one size” does not fit all. We must customize our learning programs to meet the needs of each individual school and student and resist the temptation to adopt a “cookie cutter” approach. At the same time, if certain schools are doing a good job educating our children, be they charter, magnet or traditional public schools, we should not be shy about learning from them and adopting some of their practices to see if they work in other schools.
In sum, as clergy we can’t help but notice that many of our young people are growing up with very different values than we did during our formative years. In fact, they are growing up with values that harm them and the communities they live and grow in. That is why we need character education in our schools. Our young people need to learn the proven benefits of values such as; sacrifice, hard work, integrity, honesty, patience, respect and humility. A good education doesn’t just teach you how to think and get a job but how to live and have productive relationships. Character education can address this challenge.
The time has come in Bridgeport for us to work together toward common solutions that help kids learn and not look to score political points or exact revenge for past “wrongs.” As a community, we won’t always see “eye to eye” but we also don’t need to, nor should we, take a posture of overt hostility toward each other or overly personalize disagreements which then prohibit us from seeking common ground and working together.
Despite the past, we remain hopeful that all parties engaged in this noble effort to educate our children will look forward and find ways to work together toward common sense solutions.
Our prayer for our collective community is that God’s grace will equip all parties with the humility and common sense necessary to find solutions to one of our highest responsibilities … educating our children.
God Bless the City of Bridgeport.
Rev. Milagros Garcia, Iglesia Renacer, Inc.
Rev. Abraham Hernandez, Grace Community Church
Rev. Manuel Garcia, Iglesia Renacer, Inc.
Rev. Victor Gomez, Iglesia La Nueva Jeruselem (Church of the New Jerusalem)
Rev. Dr. Moises Mercedes, Prince of Peace Church
Bishop Hector Hernandez, Iglesia De Dios, Centro de Vida (Church of God, Center of Life)
Pastor Luis Burgos, Citywide Church
Pastora Yolanda Hernandez, Iglesia De Dios, Centro de Vida (Church of God, Center of Life)
Pastor Pedro Vazquez, Gospel Light Community Church
Pastor Doran Wright, Grace City Church
Bishop Richardo Griffith, Word of Life Ministries
Pastor Dimaris Perez, Christian Revival Church