Eric Stewart-Alicea, who’s running on the Connecticut Working Families Party line on Tuesday, shares his background and outlook as a candidate for Board of Education:
My name is Eric Stewart-Alicea and I am running for Bridgeport Board of Education. I grew up in Bridgeport, and matriculated through Bridgeport Public Schools. I was raised by my mom, Stephanie, with a tremendous amount of help from my grandparents, the late Bishop Zebedee Stewart and Mrs. Lina Stewart. Growing up, I learned about a strong sense of family, dedication to one’s community, and that when we all work together, progress comes much more quickly.
Now I live on the East Side of Bridgeport, with my wife, Nichelle, and our four children, ages 18, 9, 6 and 2. It’s my dedication to my children and my concern for their future that has led me to seek a spot on the Bridgeport Board of Education. I am proud to be running as a Working Families Party candidate. The Working Families Party is the independent voice for families like mine, who just want to see an economy that works for all of us and schools that provide a quality education for all children.
I first got involved in education when I began volunteering as a parent at Classical Studies Academy. Parents at Classical Studies are actually required to commit volunteer hours to the school, but I just fell in love with it. Last year I put in 300 volunteer hours because building a strong educational environment for my daughters is so important to me. It has been a great experience. And I started to encourage other parents to get involved in our schools as well.
That passion for parental involvement and participation in our schools is one reason I believe I was elected as vice president of the district-wide Parent Advisory Council. In that position I have been able to work with even more parents at even more schools across the city. It has been encouraging to see families who want the very best education for their kids. I believe in a community-based model that encourages parents to chip in and take ownership of their schools. I am now the district president of the Parent Advisory Council.
That is why I am running for Board of Education: For the parents out there who want the best schools for their children and are working to make that happen. I want to encourage more parents to step up and help run our schools. And to ensure that we have policies in place that allow parents, teachers, students and community members to be part of our educational process in a real and meaningful way.
Unfortunately, that is not currently happening. I have seen some actions taken by the school district administration that have systematically disempowered parents and shut them out of our schools. Of course the most extreme example was the charter reform ballot question last November that attempted to strip away our right to vote for a Board of Education. Nothing could be more demoralizing and disenfranchising. The Board of Education works for, and answers to the voters of Bridgeport. But under the charter change, the mayor would appoint the board, removing voters entirely. I was opposed to that ballot question. Our schools should be run by the community, not politicians with their own agenda.
I was also disappointed to see that it is such a struggle to institute the School Governance Councils. These councils are an important way for parents, teachers, students and community members to have input in how their neighborhood schools are running. I believe the best way to improve our schools is to allow all the stakeholders to collaborate and collectively find solutions. After all, our students and teachers spend all day in their school. So it is disappointing that the school administration would not encourage these councils, and would actively stand in their way.
Beyond getting the community engaged in our schools, I believe our schools should also be engaged in our community. Schools should not just be a place for students to take tests. They should be integral, active parts of our neighborhoods. Our schools should have targeted wrap-around services for both students and community members. Services like health care and counseling for students, and housing placement help and legal services for community members. This not only gives community members another incentive to stay engaged, but it also helps address the achievement gap between students from wealthier families and those from less affluent families. Research shows that out-of-school factors account for up to two-thirds of student achievement results. So helping to address some of those factors will also begin to close the student achievement gap.
These are just a few of the issues I have been considering as the current president of the district Parent Advisory Council. I hope to bring the experiences I have gained to the Board of Education. Ultimately, I want to improve our public schools and ensure that every single Bridgeport child gets a good education.
I hope that you will vote for me, and my running mates Sauda Efia Baraka and Andre Baker Jr. on Row C of the ballot for Board of Education Tuesday, Nov. 5.