Rescuing City Schools Doesn’t Require Superman–“We Are The Ones”

Jorge Cabrera, a product of Bridgeport schools who’s been involved in a variety of education issues, offers several suggestions to “bring opportunity back to our schools.” Cabrera can be reached at

I received a good education in the Bridgeport public schools. As a student my days were filled with many extracurricular activities, teachers who loved and challenged me and many opportunities to learn inside and outside the classroom. I have many fond memories of discovering my love for reading in English class, my interest in History in Social Studies and my interest in the beyond in Physics.

In high school, I participated in an after school program called ASPIRA (Spanish for Aspire) which was a partnership with the school district and Upward Bound (a partnership with Fairfield University). Both programs put me on the college track, provided resources (both monetarily and informational) and support. In short, my education in the Bridgeport public school system provided me with a grounding that would serve me well in the future. While not perfect (what is?) I never recall not having ample resources or opportunities to learn and grow both inside and outside the classroom.

Today, there is much discussion over the so-called “achievement gap” in the Bridgeport public schools. I would contend that what we really have in our communities is an opportunity gap that can only be closed if we first close the courage gap.

Here’s how we do it.

There are six main areas that need to be addressed if we are going to bring opportunity back to our schools.

First, we need real reform in the way we fund our public schools. The Bridgeport public schools are horribly underfunded. The state of Connecticut and the City of Bridgeport have failed to adequately fund the schools for years and that is unacceptable. There are many reports that have been published that show that the Bridgeport school system is underfunded. This is not new news. Adequately funding Bridgeport’s schools will allow the school district to provide the proper social (i.e. social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists) and academic (i.e. tutors, literacy and math coaches) interventions they so desperately need. Let’s muster the political courage to fund the schools adequately.

Second, expand inter-district and in district magnet school options. Bridgeport has magnet schools that have consistently performed (as measured by standardized test scores) at high levels. We should be building on models we know, consistently, work; not reinvent the “wheel.”

Third, the research is crystal clear on the need for high quality universal pre-school. We should have pre-school in every single Bridgeport school. Too many children lack access to pre-school and as a result start school already behind academically. Providing pre-school would give children the foundation they need to succeed. It’s a no-brainer. Let’s do it.

Fourth, many families in Bridgeport lack access to good health care, especially prenatal services. Many health issues that impact academic achievement go undetected in the womb because too many women do not get adequate care. We must increase access to quality prenatal care and help families get the support they need during pregnancy.

Fifth, create more partnerships with regional universities and corporations to expand after school, in school and summer enrichment programs. Bridgeport is located in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. The degree of available resources (both monetarily and intellectual) is ample. We should be partnering with our neighbors more to create more opportunities for the 30,000 students in the Bridgeport school system.

Sixth, we must support our teachers. That means we need to listen to them and partner with them. They are in the trenches every day and are in the best position to know how learning takes place. We need to provide them with good training and support them by offering them more opportunities during the day to plan and to develop peer to peer collaboration. And, we must stop overburdening them with unrealistic demands on their time via too much testing and bureaucratic red tape. Get out of their way and let them teach!

Finally, the only way we will ever close the opportunity gap in our schools is by working together and mustering the courage to face deep realities. The truth is the conditions in the schools in Bridgeport are a result of bad public policy and a direct reflection of the ever-deepening inequality in our country. Together, we can improve things in our schools and create opportunity again. But it will require us to close our courage gap. Do we have the courage to talk candidly? Do we have the courage to seek and speak the truth to power with love? Do we have the courage to be respectful and dignified in our disagreements while simultaneously extending a hand to those we may consider enemies? Do we have the courage to serve others before ourselves? I think we do.

The answers will not come from “silver bullets” or some “new” idea. There is no superman. Superman is dead. We are the ones we have been waiting for.



  1. I have an idea, Jorge. Why don’t you leap over tall buildings as you head back to Hamden?

    While your wife has been a principal at Madison School earning over $100,000 at the public trough, you were cheering on Vallas, millionaires and billionaires who were working to destroy our public school system and assist in the plan to charter every public school in this city.

    You were so courageous that although you now claim you knew Ex$ell Bridgeport, ConnCAN, Families for Ex$ellent Schools, Northeast Charlatan Schools were all disgraceful organizations, it was fine as long as you got your paycheck every Friday.

    You sir, are a coward. Real courage would have been to resign from Ex$ell Bridgeport because you knew what they stood for was completely contrary to your values and principles around public education. No, instead you did their bidding for $$$. Penning a couple of op-eds AFTER you were terminated because you were ineffective is simply an effort to find a place to land in the community you turned your back on.

    You are completely disingenuous, and are simply looking for acceptance and a home. Like I said, take your sudden interest in lifting the true public schools in this city and spend your efforts in Hamden.

    I for one want absolutely nothing to do with you.

  2. Maria Pereira, you need to understand the primary indication of courage is to have the courage to admit when one is wrong. Here you are supporting Joe Ganim for mayor and I assume you’ve accepted his apology and admission of wrongdoing. What’s the difference between Joe Ganim and Jorge Cabrera? Jorge Cabrera has explained his experience, intentions and expectation from his stint with the charter school initiative. I was disappointed and surprised when I first heard of Jorge Cabrera working for the implementation of more charter schools. I’ve expressed my opinion here a few times on commentaries from Jorge Cabrera. Whenever Jorge and I were in the same location or of opposite views, I and Jorge always kept things respectful and had conversations without getting personal. There was something about Jorge that told me he had some internal struggle with the job he accepted to do and in one conversation we had, he was listening carefully to what I was saying. When Jorge Cabrera came out publicly repentant for his participation and he explained he had been having conversations with many people, I believe what I wrote here and said to him had an impact in his decision to right a wrong. If only more men and women had the courage to stop and think of what they are doing that hurts the community, admit their mistake and make up for the damage they may have caused, we would be in a much better position overall. I’d have no problem working besides Jorge Cabrera. Superman is dead, but there is a Superwoman living and her name is Maria Pereira.

    1. Joel Gonzalez, that was perhaps your most thoughtful post on this blog. I agree with almost everything you stated. That sir is a happening. I never met Mr. Cabrera, but I am certain whatever he is guilty of, it does not compare on any level to what Ganim was found guilty of.

      1. Steve, Cabrera is guilty of working to deny Bridgeport residents their right to vote while being a resident of Hamden. Voting is a cornerstone of democracy. This directly impacted over 40,000 residents/voters. Ganim was guilty of taking kickbacks which never directly impacted residents/voters.

        1. Maria, excuse me. Are you $#@%ing kidding me? What Ganim did affected 140,000 people and the image of our city. I know you are not serious.

          1. Yes, I am absolutely serious. Cabrera and Finch tried to take every resident’s right to vote which DIRECTLY impacted every registered voter. Ganim took kickbacks from wealthy developers. That did not DIRECTLY impact Bridgeport residents. Your buddy Finch was on the City Council for the majority of Ganim years and was totally complicit.

          2. Maria, I guess you really do not believe Ganim’s actions affected the entire city and the ramifications they have had. Most Bridgeport voters have no clue who they are voting for when it comes to the BOE. If you do not have kids in school, most likely you do not care to even vote. Most voters will just vote the party line. I’d venture to say if most registered voters were polled, most would not he able to name one member of the Board.

      2. Steve, thanks for acknowledging my posts as “thoughtful.” Let’s not leave out my posts are factual (including the fact Senators Moore and Gomes are cousins) despite what others think. Yes, this is aimed at Lennie Grimaldi. Let’s talk about “any level to what Ganim was found guilty of.” What level of participation did Bill Finch have in regards to what Ganim was found guilty of? I served six years (1995-2001) on the Ganim administration as City councilmen representing district 131. Bill Finch was also on the council (Finch left to serve on the State Senate in 2000). Not long after Finch left to the Senate, news of a federal probe broke out. It was obvious to me and others the feds were looking into the awarding of city contracts–no bids included–to developers. Joe Ganim could not have accomplished anything without City Council approval or the failure of City Council’s leadership enforcement of procedures and process. It’s a FACT Bill Finch was the chairmen of the City Council’s Contracts and Appointments Committee during all the years the feds were secretly conducting their probe. It’s a FACT that just about everything a mayor of Bridgeport signs off on is first vetted and approved by City Council Committees. When the administration was circumventing the bidding process, only a handful of council members (Walsh, Parziale and Gonzalez) constantly raised questions about it. The Council President (Fabrizi) did nothing about it and would simply state it’s up to the committee chair (Finch) to give us information and explanation to questions and concerns. We got the silent treatment. Fabrizi’s brother got millions in no-bid contracts. The feds had plenty of evidence on Fabrizi, but how do they get his brother to testify against him? Fabrizi ends up becoming the mayor and after just five years, he and Council President Andres Ayala left the city broke.

        Steve, I’ve been reading the blog and I agree with you in that Joe Ganim should not make this election about just the future. It would be to Finch’s advantage for Ganim to not talk about the past to a larger degree. Seven years ago I started blogging here and I started with my “past” experiences as a City Councilmen especially in what the real Bill Finch was and is going to be like. Six months later I was targeted for layoff. Steve, let’s lay off the bullshit and do your best to convince me Joe Ganim was solely responsible for his downfall and Bill Finch is the best thing since the creation of water.

        1. Joel, why has it taken so long for you to spill the beans? That post was insightful and disturbing. In the end, there was a trial and it was Joe Ganim who was convicted. Go figure!

  3. Joel, you will need to forgive Maria. The things you are talking about are foreign concepts. Please explain to her what a mistake is since she had never made one in her life.
    And this concept of appol, appol, apologize. If she has made no mistakes she would not know what an apology is and how it works. I am sure with your mentoring she can begin to grasp these concepts and will be more forgiving going forward.

    1. Bob, Joel doesn’t need to forgive me for anything because I haven’t asked for forgiveness.

      Don’t worry about what mistakes I have made or will make in the future. Just know I will never call one of my colleagues and leave a message pretending to be a black slave from the south. Only a completely insensitive uninformed idiot would do that. And I am none of those things.

      1. Maria, it is best to forgive without having to be asked for forgiveness. It’s just fine to forgive but not forget. Think about this Maria: You have been very passionate and vocal in expressing your views, feelings and opinions in regards to education. Everyone including Jorge Cabrera have listened to you and or have read your many writings. Have you stopped to think maybe some of the things you’ve said or wrote touched Jorge Cabrera and made him think of what he was participating in doing? I’m sure you aren’t vocal so people ignore you or your pleas fall on death ears. It was because of what “we” did to combat a bad concept, the effort to bring the bad concept to fruition failed. If I had to walk through hell, I would feel a lot more secure and confident if someone who walked there before was willing to walk through hell with me. The enemy of my enemy is my best friend when he or she was in partnership with my enemy. He or she knows the ins and outs of our common enemy’s camp. Jorge Cabrera is the ideal person to work with if defeating the charter school movement is your goal. You are very smart, bold and unquestionably committed to your beliefs. Jorge Cabrera is no longer a threat to us or our beliefs as far as education goes. I think deep down inside you like Jorge Cabrera and others like Andy Fardy. Go on the dance floor and dance with them. Here is an ideal song I picked:


        1. By the way Joel, I was never worried about Jorge Cabrera. Every single campaign and initiative he has ever been involved in has failed. His involvement is equivalent to a kiss of death.

          Whether it was a Carl Horton, Jerry Garcia, the Vote YES referendum, the Row A BBOE candidates, etc.

          1. I am sorry. I just reread this. Are you insinuating I actually like Jorge Cabrera? If so, you are off your rocker.

  4. Joel, there are several differences.

    First, Ganim is not a product of the BPS. Jorge was involved in supporting the demise of the public schools he claims gave him a “good education.”

    Second, Ganim paid a serious price for his poor judgement. Jorge has paid none. In fact, his wife was promoted to principal under the Vallas Reign of Terror. Do you think that was a coincidence?

    Third, he knowingly joined the organization after he knew they were involved in the illegal takeover of the BBOE. He also knew Excel Bridgeport, Bridgeport Education Fund and the BRBC hired none other than Pullman & Comley to submit an amicus brief to the CT Supreme Court in support of the illegal takeover while I, Bobby and Sauda were fighting to get our seats back and restore Bridgeport residents’ right to vote.

    Fourth, he actively supported and worked to take Bridgeport residents’ right to vote away. Excel Bridgeport spent $100,000 in support of the Vote YES campaign. Did you seem him trying to take Hamden residents’ right to vote away? I don’t believe Ganim worked to take away our right to vote, do you?

    Fifth, please tell me where Jorge publicly stated or wrote he was “sorry.” He criticized his former employer, that is all he did.

    Jorge Cabrera is an unemployed hack looking for a job. Nothing more, nothing less. I hope he finds one soon. Preferably in Chicago, Louisiana or Philadelphia. I also wish him the same recent success his idol, Paul Vallas has experienced, which I believe is none.

  5. Maria,
    The City time period of which you speak is recent enough to question your hyperbole, specifically the “Vallas Reign of Terror.” My personal takeaway from before the hiring of Paul Vallas was Superintendent Ramos had left the City BOE or school system without a budget in place or any particular direction. The CT Post was reporting a likely deficit of $18 Million, the layoff of hundreds of BOE staff and other dire actions. Is it reasonable to suggest the Board of Education was unequal to the task before it?

    Vallas came to the City and rapidly sized up the challenges and opportunities in a pragmatic way. One of his actions was to create and publish a structurally sound budget for a five-year period and hire a very competent CFO to manage the budget, be accountable for working the plan and keeping “the ship of state for education” afloat. Marlene Siegel has overseen that the lights are on, no schools closed, teachers are paid, and the books, at this moment are in balance. Isn’t that a plus for Bridgeport? Budgets, including grant revenues and expenditures and number of employees became available to the public … a real OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENT step for Bridgeport.

    Vallas never claimed to be a Superman though his global understanding of what needed to be done that he addressed in the five-year plan struck some parts of the school community as too great a change from the status quo (duhhhh …) and they sought ways to fight it. The attempt by Mayor Finch to take over the BOE through appointment of members with a revised Charter was an overreach but failed. But that was not a Vallas effort or initiative. And the attack on his credentials to lead this district likewise failed but the rancor continued.

    Vallas’ record in other communities contains a similar pattern of creating a time period of budget stability where there was none before and then focusing on items of academic priority. (I remember the stories of books and other support materials in warehouses. An agreement of support for a five-year period by HMH stopped those stories, brought us closer to the technology of other communities, but since no change is perfect still had its detractors in that we did not go far enough.)

    So when a phrase like “reign of terror” is used, one expects more evidence in order to respect such a statement. Otherwise it can be categorized as personal opinion uttered as “propaganda.” At the beginning of the period, Maria, you were a player on the stage of educational governance. Today your position has changed but you are still scourging an individual who helped our system in the short time he was present as he has assisted other communities, not without discussion or dissent, but isn’t that what happens in the public square, unless people are bullied?
    Time will tell.

    1. Vallas balanced the budget like Mussolini got the trains to run on time. In the process he abandoned that whole “educate the child” thing. Oh, and he and his hirelings came out OK financially, no?

  6. John Marshall Lee,
    Two considerations:
    I have no doubt you can accurately show the cost savings etc. produced by Paul Vallas during his stay. But I think however, you might agree with me there exists simultaneously a very strong public perception an association between Paul Vallas and Mayor Finch-wood, forged one highly destructive symbiotic associations in Bridgeport’s governance. For many, this the association in effecting an incredibly damaging blow to the public school education system in Bridgeport.
    The overthrow of duly elected members of the Bridgeport Board of Education may well have caused hyperbole from Maria Pereira, but that is no more than a few words in the grand scheme of things. Hardly sticks and stones. She sure as hell is fighting for the survival of the public-education-life of Bridgeport, one that is sustained by its accessibility and its equal opportunities across the board … for all.

    1. Carolanne Curry, Ben Walker and Maria Pereira,
      Try as you like, the state of the City School System preceding the arrival in December of the school year is apparently not being contested by anyone.

      And Vallas did make some systemic changes while stabilizing the financial process for the City schools, something neither Mayor Finch nor the previous BOEs seemed to have the ability to occur. And that financial structure has survived his departure, and it is available for all to see on the BOE site including State and local funds, but also including Grants and employment statistics that Mayor Finch does not share when providing monthly financial reports. For this much Vallas should have more appreciation than most on this site will grant. OK, it may take time, but that is my opinion.
      I was at the first and many subsequent Charter meetings and wrote many OIB posts about the undemocratic tone of the Finch-picked group and what they were pursuing. I opposed the loss of citizen vote publicly and forcefully. Go back and look at Vallas’ plan for schools. It did not depend nor even assume a Finch-appointed school board.

      If you did not like him personally for whatever reason, at least value the improvement he set in motion. Since you have to guess at the financial success of Vallas and the team he assembled to work for necessary change, I will guess those accusations of millions and billions were hot air from the lady who can only comment with “BULL.” The school system survived the “takeover” by Finch as the second anti-Finch coalition WIN!!! That has continued to feed the dreams and aspirations of an increasing number of Bridgeport residents in the election cycle this year.

      Yes, the incumbent has much of the MOM mantra covered with money, and perhaps organization but isn’t that getting ragged at the edges? And better every day without explaining how the homeowner and small business owner are paying the 100% taxes in order to subsidize “long term economic development,” well that’s only half a message, and when the public wakes up to the full truth, more people may turn out to vote. Time will tell.

      1. With all due respect, Mr. Lee, as I see it Bridgeport narrowly escaped the Paul Vallas successes of the New Orleans Recovery School District and the Philadelphia School District. If Vallas had remained in power any longer, Bridgeport, too, could have become a national case study as to “what not to do to a public school district” or “how to destroy a public school district” much like these two. Even though Vallas’ tenure was short, the Bridgeport Public Schools are still recovering from the “Vallas Effect.” Don’t believe me? Just spend a day in any of the city’s kindergarten classrooms with 24 students per teacher, most of whom speak no English at home and none with Pre-K. Just my opinion.

        1. Ben, don’t forget ground zero where it all began, Chicago. Isn’t this the home of the Chicago BULLS and where Michael Jordan played? Remember, Paul Vallas is the self-proclaimed Michael Jordan of education deform.

  7. No matter what cost savings JML or anyone can point to, it would be of zero significance as it hasn’t addressed any of the six points Jorge Cabrera listed. Just because there is a perception of peace and quiet among the BOE members and a balanced BOE budget, it doesn’t mean we are over the hump or the problems are solved.

    1. School problems not solved. True, but who said they were? And I have not talked about cost savings regularly but about more money for the system from the State and from hidden City budget items, and then good long-term management by the Superintendent and team. What did people expect from a two-year engagement?

      By the way at City Council budget process this year, I believe the record will show me commenting about increased money for schools on more than one occasion. Where were all of you school experts? OIB is a good place to post your material, but there have been openings before the Council to let your ideas get aired. When will you speak up? When will the Council need to change its rules to something more like the BOE to deal with public enthusiasm to learn, to grow in knowledge, and to be listened to? Time will tell.

  8. I want to specifically thank all those who posted here and, generally, all those who post on the blog regularly. I believe you all do your community a tremendous service by debating these issues. When the commentary is critical, when it exposes little-known fact, when you share personal experiences to provide a historical context, etc. you are providing the community with type of media not available locally. It’s the “Meet the Press,” “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” “Anderson Cooper 360” of local politics. Considering I haven’t been able to find political analysis of local government, like we have nationally, your “work” on the blog is much needed and appreciated.

    While I do not always agree with what is posted nor do I understand how you all have the time to participate in public discourse the way you do, I’m certainly grateful that you do. Your commentary is invaluable to those who seek to consume thoughtful, informative news. Thank you.


Leave a Reply