Gardner: Good Night’s Sleep, Mr. Mayor? The Quest To Work For All Citizens

Board of Education member Howard Gardner, considering a mayoral run, shares this commentary about the need for a city that works for “all its citizens.”

If I’ve learned anything during my first 12 months on the Bridgeport Board of Education, it is this–education reform is hard; not hard as being insolvable; hard in that it is a beast with a complexity of interrelated and problematic parts.

Data on the performance of Bridgeport Schools has been disconcerting for a long time. Mr. Charles Tisdale was the first person who pointed this out to me years ago. Noting that the percentages of Bridgeport’s students rated proficient or above ranged between 25%-30%, while surrounding towns ranged between 70%-80%; I was beside myself. I remembered saying to Mr. Tisdale, “These numbers can’t be accurate; if they are, the house is burning down and no one is screaming fire!”

Thinking that the answer must be more money for education, I became even more disturbed learning Bridgeport actually spent more per child than surrounding towns. Fast forward several years–I completely understand the insidious impact of poverty on the pedagogy of young children. Lack of family structure, instability of residency, poor health and nutrition are major hurdles between a poor child and a good education. I now understand what drives higher intervention dollars in urban school districts.

Our interim School Superintendent, Mrs. Fran Robinowitz, has emphasized the socio-emotional aspect of education. She helped me to appreciate this fact: if a child’s emotion is not in a state where she/he feels safe, loved, protected and nurtured; that child’s mind and heart are not prepared to learn.

I learned through the testimony of a PT Barnum parent that each day her children start school tired. The reason: constant interruption during the night, caused by meddlesome movement of mice. Two thoughts entered my mind: first–a healthy socio-emotional ambiance for students necessarily extends beyond the walls of our schools; and secondly–as a stakeholder in the quality of our education system, shouldn’t the City concern itself with this extended socio-emotional boundary?

Sensing that there were other issues at PT Barnum Apartments, I along with other members of a group called “The Movement” interviewed residents to get a broader view of issues within the complex. Beside the mice, residents shared other concerns: physical safety, trash, frustration with delayed repairs and the inability to regulate heat during the winter.

The Movement invited the newly hired Bridgeport Housing Authority Executive Director, Mr. George L. Byers to a forum held on December 15. Mr. Byers is a breath of fresh air to Bridgeport and to an agency with a dark cloud looming over it. Mr. Byer’s personality is a harmony of intellect, vision, enthusiasm and compassion. He patiently listened to comments and complaints; then shared his vision with the audience. His presentation was spellbinding; it was inspirational. He assured the audience that his concern transcended the roof over their heads, with a focus on their entire quality of life–education, job readiness and employment opportunities.

It appears that the Housing Authority which has seen some rough seas and dark clouds now has a captain with the smarts and the will to navigate it into safe harbor. Notwithstanding now having the right executive director, the agency’s financial resources are just about depleted. We question the competency of the current board of directors who allowed the decimation of this organization. The Authority is independent of city management; however, the Mayor and his administration share the blame. It is the Mayor who appoints commissioners to serve on the board. Too often commissioner appointments are based on political loyalty rather than competency.

Also, it has been reported that there are 58 vacancies and 67 expired terms for all commissioner slots. No effective leader would tolerate this situation. The Mayor ostensibly shares the blame of the Housing Authority debacle.

So while the mayor is sound asleep, PT Barnum kids are swatting mice, trying to get enough sleep to stay awake for Social Studies tomorrow. Many of these are cramming for exam weeks and a few are relying on BuyModafinilOnline’s smart drugs to keep them awake and focus during the night just to study. As the Bridgeport Housing Authority will be operating on bare-bones funding, the Mayor should solicit the good will of companies making huge profits building schools for these same kids. Yes, the Mayor should request that O&G, Fusco, Bismark and Turner give back some of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent building our schools. These companies could form a fund to tackle just three of the issues at PT Barnum–mice extermination, heat regulation and replacement of exterior lighting. We call on these companies to show added value in the area of good corporate citizenship and positively impact the lives of the children whose schools they’re building.

O&G, Fusco, Bismark and Turner can look to C&R Development as a role model. This minority owned construction management company has built great schools in Hartford. Its owner, Mr. Curtis Robinson has donated one million dollars to create a prostate cancer center for low-income patients at the St. Francis Medical Center in Hartford. Over the years he has provided significant financial assistance to Reentry Ministry, a Bridgeport based charitable organization that aids women recovering from addiction to re-enter normal family and work life.

Housing, education, commissioner appointments, and school construction–the processes of municipal governance has a vast array of seemingly disjointed elements, but when intensely analyzed their interrelationship becomes stark.

As I contemplate a possible run for Mayor of Bridgeport, it would be one of my main goals to insist that companies doing business with the city have a track record of good corporate citizenship. We need a city that works for “all its citizens.”

[Founding members of The Movement include: Charlie Coviello, David Daniels, Howard Gardner, John Gomes and Robert Keeley–potential mayoral candidates.]



  1. Keep up the great work, Howard Gardner! Thank you for your focus and your tenacity. You serve us–the citizens of Bridgeport, the state of Connecticut, and the United States of America–very well.

  2. The number-one indicator of a student’s academic success is not race, ethnicity or gender. It is their socioeconomic status. Reputable study after reputable study has published this finding.

    How many children in Westport, Fairfield and Darien deal with the inability to get a good night’s sleep because mice are scurrying about all night long? My guess is not many.

    1. Those studies do not prove anything. Any study only shows a correlation but not a causal connection. Studies do show a connection between academic success and poverty but they do not explain why. Both conditions could be caused by some third factor. For example, both conditions would be caused by being stupid. An ineffective educational system could cause the poor education and the poor education would cause the poverty problem. Bridgeport was not always a poor city. As early as the 1960s Bridgeport was thriving and had a low poverty rate. You could derive from this Bridgeport’s failing educational system led to poor employment prospects resulting in poverty. Many studies have shown a correlation between education and earning potential. No study has shown poverty leads to a poor education. Many have shown a lack of education leads to poverty. The correlation between a poor education and poverty is undeniable but the reason for this or a cause and effect is very muddy. It would be foolish to jump to the conclusion poverty leads to a poor education as this is not always the case and there is not one shred of evidence this is the case.

        1. I already read this:

          It said: The Coleman Report found that school funding levels do not significantly affect student achievement, but student background and teacher effectiveness do.

          Your article seemed to be of a pro-busing idea. That worked out well (not). None of this showed being poor leads to bad schools. It still only shows a connection between poor areas and underperforming schools but does not explain a cause.

    1. OK, this story says you cannot go from the bottom of the pile to the top of the heap in one generation. No kidding? Am I to believe a high school education is not the path from rags to riches (sarcasm)? When or where has that ever been the case? Let’s try this and assume that kid is not Enrique Torres.

      A welfare kid gets his high school diploma, joins the army and becomes a furniture salesman. At least one of his kids goes to college. That kid becomes a teacher. One of his/her kids goes to Yale. That kid becomes Barack Obama. You can compare this with George Bush. He bought his way into Yale, bought his way out of a DUI and bought his way into the National Guard. Please accept my apologies for life not being fair. Not that this always works out but EVERY kid has the same opportunity to sit down, shut up and do their homework. Not every kid in BPT does poorly and not every kid in Darien does well. I will concede that problems are a question of money. How many problems can you afford to solve? After enough bad choices you just run out of money. If you are already poor the number of problems you can afford to solve could be as few as one. One bad choice and your game is over. That would be more of a reason for poor economic achievement than anything and the school you attend is irrelevant. It is just more common for poor kids in poor schools to have that one problem and less common for rich kids to ride the problem train to the end of the track.

  3. Howard,
    Your description of the socio-emotional challenge for Bridgeport students is well done. Sharing the slices of reality you hear daily in your current role is valuable for those who otherwise may miss some of the facts and therefore see the story in a different context.
    Thank you for introducing BHA exec George Byers in terms of his inspiring reason for the willingness to deal with the challenges of this community.
    Finally, it is welcome to know private business leaders, especially those earning significant public taxpayer dollars, are willing in other cities to step up and assist long-term with large commitments to improve the road for youth. May your journey gain support through members of the public acknowledging your message. Sleep is great every night, but lack of it has too many napping in the day when other tasks are at hand. We then are stuck in the status quo. Are there ways out? Time will tell.


Leave a Reply