Candidates for the Stamford Board of Education talk about the achievement gap

STAMFORD — Two graphics presented at a Thursday night forum for candidates aspiring to serve on the Stamford School Board told the story of the challenges facing black students in the district.

In one, the average math scores of black students for the state’s Smarter Balanced Assessment were displayed alongside the average scores of Asian, white, and Hispanic students for five different school years. The image showed that black students were far behind Asian and white students and slightly below Hispanic students in meeting or exceeding state requirements.

Another graph showed that the number of school disciplinary actions against black and Hispanic students far exceeded that of white and Asian students. The two visuals, which illustrate the district’s achievement gap, are not uncommon in school districts across the country; the same data has been fashionable at Stamford for years.

Democrat Michael Hyman, one of six candidates for a school board seat and one of four candidates who attended the event, knows the story well. He pointed out that 20 years ago he wrote an op-ed for The Stamford Advocate about the inconvenient statistics of black student achievement in the city.

“The graph you have placed on the screen is no different from the graph we showed 20 years ago,” said Hyman, a staff member at Stamford’s nonprofit Domus and former chairman. of the NAACP in Stamford.

Finding ways to improve those numbers was a central theme of the forum, organized by the Alliance for Black Achievement.

Candidate Versha Munshi-South, a Democrat, said Stamford is failing its black and Hispanic students.

She highlighted the fact that the district lack of written curriculum in about 80% of its core classes, a finding that emerged from the audit of the recently released curriculum conducted by an outside firm. This lack of curriculum results in a lack of student assessments, according to the audit report.

“Which means when we get this data (Smarter Balanced Assessment), it may come as a surprise because we haven’t assessed the students along the way,” said Munshi-South, a former teacher and director of the Public Preparatory Network. in Manhattan.

Dan Dauplaise, a lawyer and the only incumbent to seek re-election, said improving black student performance is one of the most important tasks facing the city’s school board.

“Our black and Hispanic students aren’t doing as well as our white and Asian students,” said Dauplaise, a Democrat. “Why is that? The answer to that question might be the deepest and most vexing issue we face in the (Education) Council.”

He called for more investment in teachers, better schools and an expansion of curricula, especially in reading.

Joseph Andreana, the only Republican to attend the forum, said hiring more diverse teachers could have a positive impact on the success of black students.

Stamford’s teaching staff still remains overwhelmingly white with nearly 90% of all teachers, even though the district is made up mostly of Hispanic students, the data shows.

According to district enrollment figures at the end of last year, about 48% of Stamford students identify as Hispanic, while about 28% are white. Black students make up approximately 14% of the entire student body; the percentage of black students always exceeds the percentage of black teachers.

“Policies should be put in place to help us develop, recruit and also ensure that we get the representation at all levels that is right for what is here at Stamford and meets what we need at Stamford,” said Andreana, a Charter Project and Program Communication Manager.

The other two Republican candidates – Lisa Butler and Diane Melchionne – were not at the forum due to prior commitments to an event at the Stamford Boys & Girls Club.

But they each sent statements which were read during the event.

Butler – who has three children who attended Stamford public schools, including a current Stamford High School junior and who has served on the Stamford High School Governing Council for the past four years – called for raising academic standards for all the students.

“We need to make sure we reach every student at the elementary and middle school levels to ensure that all students receive a rigorous curriculum,” she wrote. “We need to make sure that if the kids are failing we have the supports in place to help them in the form of additional mandatory tutoring or after-school homework help.”

Melchionne called for holding the school district superintendent more accountable for declining student performance.

“I will join with all members of the board to define a set of metrics that our superintendent is accountable for, and then consistently and regularly measure our superintendent against those metrics,” wrote Melchionne, an executive at job listing company Indeed, which has a corporate office in Stamford. “If our students don’t pass, we let them down and it’s ultimately the board’s job to deal with that failure vis-a-vis the superintendent, which I intend to do.”

The six candidates are vying for three vacant seats on the board. Due to minority party representation rules, Democrats can only win two seats in the election. Republicans, on the other hand, could win up to three.

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