Op-Ed: Hartford schools can forge ahead under new leadership

After months of meetings with teachers, students, and other community leaders, Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez shared the key findings from her listening tour at a recent press conference. As a teacher, I applaud Dr. Narvaez and her transparency in releasing her transition plan, commitment to visit all Hartford Public Schools, and inclusion of teacher input.

Like many of the students I teach, I grew up in poverty in Hartford. At four years old, I was taken from my single mom by the Department of Children and Families, separated from my siblings, and placed into the foster care system.

During this time—as some of my siblings moved from foster home, to group home, to homelessness — I was taught the harsh reality that a high quality education was not guaranteed to everyone. I realized that the only way to stop this seemingly endless cycle of poverty was through a commitment to education.

Fortunately, with the guidance of my second grade teacher, Ms. Johnson, I discovered that my special education label was erroneous, and was exited from special education. Ms. Johnson also helped me to cope with my challenging home situation and gave me the support I needed to ensure I would excel. Later, I went on to be the first in my family to graduate from college, graduating from Trinity College in Hartford in 2007. Recognizing the power of education in my life ultimately led me to realize my passion, teaching.

As a committed teacher, I fully believe our school system can fulfill its promise of providing all Hartford students access to an education that will allow them to not only beat the achievement gap, but also compete globally.

But this vision will only come to fruition through strong and effective leadership that values the collective efforts and voices of all stakeholders. Our achievement gap has existed for some time, and this is not a problem that can be fixed on the back of one single leader. It is time for collaborative leadership, which relies on the collective efforts of teachers to ensure educational excellence for all children.

Teachers’ voices are critical to increasing student achievement. Research confirms that teachers are the most important school factor in how much children learn, and no one understands better the urgency of a quality education than an effective teacher.

This is a major factor that has inspired me to join an organization called Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), a teacher-led group that advocates policy changes to positively impact students and elevate the teaching profession.  I am currently in my eighth year of teaching in my own neighborhood in Hartford.

As I work in partnership with teachers across the district, I find an even stronger belief that, together, teachers can create greater possibilities for Hartford children. For students like me, whose education and life outcomes are greatly influenced by teachers, teachers like Ms. Johnson.

It is clear that Dr. Narvaez believes leadership centers on the inter-working of the entire school community, and this gives me great hope. As long as teacher voices are valued and continuously sought in future decisions, I am optimistic that under this new leadership, a high quality education will not only apply to the economically and racially privileged but also to the disadvantaged children of Hartford.

All students should be afforded the opportunity to have an excellent education regardless of where they reside, their socioeconomic status, religion, or ethnicity, and I welcome Dr. Narvaez to join Hartford educators in making this a reality for Hartford students.

Syeita Rhey is a fourth grade teacher at Burr School, in her eighth year of teaching in Hartford, and a member of Educators 4 Excellence – Connecticut.

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