Latina/Latino students account for more than 47% of the total student population of the New Haven Public Schools, currently the largest segment of the district’s student body. Yet, this same community is underrepresented, significantly, at all levels of the district’s staff. Interestingly, over the past six years, the Latina/Latino student population has been increasing steadily, while, simultaneously, the District’s Latina/Latino staff has been decreasing just as steadily. The point being underscored is that of “equity” and the fact that there can be no equity without appropriate representation.
Implicitly, as the demographics of our student body changes, we must do everything in our means to maintain equity by ensuring proper representation within all levels of staff. Today it is the Latino community, next year it may be African Americans, and, maybe, another of our constituent communities after that.
Research demonstrates that when a school district’s leadership is not representative of its student body, underrepresented students are impacted negatively — in all areas of their educational attainment. Further, as a species, we are collective learners. No single individual or cultural group has all the answers. The role of education in the 21st century, an environment that changes constantly, is to engage students, teachers, parents, administrators, board members, and everyone else in the proverbial village that it takes to raise a child, to continuously discover, clarify, and share, perspectives, knowledge, and information. If the diversity of the student body is not represented among decision-makers, that is, if one or another of the district’s constituent groups is not “at the table,” there can be no equity. Resultant policies and activities would, most probably, be distorted and incomplete.
The systemic under-representation of the Latina/Latino student population at the upper levels of leadership and management has resulted in a narrowing of the knowledge, understanding, and experience base required to serve almost half of New Haven’s student body effectively. Further, such under-representation diminishes any influence that could be had over decision-making to better address the needs of under-represented students.
The question, again, is that of equity:
• Is there equity when nearly half of the New Haven Public Schools student body is Latina/Latino and that only one of seven members on the Board of Education is Latina?
• Is it equity when 47% of the student body population is Latina/Latino, yet, only one member of the recently expanded executive team (a department director) is Latino (in most districts department directors are not considered part of the executive team)? Specifically, 6% of all executive administrators are Latino/Latina. 65% are African Americans and 29% are white;
• Is there equity when three Latino executive leaders, directors of instruction, leave the district without an exit interview to learn why they had no voice, why they were not provided support and were treated indifferently.
• Is it equity that only 15% of all principals are Latino/Latina, 40% are African Americans, and 45% are white?
• Is it equity that only 12% of all assistant principals are Latino/Latina, 35% are African Americans, and 51% are white?
• Is it equity that only 14% of all supervisors are Latino/Latina, 22% are African Americans, and 64% are white? Clearly, here the African-American community is also underrepresented;
• Is it equity that, although Latina/Latino students make up the majority of the district’s student population, only 8% of teachers (including substitutes) are Latina/Latino, 17% are African American, and 71% are white (with 3% other)?
• Is equity represented when student performance parallels inequitable student to staff ratios; the top sub group performers are white students with a 1.6 student to 1 white staff member ratio, black students, the next highest performing group have a 15.5 Black students to 1 black staff member ratio, and the lowest performers are the Latinos, with a 47 Latino students to 1 Latino staff member ratio.
Even among non-academic staff, the Latina/Latino population is underrepresented:
• None of the in-house suspension workers are Latino/Latina. 100% are African Americans.
• Only 31% of all dropout prevention workers are Latino/Latina. 69% are African Americans and none are white.
• Only 18% of security officers are Latino/Latina. 69% are African Americans and 11% are white, and 1 % others.
Studies demonstrate that students taught by teachers of color have better performance outcomes — both academically and socially. Drawing on their unique cultural perspectives, teachers of color can enrich the classroom experience in a meaningful way. Specifically, teachers with native Spanish language proficiency can help eliminate language or cultural barriers that can impede educational achievement. The same can be said for principals, supervisors, executive administrators, and board of education members.
Thus, as the New Haven Latino Council, we call for the following demands to be implemented:
1. To achieve a diverse and inclusive decision-making body that is representative of the district’s largest marginalized student population, the mayor must appoint a Latino/Latina leader to fill the vacant board seat in November 2019.
2. To address the needs of the predominantly Latino/Latina student body, the District must ensure that the executive team is representative of the community it serves.
3. Establish policies and actions that significantly increase the number of Latino/Latina principals and assistant principals and reflect the district’s majority Latino/Latina student body.
4. Increase teacher workforce diversity to closely reflect the demographics of the student body it serves.
We hold the district accountable for its failures toward its students. By advancing the aforementioned actions, the students stand to be the largest benefactors. After all, a school system with a diverse leadership and teaching corps – representative of its majority Latino/Latina student body and aligned with the student’s unique cultural values and experiences – fosters a learning environment that places equity at the forefront.
It is incumbent upon all aspects of community leadership to model, foster and embrace the call for diversity, equity and inclusion that permeates every corner of our society. A school board is entrusted with the responsibility of appropriately meeting the needs of the families and students of the community. Five years of data, clearly indicates that poor performance, by the largest group of students in the district has not been remediated. This neglect and dismissive approach in bridging the barriers for Latino families will continue to be exacerbated by disregarding the need for representation at all levels.
We need to remind ourselves of the board of education’s responsibility in submitting an annual report to the Commissioner of Education, for the State of Connecticut that provides evidence of change and improvement. The data shows a change of staffing demographics (a reduction in Latino representation at all levels) coupled with continued poor student performance and the largest group of chronically absent students.
This proposed nomination to the school board clearly promotes a wall of neglect that will thwart any potential improvement in parent engagement. The present actions and performance data clearly indicate the present administration’s goal of exclusionary practices. Under the leadership of Mayor Harp, the barriers to Latino families is a common theme at nearly every school in the district, at all levels of leadership, and now at the school board.
Carlos Antonio Torre, Ph.D. is Professor of Education at Southern Connecticut State University and Past-President of the New Haven Board of Education. Gil Traverso is a former Director of Instruction for New Haven Public Schools; and has presented in multiple forums on Cultural Competency and Implicit Bias.