On Thursday, May 27, 2021, the Narrative Project published a story from Jerrod Ferrari about and recording of a Waterbury town hall meeting held by Radical Advocates for Cross-Cultural Education.
WATERBURY, CT — By not listening to the true stakeholders, the Waterbury Public Schools is at risk of the city misappropriating millions in COVID relief funding.
“If this was a business we would be their (the school district’s) customers and in many businesses, the customer is always right,” said Executive Director, ConnCan Subira Gordon, a panelist on the virtual town hall organized by RACCE (Radical Advocates from Cross-Cultural Education) Tuesday. But instead, she said, people in positions of power are not listening to those most affected.
That sentiment, that the schools should be listening to students and their parents as well as teachers, was voiced loud and clear repeatedly. Currently, Waterbury plans to spend a large chunk of $143.3 million of government-issued COVID-19 relief on building maintenance instead of allocating it to programs benefiting students, teachers, and staff.
RACCE’s Virtual Townhall was held on Zoom and can still be viewed on Facebook.
Gordon was joined on the panel by Christian Acevedo, RACCE Student Organizer, and Crosby High School senior and Pastor Rodney Wade, Senior Pastor at Long Hill Bible Church. The panel was moderated by Robbie Goodrich, Executive Director, RACCE and the conversation used an anti-racist framework to guide the conversation.
“Often times what happens is you have all these systems in place for years and people are so tied into the status quo so any fresh ideas or push for systemic change that can make an impact comes down to dollar and cents,” said Wade talking about how the schools can better hear what the students are asking for. “Most people are afraid of change… whether you are talking about people in the church, people in downtown, and people in education… If we come in and say this could be better, there is always this line of opposition. What does it mean if we change the system meaningfully to benefit people, not just the system?”
The conversation stayed focused through the night on the vital role students and parents will play as advocates to ensure funding is used in a manner that reflects the values, principles, and beliefs of educating students, especially students in the most disenfranchised areas. According to Gordon, the pandemic has exacerbated disparities in our community and funding should address challenges through an equity-focused lens.
“We will be at these Board of Education meetings advocating,” he said.
Acevedo, who currently serves as the student president of his class, said they understand the need for maintenance to city schools but point out that funding should have already been allocated through the normal budget process. Acevedo echoed the thought that student voices need to be heard in how the COVID funding is spent.
“We have these conversations but we aren’t really listening to students,” said Acevedo. “Student voices matter. And if anything, matter more than the test scores a school has… I personally believe the student is the one going to school.”
If students had been consulted, said Acevedo, the resulting budgeting would have been a lot more equitable and the outcome would have been much better for the district.
Gordon, who heads ConnCAN which was founded in 2005 as a nonprofit advocacy organization committed to a vision of a Connecticut in which every student has access to a high-quality education, regardless of their address, says more outreach is needed to those that may not have the lived experience as some of the students they represent.
“Our elected officials want to do the right thing but many times they are not connected to the people,” said Gordon urging people to remain active and be sure their voice is heard. She also called on all those that chanted Black Lives Matter a year ago and said they were allies in towns like West Hartford to step up now and speak out for Brown and Black families.
“A year ago there were all these marches. Where are those people today when we are fighting for justice for our communities,” said Gordon. “We need to challenge them to care about black lives. It’s a tough conversation.”
RACCE is a Waterbury-based group that advocates for culturally competent educational practices. They believe the most effective way to triumph over systemic forms of oppression is to have an educational system that serves the historically underserved and underrepresented.
Their next town hall will be held in June. More information can be found on their website.