Attendees at Stamford Achieves' October 2nd Success Symposium packed the auditorium at The Ferguson Library to listen to a panel of superintendents, including Stamford Public Schools' Dr. Winifred Hamilton, and keynote speaker Professor David L. Kirp, discuss how Union City, New Jersey, Public Schools are closing the achievement gap.
STAMFORD, CT - Slow and steady wins the race; there is no magic bullet that can fix the achievement gap in public schools. This was the consensus among a group of education leaders who spoke to more than 150 attendees at a Success Symposium entitled, "No Quick Fixes, Just a Sustained Focus," hosted by Stamford Achieves on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at The Ferguson Library in Stamford.
Keynote speaker David L. Kirp, who is Professor of Public Policy at The University of California at Berkeley, shined a light on what has been achieved in the Union City, New Jersey, Public Schools, one of four school districts across the country that he studied and wrote about in his book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for American Education.
Kirp describes how this poor, urban school district has been successful in bringing a large population of Latino immigrant children, many undocumented, into the mainstream, with approximately 90 percent graduating from high school, and 75 percent attending college. He says the results demand we take notice.
Kirp was joined in the discussion by Union City Public Schools Superintendent Stanley Sanger, and Assistant Superintendent, Silvia Abbato, as well as Stamford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Winifred Hamilton. Sanger and Abbato said that one of the keys to the transformation in Union City was the establishment of a blueprint based on best practices, which is tweaked along the way to ensure a cohesive system. They also discussed other important lessons learned, including: a focus on professional development, peer review, and collaboration among teachers; a uniform, challenging and consistent curriculum; and setting high expectations for all students.
Professor David L. Kirp signs a copy of his book, Improbable Scholars, for Antonia Better-Wirz, of Stamford Achieves, during the Success Symposium on October 2, 2013 at The Ferguson Library.
The panel of educators also stressed that it is vital for schools to reach out to parents to enlist them as partners, to maintain a caring culture that generates trust, and to provide high-quality and full-day preschool for all children beginning at age three. Stamford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Hamilton agreed. She noted that Stamford needs to do more to retain quality teachers and to dedicate more resources to pre-Kindergarten programs.
Skeptics will dismiss Union City's accomplishments, said Kirp, who argues that the "naysayers are flat out wrong." All three of the other school districts that he studied approach their challenges similarly to Union City, and all three are succeeding. "They are steadily rewriting the script for poor and minority kids, boosting achievement and closing gaps," which Kirp says can also be done in Stamford. School districts across this country, says Kirp, should ask themselves, "Is it good enough for a kid I love?" which, he adds, is his golden rule for education policy.
In addition to sponsoring a series of Success Symposiums, Stamford Achieves programs include: PEAK (Parents for Educational Achievement of Kids), which seeks to build awareness and empower parents so they can directly impact their children’s experience in school; “At the Beach and in the Sea,” a summer enrichment collaboration that offers students in grades K-3 the opportunity to raise their literacy, science knowledge, and problem-solving skills; and, GOTV (Get Out the Vote) initiatives to engage voters.
The Symposium was moderated by Dudley Williams, who is Director of Corporate Citizenship & Diversity for GE Asset Management in Stamford. The GE Foundation was a sponsor of the event, along with Fairfield County Community Foundation, Purdue Pharma, First County Bank, Gen Re, Heidenreich Enterprise Ltd., People’s United Bank, and Marty and Aviva Budd. The Event Host was The Ferguson Library and the Community Partners were Stamford Public Schools and Stamford Public Education Foundation.