Author Archives: Woody

Diversity Shapes Perceptions of Who Is and Who Can Be Successful

Editor’s note: Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims, whom we honored in 2008, was the keynote speaker at the reception at which Theodore Martinez was introduced as the 2018 Alma Exley Scholar. Over the past 10 years, Dr. Sims has taught in urban and suburban schools, has been an activist on behalf of culturally and linguistically diverse students, has been elected to the New Britain Board of Education, has become an administrator, and has earned her doctorate. At the same time, she and her husband, D’Andre, have been raising two daughters who are now 12 and 14. Following are excerpts from her remarks.

Children of color do not necessarily need teachers of color in order to learn. They need caring adults who know their subject matter well, who deliver student-centered instruction, and whose number one priority is genuinely every child in their classroom. However, if those caring adults are only represented by white people — mostly white women — that is a huge problem. Diversity benefits all children and their impressionable minds.

Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims

Ethnic, racial, and linguistic diversity impacts perceptions of who is and who can be successful.  A diverse teacher force helps engage students and produces positive outcomes from grades, to graduation rates, to college attendance. But when the ratio of teachers of color and students of color is highly disproportionate, we risk low cultural capital leading high cultural diversity, and we reinforce and validate white, middle class values as dominant- systematically reflecting and producing inequities based on race, culture, and language.

The damage is deep, often subconscious, and influences all aspects of our lives. Just how skewed is the teacher-student diversity ratio? The U.S. Department of Education noted in a 2016 report that about 51 percent of public school students were white while 82 percent of teachers and 80 percent of principals were white.

So what can WE do to remedy this situation? While many factors influence diverse teacher recruitment and retention, simply put, the biggest barrier to diversity is systemic racism. Even with numerous national efforts to diversify the teaching profession — grants, programs, campaigns, etc. — we lose teachers of color at every point along the education pipeline.

Picture an inverted triangle: of those who enroll in post-secondary education, fewer enroll in education programs, even fewer than that complete their post-secondary education, and even when they enter the workforce, many teachers of color leave the profession in the first few years. That is especially likely for male teachers of color. The Center for American Progress noted in 2017 that teacher diversity numbers nationally have actually gotten worse since 2012.

However, we have to continue our efforts. We have to keep pushing even harder when the statistics look so grim. Every time we have new professionals of color enter the teaching workforce, we have to support them.

Our state is trying to help, too. A few days ago (Monday, May 7), Connecticut legislators unanimously enacted SB 455, An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment and Retention.

The bill changes teacher certification laws to make it easier, in certain areas, to obtain certification or cross endorsement. (Not by lowering the bar, but by adopting guidelines more similar to our neighboring states.)

It requires the State Department of Education to take some action to promote “minority” teacher recruitment and requires some district accountability in recruitment plans.

One of the guidelines that excites me most is the requirement related to teacher certification exams. Under this provision, should a candidate fail with a score within a certain threshold, they would be able to retake the test for free. Many of our potential teachers of color do not enter the workforce based on the gatekeeper exams and the cost-prohibitive nature of retaking them. How many of us know someone who couldn’t get their teaching certificate because they gave up after failing the math Praxis exam by three points?

So, this bill sounds promising. I’m thrilled that Connecticut legislators have taken action and pledged their commitment to increasing teacher diversity. I expect Gov. Dannel Malloy to sign the bill into law.

However, let’s stay vigilant. Unfortunately, we have not been able to legislate our way out of systemic racism. We have to continue to be advocates, demand that what is legislated is enforced, not shy away from difficult or uncomfortable conversations, and push for the next step in ensuring that our diversity efforts are successful, which to me means in-depth training of all existing teachers, administrators, and other education professionals.

We have to develop anti-racist institutions and leaders. That’s my charge to all teachers and administrators of any background who truly want to diversify. Do not just have people of color exist in white spaces; actually allow them a voice, value their culture, value diversity of thought, and promote integration rather than assimilation.

Keep up the good fight, and congratulations, Theodore!  You are already an excellent role model, and if things get tough, your Alma Exley clan has your back. I think I speak for all us in saying, holler if you need us!

Theodore Martinez Honored As 2018 Alma Exley Scholar

Theodore Martinez of Windsor, a student at the University of Hartford, was honored as the Alma Exley Scholar for 2018 at a reception on Wednesday, May 9, at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford.

Several previous recipients were on hand to celebrate with Mr. Martinez, Desi Nesmith, chief school turnaround officer, State Department of Education; Sacha Kelly, mathematics teacher at the Academy of Science and Innovation, New Britain; Dr. Miguel Cardona, assistant superintendent, Meriden Schools; Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims, assistant principal, Hartford Montessori Magnet School; and Orlando Valentin Jr., teacher at Casimir Pulaski School in Meriden.


From left, Desi Nesmith, Sacha Kelly, Theodore Martinez, Dr. Miguel Cardona, Dr. Violet Jimenez Sims, Orlando Valentin Jr.

Dr. Sims, who received her doctorate from the University of Bridgeport in May, was the keynote speaker. Congratulating Mr. Martinez, she spoke about the need for greater diversity among educators, reflecting on her experiences as a teacher and in her current position as an administrator. Dr. Sims was honored as an Alma Exley Scholar in 2008.

Mr. Martinez was introduced by the newest member of the selection committee, Dr. Diane Cloud, who retired after a career as a teacher and principal and who currently works as a leadership coach and teacher trainer in local magnet schools.

Mr. Martinez is pursuing a Master of Education degree from the University of Hartford and plans to teach in an elementary school after receiving his degree in December. He has a Bachelor of General Studies, Human Services, from the University of Connecticut, and a Master of Science in Psychology from Southern New Hampshire University.

He grew up in Hartford and Windsor after his mother, Laura Martinez, came to Connecticut from Puerto Rico. He graduated from the Metropolitan Learning Center, a magnet high school in Bloomfield operated by the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC).

While pursuing his master’s degree, he has been serving as an associate instructor at Glastonbury East Hartford Magnet School, a CREC school. Long active in advising and mentoring youths, he serves as program coordinator with Youth In Action, a program of the Windsor Youth Services Bureau. He was site director of “4th R,” an educational program of South Windsor Parks & Recreation, from 2012 to 2015. And he has served as an advisor to the Windsor Police Cadets since 2003.

Mr. Martinez  joins 28 others whom we have honored over the past 22 years. They form an extraordinary network that includes teachers, principals and assistant superintendents. Many have been honored for their contributions to education and their communities.

Our selection committee is certain that he has a bright future as an outstanding educator.


Justis Lopez Is New England’s ‘Rising Star’

Everyone who knows Justis Lopez that he is a rising star. But now he can officially claim that title. He has received the annual Rising Star Award from the New England Educational Opportunity Association.

Mr. Lopez, whom we honored in 2015, received the award at the organization’s annual conference recently in Stowe, Vermont.

NEOA is an organization of educators who work to ensure equal educational opportunities in higher education for low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and students with disabilities.

The Rising Star Award recognizes emerging professionals who are former participants in NEOA educational opportunity programs. Mr. Lopez’s involvement with NEOA began at the University of Connecticut, where he was active with the Student Support Services program.

The SSS program opened a number of opportunities for him during his undergraduate years. He won an internship in Washington, D.C., with the NEOA-affiliated Council for Opportunity in Education, which enabled him to meet President Barack Obama. He served as a peer leader to a group of SSS undergraduate students studying in London, England. And he served as a residential coordinator in the SSS Pre-Collegiate Summer Program.

Reflecting on the impact that SSS has had on his life and career, Mr. Lopez has this to say:

“Never has any program I have been a part of shifted the trajectory of my life as much as SSS has. I have met some of my best friends and learned some of my largest life lessons that the classroom never could have taught me in that program, and I am forever grateful.”

Now finishing his third year as a high-school social studies teacher, Mr. Lopez has been honored as “an emerging leader who is striving for the highest levels of personal and professional achievement,” in the words of the NEOA. Rising Star honorees are recognized for exceling in their chosen fields, devoting time and energy to their communities in a meaningful way, and serving as role models for other low-income, first-generation, college-bound students and students with disabilities.

Mr. Lopez began his teaching career at Manchester High School. Since September 2017, he has been teaching at Urban Assembly School of Applied Math and Science, a public school in The Bronx, N.Y.

Congratulations to Justis Lopez on this much-deserved recognition by an organization of educators from across New England. Our selection committee knew he was destined for greatness, and I’m delighted that he is gaining recognition in the wider education community.

— Woody Exley