Founder’s Blog

Violet Jiménez Sims Elected to New Britain Board of Education

Alma Exley Scholars are having a big impact — in the classroom and beyond.

Congratulations to Violet Sims, who has been elected to the New Britain Board of Education on the Democratic ticket. Taking her seat on the board will be the culmination of years of civic engagement in New Britain, where she has been a tireless advocate for better schools.

Ms. Sims came to the United States from the Dominican Republic at the age of six. After graduating from E.C. Goodwin Technical High School in New Britain, she earned three degrees from the University of Connecticut, a B.A. in Theater Studies, an M.A. in Higher Education Administration, and a Sixth-Year degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Bilingual and Multicultural Education. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at the University of Bridgeport.

After teaching at New Britain High School for 10 years and Manchester High School for three,  she took a position this year as assistant principal at the Montessori Magnet School in Hartford.

She and her husband, D’Andre Sims, a mathematics teacher at Manchester High School, have two daughters in the New Britain Schools.

I’m grateful for her involvement in the Alma Exley Scholarship Program as a member of the Selection Committee. Since being chosen as an Alma Exley Scholar in 2008, she has been a faithful attendee at our annual receptions, honoring and congratulating her newest colleagues.

Deeply involved in the New Britain community, she is a member of the Executive Board of the local branch of the NAACP. She is president of the Diaspora Multicultural Society, Inc., which is New Britain’s first multicultural-themed social club. And she was the first president and a founding member of Altrusa International of Greater Hartford, a service organization with the purpose of empowering women and improving literacy.

Looking ahead to her service on the Board of Education, Ms. Sims said, “I hope to advocate for funding, and the responsible use of funds, so that New Britain families and students receive the best education and services that can be offered by the school district, regardless of neighborhood, home language, or ability.”

As a former student in the New Britain Public Schools, a former educator in the district, and the parent of children who attend the schools, Ms. Sims brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her position on the Board of Education. I’m sure she will be a strong advocate for the children of New Britain and for the betterment of the entire community.

Please join me in congratulating her at

– Woody Exley

Justis Lopez: Teacher And Entrepreneur

Justis Lopez, in his second year of teaching, is well-known throughout Manchester High School for his creative pedagogy. But he is also making a name for himself beyond Manchester for his business acumen.

Mr. Lopez, whom we honored in 2015, has created a new humanities class called Rhythm of the World. The class is about how activists are changing the world through art-forms such as poetry, street art, hip-hop DJ-ing and photography.

This course builds on the “Open Mic” sessions he started in his first year, when he invited students to come to his classroom during their free period every Friday to rap, recite poems,  sing or whatever.

Now he is making a name for himself in the wider world outside of school through his business, Just Experience LLC. The multi-faceted company’s services include providing music for weddings and block parties, conducting school and college workshops, and supporting charities.

I was happy to see that Mr. Lopez’s reputation has reached the Hartford Courant. The newspaper recently published a story about him and his impact in the classroom and world of business, and I’m pleased to share it here.

  • Woody Exley



High School Students Speak Out For Teacher Diversity

A letter to the editor caught my eye. Three students at Hartford Public High School had written to the Hartford Courant to urge the hiring of more teachers of color.

The students, Ashlee Early, Chanelle Richardson and Ashley Santiago, had previously testified at a public hearing in the General Assembly to express their views on the issue. The Education Committee of the Connecticut House of Representatives had been examining the lack of diversity in the state’s public schools.

When I saw the letter, plans for our annual reception were under way. We were preparing to honor our newest Alma Exley Scholar, Orlando Valentin Jr., at the Mark Twain House and Museum.


HPHS students, from left, Rachel DeAlmeida, Ashley Santiago and Chanelle Richardson

I reached the students through their 12th grade English teacher, Leanne Drapeau, who had been working with her class on the diversity issue. I invited the students to attend the reception and read their excellent letter to the attendees. (Ashlee Early was unavailable due to a commitment at school, and Rachel DeAlmeida took her place at a the lectern.)

All of us were impressed with the students for researching the issue, reflecting on their personal experience, and taking action on their views. We were impressed by their letter to the editor, which I’m posting here:

“We, a group of three minority Hartford High School students, strongly support Connecticut’s efforts to increase the number of teachers of color in our classrooms. At our school, we have dedicated teachers who care about both our academic and personal outcomes – but these teachers can’t always relate to our life experiences.

“In Connecticut, more than 90 percent of our teachers are white, but nearly half of our students are either African-American or Hispanic. We see this same reality at our school and across our city, with just handfuls of minority teachers to match hundreds of our fellow black and Hispanic students. This needs to change.

“We all testified before the legislature’s education committee on its proposed minority teacher recruitment bill, and we were thrilled to talk with Reps. Brandon McGee and Douglas McCrory about bringing more teachers into our classrooms in whom we can see ourselves.

“As seniors, we realize changes to the law won’t affect our public school experience. But efforts to bring in more educators of color will change the lives of Hartford kids for decades to come.”

It’s encouraging to see young people translating their feelings into action. These young women are to be commended for having their voices heard at the General Assembly through their testimony and by the public through their letter to the editor.

Under the guidance of Ms. Drapeau, they have ventured into the democratic process of advocating for change. Let’s hope that their efforts bear fruit in terms of legislation to support recruitment and retention of teachers of color for the public schools of Connecticut.

– Woody Exley