Author Archives: Woody

Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims Sets Sights on City Council

As a former teacher at New Britain High School and a current member of the local board of Eduction, Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims is well aware of the needs and priorities of the New Britain Public Schools. She hopes to take her knowledge to the city council, where she will gain more power to make a difference for the schools.

Dr. Sims prevailed in a primary election on September 14, winning the nomination to run for an at-large seat on the city council in the general election on November 2. She has received endorsements from the Democratic Town Committee and the Working Families Party. She is one of five endorsed candidates who will run in the general election.

“One of the challenges of being on the board of education is that you only have the power to spend the budget approved by the City Council and the mayor,” Dr. Sims says. “Year after year, the current administration has provided a very small increase or no increase at all to the budget for the city schools.”

Alma Exley Scholar

The Alma Exley Scholarship Program honored Dr. Sims in 2008. She has remained involved in the program since then and has given back by serving on the selection committee for the past several years.

“New Britain remains at the bottom of 169 towns in per-pupil spending,” she said, “and the results of under-funding a high-needs district are predictable. We need a commitment to meeting the needs of all our students, which begins with equitable funding. I hope to work with other members of the council to find ways to support our school district better, both financially and through forming a more collaborative relationship with the superintendent and board of education.”

Dr. Sims came to the United States from the Dominican Republic at the age of six with her mother and brother. She graduated from E.C. Goodwin Technical High School in New Britain, which enabled her to become a licensed hairdresser/cosmetologist. Although there is a perception that most students at technical high schools are not college bound, she enrolled at UConn, where she earned bachelor’s, master’s, and six-year degrees. Then she earned a doctorate from the University of Bridgeport. She is also certified to teach hairdressing at a technical high school.

Spanish Teacher at NBHS

Dr. Sims taught Spanish as well as English for speakers of other languages at New Britain High School from 2007 to 2014. While at NBHS, she recognized the need for more teachers of color. Consequently, she served as the first teacher in the Teacher Cadet program, which encouraged students to pursue careers in education. Since then, the program evolved into Educators Rising, which this fall will be inspiring future teachers in 15 Connecticut school districts.

“One of my proudest moments in teaching the Teacher Cadet course occurred when I had two students who were new arrivals from Puerto Rico,” she recalled. “I was able to support those students in the class, allowing them to do all the honors-level coursework in Spanish. They were brilliant. That experience is one of the reasons I advocate for access to high-quality coursework for all students, because language proficiency is not correlated with intellect.”

UConn Professor

After earning her doctorate, she joined the Neag School of Education at UConn, where her teaching focuses on multiculturalism. She also works closely with 13 public-school districts in her role as associate director of teacher education for school-university partnerships.

A member of the board of education since 2017, Dr. Sims has chaired the curriculum committee, which has overseen an overhaul of the curriculum at all grade levels. “I have worked to ensure that the new curriculum is written through an equity and inclusion lens,” she said. “I have also advocated for school policies that are inclusive of English-language learners, LGBTQ students, and students of color as well as their families.”

Public Resources Should Benefit All

Obviously, education is her passion, but she also hopes to find ways for all city residents to benefit from public resources while lowering the tax burden on city residents. She hopes to accomplish this through the reallocation and prioritizing of resources as well as applying for state and federal grants that benefit the entire community.

The endorsed slate of five council candidates has identified several priorities:

  • Fund our schools and invest in youth activities and services.
  • Lower car taxes because all taxpayers — not just homeowners and landlords — need more money in their pockets.
  • Advocate and work so every home and neighborhood is safe, healthy, and free from blight.
  • Build community trust and improve public safety by creating a police civilian review board.
  • Focus on transparency and accountability at every level of local government.

“The name of our slate is Advocates for All,” she said. “I think that really encompasses the theme of my candidacy. Our appointed city boards and commissions do not resemble our population. There are certainly segments of our population that are more empowered than others. We hope to empower everyone — in all neighborhoods.”

Community Leader

Dr. Sims has also been active in the community beyond education. The New Britain branch of the NAACP gave her the Community Business and Economic Development Award in 2017. This recognized a project undertaken with her husband, D’Andre Sims. They established the Diaspora Multicultural Society, Inc., a social club whose membership represents many ethnicities from many parts of the world. They have made the space available for meetings and workshops that have had an impact on the community through a variety of programs.

Dr. Sims was the founding president in 2002 of Altrusa International of Greater Hartford, a service organization empowering women and improving literacy. She serves as first vice governor of District One, which includes clubs from New England, Bermuda, and Quebec.

D’Andre Sims is a math instructional coach at Pulaski Middle School in New Britain. Earlier in his career, he taught at New Britain High School. The couple’s daughters, Andrea and Deana, attend New Britain public schools.

Get out and vote on September 14 and November 2. Meanwhile, use the following link to make a contribution to the campaign to elect Dr. Violet Jiménez Sims: https://secure.anedot.com/advocatesforall/donate

  • Woody Exley

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Orlando Valentin ‘Sent to the Office’ — In a Good Way

More than 20 years ago, Orlando Valentin Jr. entered kindergarten at Hanover Elementary School. This month, he returned to Hanover as assistant principal.

Orlando Valentin Jr. is back where it all began: Hanover Elementary School. — Meriden Record-Journal photo

“As a school leader, it’s the best feeling being able to return to these same halls where I began my educational career,” he said. “I already know many of the teachers, students, and families in the Hanover community which makes this transition that much easier.”

2016 Alma Exley Scholar

Mr. Valentin, whom we honored with a scholarship in 2016, began his career as a fourth-grade teacher at Casimir Pulaski School in his hometown of Meriden, Connecticut. He had earned his master’s degree in the five-year integrated bachelor’s/master’s degree program at the University of Connecticut. This year he completed the two-year Administrator Preparation Program at UConn.

Meriden has a large Hispanic population. Mr. Valentin is proud of his Puerto Rican roots, and he sees himself as a role model to his students. He is a first-generation college graduate who grew up like many of his students in a single-parent household.

Equity Leader

While teaching at Pulaski, he also served in a leadership role in promoting the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in Meriden. He was one of 12 equity leaders in the school system.

The Meriden schools’ leadership for years has placed a high priority on increasing the diversity of its educator workforce. This year, 35 percent of the district’s new hires are persons of color.

Mr. Valentin’s equity work also has extended beyond Meriden. He established an affinity group for educational professionals of color in Central Connecticut.

“The affinity group gives the professionals the opportunity to network with their colleagues of color who likely have shared life experiences,” he said. “The group also has had various professional development opportunities such as a book study group and training with an equity consultant.”

Active as a Community Leader

He also has been active in the community as a coach of a youth football team and as a martial-arts instructor.

Speaking for the Alma Exley scholarship family, I can say that we are delighted that Mr. Valentin has joined the leadership ranks in his hometown school system. Best wishes for success and satisfaction, Orlando, in this next leg of your educational journey.

  • Woody Exley

Expanding Educator Pathway for High School Students

Educators Rising, a program to start high school students on a pathway to careers in education, is expanding dramatically. Students in at least 15 school districts will participate in the program in the fall of 2021, up from eight districts since last year.

Dr. Shuana Tucker, chief talent officer at the Connecticut State Department of Education, made the announcement in a virtual program sponsored by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). She spoke about Connecticut’s educator-diversity initiatives in a presentation to members of state boards of education from across the country.

Dr. Shuana Tucker

EdRising was having an impact at New Britain High School for several years before expanding to other high schools. Many alumnae have entered college teacher-preparation programs, and some are teaching. Read more.

Many Diversity Initiatives Underway

This was just one of a variety of educator-diversity initiatives described by Dr. Tucker.

Another innovative program is NextGen, which enables college sophomores and juniors preparing to be teachers to work in public schools 2 1/2 days a week under the supervision of a mentor teacher. Students are paid at the substitute-teacher rate or more. Priority is given to students from under-represented groups and those preparing for careers in shortage areas.

In a recently announced program, Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law legislation to support pathways for teachers for the state’s highest need school districts. Read more.

A new program to be introduced by the fall of 2022 would provide a pathway for high school students who plan to become teachers. The program would enable them to acquire a maximum of 10 college credits while in high school.

Ten percent of Connecticut’s public-school educators are persons of color, up from 8.3 percent five years ago, while students of color comprise over half of over half of public-school students.

Other Innovative Diversity Initiatives

Other initiatives under way to increase diversity in the educator workforce include:

Legislation passed during the past five years to support minority educator recruitment and retention.

Creation of additional alternate routes to teacher certification beyond traditional teacher-preparation programs in the state’s colleges and universities

Troops to Teachers, which has guided veterans to education careers.

A guidebook to help local school districts improve the effectiveness of their recruitment and retention efforts.

TEACH-Connecticut promotes teacher recruitment and helps candidates to apply to teacher-preparation programs.

Education career fairs, with invitations to recent college graduates, members of Hispanic organizations, and students at historically Black colleges and universities.