Ansonia Schools Host Community Conversation

Nearly 50 students, parents, staff and Ansonia community members spoke openly about the needs of Ansonia children in public education – and they shared ideas about how to improve and enrich the education of all Ansonia children.

The discussion was held the evening of Feb. 6 during a Community Conversation, sponsored by the Ansonia Board of Education and Dr. Carol Merlone, Superintendent. The Boys & Girls Club in Ansonia hosted the event, which was free and open to all community members. The evening opened with dinner, followed by two hours of discussion in three separate groups. Each group was comprised of high school students, staff, and community members. To close out the night, each group selected a representative to report on the common themes discussed.

“It was a tremendous turnout,” Dr. Merlone said. “Everyone agreed that we need to continue the conversation, and we need to dig deeper. Stay tuned for the next steps.”

William Nimons, president of the Ansonia Board of Education, opened the evening with a greeting and a request that everyone share their ideas. “We all know that many of our students do not come to school on a level playing field,” he said. “It is up to people like us to determine how we can close this educational gap, given the many challenges that exist.”

Dr. John Ramos, founder and president of the Equity and Excellence Imperative, and Dr. Mary Broderick, a consultant with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, facilitated the program. They have been meeting with a committee of students, staff and parents since November in order to prepare for the start of the Community Conversations. Ansonia is part of a pilot project sponsored by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education’s Diversity Committee, which is seeking to be a catalyst in promoting excellence in education for each child through policies and practices that support diversity and equity.

Dr. Broderick, who compiled the written and verbal conversations, said there were three common themes: (1) Many students bring trauma to school, and teachers with large class sizes are having trouble addressing their needs; (2) The curriculum needs to be more culturally aware and students need rich, meaningful experiences in order to learn; and (3)
Children are being harmed by the fight between the city and the Board of Education over the budget.

The questionnaire completed as part of the event asked what ways the schools and/or community can be involved in a follow-up to the program. The majority wrote that they wanted to continue the conversation to help brainstorm solutions, attract additional community members and elected officials to get involved, and encourage more involvement in the schools and community.

“Parental engagement and community involvement need to be at the epicenter of an effort to leverage the human capital already living in Ansonia,” said Dr. Josh Shuart, a sixth ward alderman who participated in the program. “It was extremely encouraging to see everyone working together, and it is now essential to craft actionable follow-up, to motivate even more residents to participate.” 

The next steps of the committee will be planning a second Community Conversation that will delve deeper into the common themes and, hopefully, to prioritize a list of action steps. Phil Tripp, a second ward alderman, said he found the event “very informative and eye opening.” He agreed that it was an important discussion that needs to be continued.