Jaylene Hernandez-Gomez is a senior at New Haven Academy. For her civics class this year, she said that she is required to complete an action project, focusing on a public issue she is passionate about. On Tuesday night, she took aim at the lack of Latin American history in New Haven Public Schools’ curriculum.
The Board of Education on Tuesday swore in Larry Conaway to the Board and spoke about the NHPS curriculum. Tuesday’s meeting was Conaway’s first as a board member; he was nominated by Mayor Toni Harp on Sept. 16 and confirmed by the Board of Alders last Thursday. Conaway formerly served as the principal of New Haven public school Riverside Education Academy.
“My history classes failed me,” Hernandez-Gomez said. “I have spent 10 years in New Haven Public Schools and what I have learned barely counters the false narrative that Hispanic and Latinx people in America are uneducated, lazy, rapists and drug-traffickers.”
Hernandez-Gomez said that she hopes for a “more inclusive curriculum” that incorporates Hispanic and Latinx studies.
Larry Conaway will fill the Board of Education void left by Joseph Rodriguez, who resigned on Sept. 1. Conaway said he was looking forward to taking on the responsibility of being a member of the Board of Education.
“I’m looking forward to … helping the children of the city of New Haven, helping the teachers of the city of New Haven and helping the families of the city of New Haven to make the city of New Haven a better place to be,” Conaway said.
Shortly after Conaway spoke, the Board opened the meeting to public comment. Hernandez-Gomez followed Melody Gallagher, an art teacher at Mauro-Sheridan Interdistrict Magnet School and a member of the New Haven Public School Advocates — a community organization focusing on New Haven Public Schools.
NHPS Advocates met on Sept. 25 to talk about how joy and justice can be incorporated into a “culturally affirming curriculum,” Gallagher said. She added that the NHPS Advocates produced a list of recommendations for the Board. Such recommendations include looking for instances in the curriculum where joy can be used to teach history — rather than oppression — and recognizing that the work of creating a culturally affirming curriculum “is not a special or elective; that this work must be infused in all aspects of community and infrastructure.”
Following public comment, multiple members of the Board of Education weighed in on potential changes to the school curriculum.
Tamika Jackson-McArthur, a member of the Board of Education, referenced Connecticut legislation passed in May requiring schools to teach Latin American and African American history by 2022, adding that she hopes New Haven Public Schools will be a “model district” in this regard by 2022.
Edward Joyner, one of the Board of Education’s two elected representatives with voting rights, said that it is important to “blend skill and content” and critically look at a variety of ethnic histories, rather than only participating in “ethnic cheerleading.” He also emphasized the importance of teachers in changing how we instruct students in history classes.
“We have some brilliant teachers in this school district,” Joyner said. “We need a bottom-up approach, I believe.”
Nico Rivera, an elected student representative to the Board of Education, argued for the importance of history in understanding current events. He said that the Board should look to find ways to immediately implement changes in the curriculum, beginning this process in the coming weeks and months.
“We cannot keep this dragging until 2022,” Rivera said. “The sooner we can do it, the better.”
The Board of Education meets on the second and fourth Monday of every month.
Nick Tabio | firstname.lastname@example.org