Dr. Narvaez Addresses HPS Teachers at Convocation 2014’s Kick-off to the School Year
SPOTLIGHT on EXCELLENCE Issue 38 September, 2014
Dr. Narvaez Addresses HPS Teachers at Convocation 2014's Kick-off to the School Year
On Monday, August 25, 2014, Hartford Public Schools officially welcomed back its teaching staff at its annual Teacher Convocation celebration in the field house of the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy. This year, the event offered teachers an opportunity to connect with their new superintendent, Dr. Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, and prepare for the coming academic year. The morning began with a light breakfast and included performances by the E.B. Kennelly School student drum line and students from the Global Communications Academy who led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, student Remmi Maxwell, from R.J. Kinsella Magnet School of the Performing Arts who sang the National Anthem, and the R.J. Kinsella Magnet School of the Performing Arts Dance Troupe who surprised the teachers with a "flash mob" dance in their honor.
HPS staff-members and Kinsella student dancers secretly rehearse for the surprise flash mob– with Jackie Coleman, Senior Advisor for the Arts and Ingrid Rogelstad-Howe of Kinsella as the ring-leaders!
Teachers heard from Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez; Mayor Pedro E. Segarra; Richard F. Wareing, Chairman of the Hartford Board of Education; Justin Taylor, 2014 Hartford Teacher of the Year; John Laverty, Principal of the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy; and Chief Talent Officer Jennifer Allen. Each of the speakers shared amusing andf touching personal anecdotes about their experiences with teachers and teaching.
The Flash-mob (a surprise musical dance number) by principals, administration and Students from Kinsella in honor of the teachers wrapped up the ceremony.
The brave students who led the crowd of more than 1,500 teachersin the Pledge of Allegiance.
View the Flickr Slideshow of Convocation 2014 Photos!
See Dr. Narvaez' address below.
Address to our Teachers by Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez Teacher Convocation, Monday, August 25, 2014
Mayor Segarra, Chairman Richard F. Wareing, Board Members Jose Colon-Rivas, Beth Taylor, Craig Stallings, Robert Cotto, Jr., Matt Poland, Michael Brescia and Shelley Best, HFT president Andrea Johnson, HPSA president Sandra Inga. and fellow teachers and administrators. First of all, let me begin—as I always like to—with words of gratitude. Thank you for the privilege of addressing you this morning and for the honor of serving as your superintendent.
It occurred to me that many of you who are meeting me for the first time today are probably looking at me right now and saying to yourselves, “Okay, what’s her story? Why is she here? And how is this going to affect me?”
These are very fair and important questions. The answers to these questions form the basis for our relationships. And, as you know, cultivating relationships is one of the central responsibilities of teaching —and leading.
I believe that in order to have meaningful relationships with others, we need to first understand our own stories; our own narratives; how the experiences we’ve had have shaped our values; and who we are. We need to share our personal narratives with others. Then, we need to understand their stories; who they are; where they came from and their unique perspectives on the world.
I have been influenced and inspired in this regard by Marshall Ganz, a social movement/justice activist, organizer, leader, and senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Mr. Ganz speaks and writes about the importance of narrative and storytelling in inspiring vision, passion and action for positive change. He describes these public narratives as a way we can tell our own stories; engage others in shared goals; and inspire action on the challenges we, as a community, face. He speaks of this as telling a story of self, a story of us and a story of now.
The first idea here is that each of us has a story, a personal story, the story of self — where we came from — who we are — our inspirations, values, hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
We also live a daily narrative that tells the story of who we are together – the story of us. And when we bring our personal experiences, gifts and talents to bear in a shared purpose, we join together in what Ganz calls “hopeful action.” With a sense of urgency, together we advance our work, meet and conquer our challenges, and deeply serve our students and families.
Sharing and understanding each other’s stories is going to be a critical element of our equity work, which is central to our moving Hartford Public Schools to the next level of success.
I need to know you, as deeply as I need for you to know me, in order for us to go forward. Let’s start with my story.
I grew up in the safe confines of a small suburb of Philadelphia. I had good, caring parents who provided a stable, secure and happy upbringing for my siblings and me.
Although grateful for all my parents provided for me, I remember that, as a teenager, my friends and I couldn’t wait to be old enough to drive so that we could travel to Phildelphia on our own. I’ve always been a city girl at heart—so I am thrilled to be a resident of my newly adopted city Hartford. This desire to venture out beyond my comfort zone and to push at the limit of what is seemingly possible that started so early in my life, I recognize now, is a defining part of who I am as a person and a leader.
Also, while a teenager, I took advantage of another opportunity that has come to define my life. I took on an internship in high school at an elementary school, where I worked in a classroom helping the teacher. Up until that point, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. That experience led me to major in elementary education at college; and once I started learning more about how children learn, I was hooked! I have never strayed from my first love for this field of work. I am now proud to stand before you in my 20th year as an educator. Who knew that a high school internship could set me on my path for life? This is why I am so proud of the programs and opportunities we offer students like the one I was lucky enough to have in high school. Our themed academies, project-based learning opportunities, and internships hook kids’ interests, help them build on their strengths, and, like what happened for me, may set them on a path for their future—a path filled with many rich, fulfilling opportunities where they can further develop their passions.
An education career happens to align perfectly with all of my strengths and needs. I have always loved learning, and I have always loved overcoming challenges. The bigger the challenge, the more I welcomed it! I also knew there was a much bigger world out there than the one I was living in and I was dying to explore it.
And so I did. I have been lucky enough to explore the bigger world. Let me share some of these experiences with you, as they have shaped who I am as an educator:
The first eye-opener was going straight from England, where I student taught, to teach English in a public high school in South Korea, where I knew nothing about the language and culture; and then joining the Peace Corps, which sent me to the island Republic of Kiribati in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
My official biography states that I credit this experience with helping me to understand cultural competence. That’s a fancy and polite way of saying that, as the only blue-eyed white woman for hundreds of miles, I learned very quickly what it feels like to be outside of the mainstream of society looking in; to be humble and to learn to be comfortable with ambiguity.
My time abroad also influenced my decision to devote myself to urban education, serving in communities that closely resemble Hartford, as a teacher in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a principal in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, as chief academic officer in Springfield – and as a deputy superintendent in the vast and diverse school system in Montgomery County, Maryland.
The second event that shaped my perspective on teaching is very personal and as close to my heart as it can get. As a parent, your child becomes your whole world; and my whole world as an educator, and everything I knew about education from a professional perspective, was shaken when I became a parent and found out that my daughter, Sophie, had a disability that impaired her ability to learn at the same pace as other children her age.
Until then, I had participated in hundreds of IEP sessions (Individualized Education Program) for other people’s children in my roles as a teacher and a principal.
But, IEP meetings became quite another matter, when I was sitting on the other side of the table advocating for my own child. Take it from me, a woman with a doctorate in education, who speaks English and understands the IEP jargon, there are few experiences in life that are more terrifying than being the parent at one of those sessions.
I can only imagine how much more stressful it must be for parents who do not speak education-ese or speak a language other than English. I remember praying for a teacher who would really get to know and love Sophie, a teacher who would be willing to try new things, especially when we were not seeing her progress as quickly as we had hoped. I also developed a resolve to model myself after the teacher that I was praying for – an educator that I could totally trust with my own child.
That’s the bar I set for myself — and I would ask you — if you haven’t done so already — to set the same level of expectation for yourselves. I am happy to report that Sophie loves her new teacher and school in Hartford. She began the early start program clinging to me and quite scared to make the transition—quite unlike her normally spunky and resilient personality. After the first day, when I asked her how it went, she reported: “My teacher was nice—ALL DAY.” I asked if she wanted to go back tomorrow, and she said, “Yes—and next week, too!” I want to share another story with you.
I am a first-time superintendent, as you probably know by now. What you may not know is that this was the only superintendent’s position that I applied for. Hartford was my first and only choice. I had no plan B – no safe school districts to fall back on.
What I see in Hartford is a very special place that is not afraid to try new approaches and work differently for the sake of improving student experiences and outcomes, and raising achievement – a place built on innovation – one that is not satisfied with the status quo. A place where educators have the passion and dedication to do what it takes to make sure that every student, and every school thrives!
The strength of the portfolio district concept is that you do this work, school by school, child by child, according to whatever is in the best interest of the students and families you serve.
A portfolio district recognizes that parents are far more concerned about whether a school makes their child feel safe, happy and successful, than whether the school calls itself a charter school, a magnet school, a neighborhood school, a Montessori school or an International baccalaureate school.
What I know as a parent, and what I have heard in my discussions with Hartford parents over the past few weeks, is that all parents want is a really good school, with teachers who make the effort to know their children—really know them–and meet them where they are. This approach to education has produced amazing results here. You have closed the achievement gap by one-third. We have schools that are consistently recognized as among the best in the country. You have improved the graduation rate from 32 percent to 71 percent in a handful of years.
At High School, Inc., where they saw double digit gains in their graduation rate, student Venicia Thaxter credits the teachers: She says, “I think all of the students in the school have at least one teacher they can go and talk to.” These kinds of connection—making sure that every child has a caring adult they can turn to — is what I mean by making sure that every student thrives!
None of these accomplishments would have happened without your hard work and dedication. You helped transform this district into one of the most progressive urban school systems in the country. And you brought the opportunity of a brighter future to thousands of students. In fact, one of the main reasons you don’t get more credit for what you do is that much of the national rhetoric surrounding education reform today essentially blames teachers for everything that’s gone wrong. We say teachers are central to a child’s development, yet we don’t recognize or support them accordingly.
As a teacher—and I still consider myself a teacher, I find that kind of talk discouraging and offensive. When I tell you that it’s an honor and a privilege to serve and support your efforts, I mean it. What you have accomplished in this district is nothing short of remarkable.
Having said that, our challenge going forward will be to persevere and maintain our individual and collective sense of efficacy, because, as we all know, we still have a distance to go before Hartford Public Schools can be all that it can and should be for all of our students. Amidst all of our progress, there are also many hard truths…
The truth that although we have seen double-digit gains in reading and math, only half of our students read proficiently and only a third are proficient in math.
The truth that, although our district has some of the highest performing schools around, it also has schools with great needs. There are very few schools in Hartford that fall between those two extremes. And I have made it my mission, my newest challenge, if you will, to reduce the variability of performance of our schools and ensure that every school is a high performing one. We need to attend to variability of performance both across AND WITHIN schools. We must know each and every student and start our work each year by asking, “Who are our students, what are their strengths and what are their needs?” and work tirelessly and creatively to meet the needs of all students especially those we have not yet served well. That’s what I mean by establishing equity in our system. And that is my top priority.
It’s not enough that more students are succeeding now than ever before. — I want Hartford Public Schools to be a place where every student and every school thrives.
Let me share one last story—and this is the story of our future together, where the story of us and the story of now converge to create a new narrative in the Hartford Public Schools.
On my very first day here, I held a press conference to announce my arrival and to share my entry plan about how I would begin my leadership of the Hartford Public Schools. During the press conference, one reporter asked me what I thought was a great question—yet one that I hadn’t anticipated or prepared for. She asked, “What will be the story of your superintendency?’ I was a bit taken aback. I had just arrived and she was already asking me to think about the end of my tenure here. But my gut reaction was to speak of equity.
I told her, and I share with you now, that I want the bookends of my story here to be about equity. In my first day here, in the first pages of my story, I called out the need to reduce variability of performance across schools, and I want to be able to look back years from now and say we accomplished that. How we will accomplish that will define the next chapters of our school system.
The next chapters of our story all start with e’s.
First, Expectations—having the highest expectations for all of our students and a deeply held belief that all students—and all adults—can learn to high standards. –
Next, Engagement—none of us does this work alone. We all need to take collective responsibility for the success of all of our students in all of our schools. We need to be “all in.”
And, last, and most importantly, it will mean paying attention to Each and Every student. One of the great principals I have worked with would start the school year by giving every student in her school an index card and asking them to write down the name of an adult they could turn to if they needed help and support. She then collected those cards, and if there were cards that were blank—a student could not name an adult they could turn to—she and her administrative team made sure to connect those children to adults that could advocate for them and mentor them. I challenge you this year in your schools to make sure, like my colleague Beth Thomas did with her index cards, that you know that every student is connected to at least one caring adult.
Expectations, Engagement, Each and Every, Equity—these are my core values.
Please join me in recommitting ourselves to the values that brought you to this profession in the first place.
This is where “the story of us” comes in. It is by bringing our personal narratives, experiences, talents and dedication to bear in support of our collective vision that we will build on our strengths, meet the urgent challenges before us, and deeply serve our students.
As I shared my story today, I would like you to do the same. As I mentioned before, it is by sharing our stories and learning the stories of others, that we come to know, understand and support each other well—which in turn, will allow us to know and serve our students well.
Please consider participating in the teachers’ stories project in partnership with Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network and JMA learning lab. There is more information about this in the program book and at the reception table.
Today as we begin the 2014-2015 school year, we embark on the next important chapter for Hartford’s students and families. I am confident that together we can craft that next chapter and that it will tell the story of every child – and every school – thriving.
I am excited to be here and to join you in this work.
Thank you very much and welcome back to Hartford Public Schools for the 2014-2015 school year.
Dr. Narvaez' Message to the Teachers from the event program:
“The Story of Us”
Each of us has a story. A story about our uniquely individual life-where we came from, who we are, our inspirations, values, hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
We also live a daily narrative that tells the story of who we are together – The Story of Us. I believe deeply that when we understand who we are as individuals and bring those experiences, gifts and talents to bear in a shared purpose, we can profoundly affect the community in which we live.
I have been influenced and inspired by Marshall Ganz, a social justice/movement activist, organizer, leader and senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, who speaks and writes about the importance of storytelling in mobilizing collective power, inspiring vision, passion and action for positive change.
Today, I join you as a colleague as we advance our Hartford Public Schools’ story: our promise that every student and every school thrives. Great progress has been made in this district and I applaud each and every one of you for your dedication and leadership. As you know, however, we have more work to do to ensure that every child regardless of his or her social, physical, or emotional circumstance can learn and thrive in our classrooms.
I feel a sense of urgency and I imagine you do too – you know the power we have to inspire our students. I believe that when we commit to every student and every school – when we commit to crafting and living out the Story of Us, together – we will in turn contribute positively to our students’ life stories. We will become part of their personal narrative as they become part of ours.
I encourage you to share your story. It is by sharing and learning our stories that we come to know, understand and support each other well—which in turn allows us to know and serve all of our students well. I encourage you to participate in the Teachers’ Stories project with Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network and JMA Learning Lab. There is more information about this opportunity in the program book.
As I stand before you today at Convocation and welcome you to the 2014-2015 school year, I ask you to join me and become part of the “us” as we recommit ourselves to this important next chapter for Hartford’s students and families.
In gratitude for your dedication and service,
Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
About Marshall Ganz
Marshall Ganz is a senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He worked on the staff of the United Farm Workers for sixteen years before becoming a trainer and organizer for political campaigns, unions and nonprofit groups. He is credited with devising the successful grassroots organizing model and training for Barack Obama’s winning 2008 presidential campaign.
CPBN and the JMA Learning Lab have partnered with HPS to produce Teachers’ Stories video interviews during the 2014-2015 school-year.
By sharing our stories we gain true understanding of one another so we may learn to work better, side-by-side, solving the urgent challenges we face, together.
You are invited to share your story – who you are and why you teach– that we will record on videotape during the breakfast hour, and at CPBN during the remainder of this school year. To see our 2014 Teacher of the Year, Justin Taylor’s story, go to: