MERIDEN — High school students from around the state grilled the new education commissioner and governor with questions on improving teacher diversity and opportunity challenges in rural schools.
“I feel like a lot of students are not exposed to all the opportunities that are out there,” said junior Olivia Runte. “Maybe what we can do is develop a network of internships, volunteer opportunities, and job shadowings … while they decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives.”
Gov. Ned Lamont and state Department of Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona, a Meriden resident, outlined education goals during a question and answer forum Tuesday at Wilcox Technical High School. Cardona studied automotive repair at Wilcox and later switched to education. Questions also came from lawmakers and members of the business community. A panel discussion, including high school students who make up the state Student Advisory Council, followed.
Cardona told the group he wants businesses to provide input on programs and curriculum. He also wants to see more service sharing between agencies to help solve some of the problems students are bringing to schools.
“Kids can’t learn as well if they’re hungry and have housing instability,” Cardona said. “We must partner with other agencies to eliminate barriers.”
Lamont expects towns and cities to share bus, IT and health care services to reduce education costs. He wants to persuade teachers to work in the toughest districts, and partner with private foundations on funding solutions.
“We have a new formula,” Lamont said. “More money goes to those most in need and give teachers more opportunities to experiment.”
Rural students complained they didn’t have the same program opportunities as larger school districts. Cardona replied that it is an area where other districts and the community colleges could help.
Wilcox senior Eugene Bertrand of Meriden wanted to know how the state was going to hire more minority teachers, because it can “help students get more from the classroom.”
“I commend you for bringing that up,” Cardona replied. “I was where you are now. I agree we have to double down. I want you to leave here and say ‘I can be a teacher.’ You are all leaders in this, too. I want you to take that responsibility. Help us do a better job.”
When asked about diversity and intolerance in schools, Cardona replied schools need to celebrate diversity. The recent uptick in intolerance is something the schools need to take seriously and evaluate how to address it.
“The leaders of tomorrow are not just going to be people who are good at building things,” Cardona said. “They have to be people who can work with other people.”