Educational Equity Summit Features US Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona

Educational Equity Summit Features US Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona

thank you for the kind of introduction uh it’s really an honor for me to join the connecticut association of schools equity summit series and for this discussion on learning and leading for systemic racial and social justice before i get into my talk i want to start by saying that for me this is like coming home uh it’s a homecoming to these vitally important issues advancing racial and social justice and educational equity which i’m heartened are the topics framing today’s keynotes and breakout sessions it’s a homecoming to a place one that i know better than anyone else the state of connecticut where i was raised where my children are raised and where i grew as an educator who remains deeply committed to the work of furthering equity and justice and then finally it’s a homecoming to people to so many of you who have fought side by side for years to make real progress on these goals i’m grateful to have been there with you and even though i’m in a national role now i’m still with you that’s why i also want to start this morning’s session with gratitude in some ways it felt like one moment i was working alongside you and the next moment i was in washington dc after president biden asked me to join his team as secretary of education it’s been a whirlwind and i felt like i never got a chance to say goodbye and to say thank you i really appreciate all of you i’m particularly grateful for the leadership of my fellow speakers at the summit thank you to the team at the connecticut state department of education at the start of the pandemic we put in place the structures along with the department of health that were essential to ensuring the safety of students and educators and to helping build the confidence of parents and families and sending their children to school for in-person learning from my perspective now it’s clear that our team was ahead of the curve in our partnerships with health experts across the country this is what we’re trying to do i also want to thank karen pachter cass deputy assist executive director who’s served the state of connecticut for decades with the best interests of children at heart who lifts up school leaders in everything she does and who is an invaluable mentor and supporter to me as i was coming up in education building my career your warm smile and can-do attitude is contagious and i remember dropping off my big binder when i was nominated to to be um the cast principle of the year and just encouraging words you gave me thank you and i want to thank cast executive director glenn longorini who i spoke to almost daily when i was connecticut’s commissioner of education it almost felt like i saw him one of my own kids we strategized about how to address the most pressing issues facing our students our educators and families glenn what a year huh thank you for making the tough decisions to protect students even when they weren’t popular that’s strong leadership to everyone gathered here today we’re still in this together we’re still committed to fighting to ensure all students in connecticut and across the country are able to access an education that unleashes their potential and enables them to lead fulfilling thriving lives we’re still committed to ensuring that all truly means all that every single child regardless of their background receives the supports to succeed in school no matter their zip code their background their skin color or their circumstance we’re still committed to working so that every school across the nation and throughout the state has a place that nurtures the whole child developing children’s positive academic outcomes in addition to their social emotional physical and mental health we should work so that every school is one where we would want to send our very own children to be sure i’m invested in connecticut success in the most profound way i’m entrusting you with my own children many of you know that i have a son and a daughter that attend public school here in connecticut and part of the reason why my family’s staying in connecticut is because of the experiences that they have in their schools those are my greatest treasures their success and the people they become are in large part shaped by the educators who support their growth and development in school each day so i know for all of us our passion and purpose to expand educational excellence and equity are closely aligned together we’ve been through the fire and no fire has been hotter or more challenging to handle than the covert 19 pandemic and its impacts on our children and our educators and our leaders families and entire communities as i’ve said before this pandemic has sharpened our swords for the real fight ahead truly making education the great equalizer over the past year and a half as a nation we experienced struggles like never before and i know we did here in connecticut because that was part of it your school community your teacher teachers students and families staff and administrators were challenged in ways none of us have ever imagined i really you know i want to share something personal i remember like maybe four or five months into the pandemic it was july 2020 sitting on my couch at home with the tremendous weight on my shoulders i remember like it was yesterday it was the weight of a growing public health crisis the weight of the fear that had erupted throughout the state the weight of the expectations i put on myself to ensure health and safety of teachers staff and students and the weight of the decisions we had to make together as education leaders across connecticut i feel like we were being slammed on all sides the policies and prac uh practices education leaders were putting in place to protect their school communities and to find ways to continue teaching and learning were often simultaneously criticized as either too restrictive or too loose either you’re putting students at risk or you’re making education gaps larger in that moment i started to question i said i didn’t sign up for this was i up for this challenge can i handle the pressure could connecticut come up with school solutions that had both students health and safety and their learning prioritized then i remembered a talk i once heard it was a talk that centered on the messiah tribe in africa actually dr maureen ruby sent me a link to a ted talk by terry harris during this time i was getting emails from different leaders and uh dr ruby sent me one that i that i watched and it really shaped my thinking she doesn’t know this the messiah long had been known as an incredible fierce warriors but their traditional greeting isn’t fearsome when messiah say hello to one another they ask and how are the children and the traditional answer is all the children are well in this exchange the messiah demonstrate their conviction that the well-being of their children is the best determination of health and welfare for their whole society and they demonstrate their belief that it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect the young and support the strength of the next generation so when i was sitting on my couch in july 2020 questioning everything i realized the most important question i should be asking was and how are the children and if i answered honestly i knew there wasn’t any time for me to be sitting around asking myself whether or not i was up for the challenge of supporting connecticut’s kids it was my responsibility my moral charge my duty to ensure that i can answer that question with the most fundamental answer all the children are well so we together rolled up our sleeves and we got to work it wasn’t easy it was some of the hardest work connecticut education system has ever had to undertake we changed the narrative in the state about how not whether but how to reopen connecticut schools for in-person learning we knew then as we know now that learning together in the classrooms is the most effective approach to supporting kids social emotional and academic development and the work continues today so this morning i want to pose to all of us at this summit the same question that the messiah warriors asked and how are the children how are the children and i believe that if we really want our response to be all the children are well each of us must commit to being a warrior for educational equity and racial and social justice but what does it take to be a warrior for equity and justice and education to me there are three actions that are among the most important especially as we continue to recover and re-emerge from the pandemic and i’ll speak to each of those now first to be those warriors we must vigorously protect the health and safety of our students our educators and staff the good news is that we have the tools to fight the virus and promote health and safety in our schools there’s there’s increased access now to covet 19 vaccines for adults and students ages 12 and older we have a better understanding than ever before scientifically proven virus protection strategies and vital federal resources that are available to do this including the 130 billion dollars from the american rescue plan to support safe school reopening efforts everywhere i go i’m echoing president biden’s call for every school district in every state to use these funds to get more people 12 and older vaccinated this week the biden administration is launching a back to school week of action to help more eligible students receive vaccines vaccination is our leading public health strategy to end the covenant 19 pandemic and important that across the country 90 of our educators are vaccinated but we got more work to do to protect our young people who are eligible throughout america 43 of 12 to 17 year olds have received their first shot and only 33 are fully vaccinated we can and we must do better having as many eligible people as possible vaccinated in our school communities will go a long way toward preventing covet outbreaks before they happen so that students teachers and staff can safely remain in school and have their seasons there are more important ways school leaders can help them to suffer for example hold a school-based vaccine clinic as i said before there’s a call to action for every school district in college to host at least one pop-up vaccine clinic over the coming weeks and i’m asking all of you here to consider how you can be a part of that getting students safely in school is the best lever for equity that we have as education leaders you can also enlist the partnership of trusted community organizations faith-based groups and students themselves who can serve as leaders and peer mentors to help educator students about what’s what it’s like to get a vaccine use your arp funds in the federal pharmacy program to get this done i visited over 17 states in the last two to three months and i’ve seen examples of where this is possible i was in kansas two days ago where i talked to high school students who were leading the charge about getting students vaccinated and while we’re getting more eligible students and adults vaccinated masking and other virus protection strategies work as well we owe it to our students who need to get back to the classroom who rely on these critical resources in special education services who are multilingual learners who depend on schools for nutritious meals and who thrive through the nurturing relationships that they develop with educators and peers in person in their classrooms we owe it to our educators who’ve worked tirelessly for the last 18 months to do everything they could to ensure their students continued learning and had their basic needs met and we owe it to our families who’ve experienced trauma and families who whose children may not be able to get the vaccine yet because they’re not old enough to be warriors for equity and justice in education we must also recognize that we as educational leaders need to do work for parents to feel and believe that their children are going to be safe in schools and in our charge this goes beyond the physical safety and health it means that we have to communicate with families more than ever and do so respectfully in their home language it means recognizing the fears that families are facing being honest about how schools are going to make classrooms welcoming for all students this entails ensuring classrooms are inclusive places where every student feels affirmed it means ensuring that instructional materials reflect the diverse backgrounds and experiences of our learners and it means that all students students of color and white students alike encounter diverse educators as leaders and mentors in their schools on this point we know connecticut we’re working hard to make sure that our numbers get better we know that in connecticut while 40 of our students are students of color just over eight percent of the teachers are teachers of color and many of you know my life was changed by mr o’neal my elementary school art teacher a man of color who inspired me to devote my career to education every kid deserves a mr o’neill and i know dr tucker is working really hard to bring in new programs i love the work that you’re doing there to diversify our professional teaching staff next to be warriors for equity and justice and education we must attend to the social emotional and mental health needs of our students and educators we know that our schools provide so much more to students than simply a place to learn our teachers are our students families our schools are their communities our students have been through so much over the past 18 months and we know that communities of colors have been disproportionately impacted by the kovic 19 public health crisis and the resulting economic crisis that undoubtedly has had an impact on learning for our children of color many of whom already faced gaps in access to educational opportunity before cover 19. it only made the gaps worse as a warrior for our children we cannot let the pandemic widen opportunity gaps that means we have to help our children process and heal even before we start talking about reading writing and arithmetic we’re going to heal before we learn and grow together for many students schools are the only place they can access mental health professionals school counselors nurses and other support that they need including their educators and friends that’s another big reason why bringing students back for in-person learning is so important this new school year i’m proud that across the country we’re seeing the american rescue plan funds to prioritize our students mental health needs and to hire more school counselors and other invaluable education professionals who support our kids social emotional development we know that in order to excel academically students need a strong social and emotional foundation and that’s why i want to challenge everyone here on this call to do more on this front connecticut ranks 37 in the nation in our student-to-school counselor ratio which is 457 to 1. the american school counselor association recommends a student’s school council ratio of no more than 250 to one imagine that one school counselor for every 457 kids in connecticut after the pandemic we know we can improve that especially coming out of this pandemic when our children have faced trauma prioritize the arrp funds to do better for our children here they need that more than anything else in my opinion and finally the third critical way in which we can be warriors for equity and justice is to have a laser-like focus on accelerating our children’s academic achievement particularly for our children who have been affected most by the pandemic to do this we must continue to invest in evidence-based strategies to address lost instructional time and this includes high-intensity tutoring programs that extend the school day and community schools that provide strong academic and wrap-around supports to children we must expand access to high-quality career and technical education to create high school to college and career pathways this is work that we were doing in connecticut i know the power of high quality cte programs as a graduate of wilcox second goal high school to be true warriors for equity and justice and to prioritize students positive academic outcomes we also have to start early that means robustly investing in early learning including high quality preschool programs we also have to be able to point out where students need more support and that means we have to continue to identify gaps in academic opportunity using data when i served as the co-chair of the connecticut legislative achievement task force data was critical for me to identify disparities in student outcomes and to argue that those disparities were a symptom of something greater systems that for years had not adequately served our students and families of color our multilingual learners our students with disabilities and students from low-income backgrounds now i know even though my to-do list i shared with you today included just three main actions there’s a lot there that’s because this work is hard but it’s also necessary to help the us department of education just launched what we’re calling the return to school roadmap it’s an online resource for education leaders like all of you that you can use as you go back to school the roadmap provides resources and supports to help build excitement around going back to classrooms and outlines how the federal government can support the safe and sustained return to in-person learning the roadmap also lays out strategies to implement the center for disease disease control and prevention’s updated guidance for k-12 schools i encourage everyone on this call to learn more about the roadmap by visiting the department’s website at ed.gov roadmap and i hope you’ll share those resources these resources here with your communities i opened my talk by noting the one question that we should all be asking ourselves in the work and how are the children and i’ll close by saying that if we’re true warriors for equity and justice we have to hold ourselves accountable to that answer that’s that can be uncomfortable it can make other people uncomfortable but if we go back to the system of 2020 we’re not doing enough we have to be comfortable being uncomfortable we have to take advantage of the reset button that we have right now that’s what we need for our system to get back to improving students in ways that are better than ever before my greatest fear is not the spread of kobe it’s the spread of complacency going back to march 2020 what the school system looks like isn’t good enough we know that we were fighting for equity before the pandemic we were trying to close gaps before the pendant so what would it mean if everyone in the state in this nation truly adopted the well-being and progress of our children and youth as our gauge for success as a society what if we held each other accountable to that every single day how many more warriors for equity and justice we’ve got to list for our children and what could we accomplish with that help you know what they say it takes a village how profound a moral shift would that be in our values and how accurate in fact would that measure be since if our children are successful our very future is secure i’ll say the same thing to you now as u.s secretary of education that i said when i was working here in connecticut this state can lead the nation i really believe that educators who are warriors for equity and justice were made for this moment we were forged through the fire and we know what it takes to create opportunity out of crisis this is our moment we didn’t sign up for this but we’re here now and i can’t imagine i can’t think of any other time more important than now to be an educational leader the impact of our decisions in the next year will have profound effects for generations this is our time to put everything on the line to give our very best effort for kids so that we know in our hearts that we did everything we could to make sure our kids were fine when it mattered most i said last year was the hardest year and this school year coming up is the most important connecticut can lead the nation in educational excellence and equity and in racial and social justice just as connecticut did with reopening amid the pandemic to able to be able to say that all children are well i’d like to take a line from one of my favorite songs marc anthony palida that’s spanish for uh pale flower or wilted flower the song describes finding a pale and wilted flower in a garden but with love and care from master gardeners the flower grows and flourishes that’s where we are in education right now it’s a bit of a wilted rose the same is true with our children in our educational environment who come alive when we as educators build nurturing and caring learning environments where they can receive the support and love that they need to thrive i know this is true because maybe when i was growing up i was a bit of a fraud by that myself a little puerto rican boy with the shoes untied learning english who walked to school each day with his mom barely in her twenties but who had such high hopes for him if you saw me back then you probably wouldn’t imagine that someday i’d be serving in the cabinet of the president of the united states but my teachers saw potential in me they saw me they were people who asked and how were the children how about this kid what does he need today and tomorrow and the next day to reach his potential so grateful i had an outstanding experience and outstanding educators who asked the fundamental question kid like me who needed a little extra support to come alive is in front of you every single day whether you work in willimantic new haven bridgeport waterford new london bethel all over connecticut all over connecticut and all over the country there are students like me if we do our job and if we’re warriors in this work and if we’re bold and seize the moment we can create the excellent and equitable schools that all of our children deserve and someday at a summit such as this we may be able to turn to each other and ask and how are the children and together we’ll be able to say confidently all the children are well thank you you
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Educational Equity Summit Features US Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona

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