West Hartford Forums

“A candle is enough to light the world”

“The Impossible Will Take a Little While”

Posted by whforums on December 17, 2008

That’s what Billie Holiday said, anyway.

Heard on WTIC today about two young students at Sedgwick who had the courage to turn to a school counselor about abuse at home. Get the gist of the story here.

I don’t want to talk about the specifics of the case because I think doing so does a disservice to the children and to the family, who have enough to work out without comment from the blogosphere.

I guess what I do want to do is use this particular instance to discuss the education that happens between people rather than on Scantron sheets. Nadezhda Mandelstam said that out of great hopelessness comes hope, and this case calls to attention not only the complexities of public education, but the necessity of humanizing that education. We’re pushing for achievement, we’re pushing for test scores — and don’t get me wrong — we should. But what happened between Sedgwick’s walls today underscores a less quantifiable– but more necessarily human — education. These students spoke up at least in part because they knew they had someone in their school to whom they could speak. Someone (and likely many someones) approached their classroom and their school not as a set of potential test scores (don’t get me started on “merit based pay”), but as mutual human beings in need — through and in spite of their mutual flaws. Whether we think they should, our schools carry the imperative of both developing and protecting their students, and they do this best by building relationships with those students. In the hopelessness of abuse (which is a day to day reality for many in WHPS, I’m sure), there is the great hope of our schools — not only the equal access to education they provide, but in the very human attention of our teachers, counselors, staff and administrators. It’s those who are working (too often thanklessly or invisibly) for the good of these kids — and for the good of our present West Hartford and the future West Hartford toward which we peer — who allow us to realize that, as our neighbors suffer, there is also a vigilance against that suffering. Too often we want our schools to be fortresses against our social problems — if not ivory towers, at least ivory ground floors — when we should be attentive to a more basic grounding: in spite of our mutual sufferings, in our schools, we’re not cut off from each other.

Oh. And they’re doing a pretty good job with those test scores, too.

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Posted in Abstract Babble, Do I Contradict Myself ...?, gratitude, Test Scores, West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Two Restaurant Reviews. And Farmington Has a New Superintendent

Posted by whforums on December 16, 2008

Posts like these are my favorite kinds of posts — I get to link you out to all kinds of interesting stuff without doing much work myself! That said, there’s some stuff about trains coming later in the week …

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First, The Connecticutian gives a very favorable review to Bombay Olive (in the old IHOP location on the corner of New Britain and South Main — across the street from the ever enigmatic Szechuan Tokyo). We ate at Bombay Olive once and our impression generally matches the opinion over at The Connecticutian …

Adventures Through CT gives a favorable review to PF Changs. I know the initial reaction amongst our small community was mixed (and a colleague told me today she “got exactly what she expected” — dunno if that’s good or not), so I’m sure this post may be met with some skepticism. Adventures says current wait time is about an hour, so it’ll be a while before I check it out …

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And, on a totally unrelated note … Farmington has a new superintendent (at 181k a year, folks)! Lost in all the local news of late has been our own superintendent search, so I guess I’d ask you to read this article in the New Britain Herald and answer the following question:

What do we see in the profile of this (successful) candidate that we want in West Hartford’s new superintendent, and what do we see that we don’t like?

And yes. I suckered you in with food to get you to talk about who we want as superintendent. The superintendent search is that intellectually delicious.

Posted in Linkage!, West Hartford, West Hartford Restaurants, westfarms, WHPS | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

West Hartford and the ACLU’s “Hard Lessons” Report

Posted by whforums on December 12, 2008

So, just as forewarning, this is going to be a long post. I fear, not having written it yet, that it’s likely you’re going to have to scroll while reading it.

After reading the ACLU report “Hard Lessons,” I went through and grabbed all the narrative and statistical claims the report made about West Hartford. The real goal of this post is to give those claims a common space (separate from the claims about Hartford and East Hartford) so that we can discuss what the report has to say about our own bubble. The data is both telling and almost surreal in turn, and I have to admit that a secondary reason for separating/compiling this data is to further one of the goals of the ACLU as stated in the report: “this aims … to be the start of a conversation.”

I’ve broken down the information I’ve gleaned from the report into three parts: General Information (including the ACLU’s conclusions and suggestions), Narrative Claims about West Hartford, and Statistical Claims about West Hartford. I’ve numbered each item to facilitate conversation, and I’ve added my own commentary in italics (only where I had something to say).
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General Information

1. The ACLU’s reason for filing this report is that “the trend is toward criminalizing students, not educating them.” The ACLU grants that the racial and ethnic disparities they found in greater Hartford are not localized to greater Hartford, but are real, national problems. It’s unclear to me why our area was chosen for this report.

2. The ACLU is not entirely convinced they have received accurate data from the State Department of Education. If anything, they believe the SDE may be (unintentionally) understating the number of arrests.

3. To solve the problem of school based arrest, the ACLU believes schools and SROs should engage in more ticketing, more preventative work, and should more often attack root causes of problems (issues with mental health, substance abuse, interpersonal issues needing mediation, etc.). Arrest should only occur as an absolute last resort, when school safety is genuinely threatened.

  • It seems to me that West Hartford already does a good deal of preventative work, and yet our arrest rates remain the highest among the three towns studied. Are we too quick to arrest, or do we have greater in-school problems than other districts?

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Narrative Claims about West Hartford

4. SROs in West Hartford, from 2005-2007, were not subject to written policies that describe their duties.

  • This is ridiculous, almost to the point of not seeming believable. I mean, shouldn’t everyone we hire be hired on a contract that specifically outlines their duties, even if there’s the “Other duties as assigned” line tacked onto the end? Without duties, how do we assess outcomes?

5. SROs in West Hartford do not receive mandatory training as SROs, though some do pursue or receive training. One West Hartford SRO reported receiving more than 100 hours of relevant training.

  • Given the time and money spent on professional development in WHPS, I’m pretty sure our SROs are well trained.

6. Neither WHPS nor the WHPD maintains school based arrest data in an accessible form. When the ACLU asked the WHPD for this data, they responded that the request did not “coincide with the categories in which we store the information”. The WHPD had staffers seek and gather the data from their records for the ACLU report. Schools shred all arrest reports at the end of the year.

  • I get the privacy concerns here, and I understand the desire to shred this data. But shouldn’t WHPS be maintaining some sort of generic, anonymous data of the arrests that occur within its purview? How do we measure this important outcome (even if it’s an outcome we don’t desire) if we shred the outcome? It’s as though there’s a will to forget where we’ve failed (to burn the archive, yes?), rather than to study that very thing.

7. From 2005-2007, West Hartford arrested a little more than 30 students between the grades of K-8. This includes the arrest of two Hispanic fourth graders for “insubordination.” Actual percentages are unclear, but the ACLU says African-Americans and Hispanics in grades K-8 were arrested “more” than Whites.

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Statistical Claims about West Hartford

8. In 06-07, there were 5 arrests per 1000 students. 5% of all incidents resulted in arrest (compared to 3 in East Hartford and .5 percent in Hartford).

  • It’s important to note that that number of arrests was much higher in West Hartford in 05-06, suggesting improvement, aberration, or something generally funky in the 06-07 numbers.

9. In 06-07, African American and Hispanic students constituted 24% of the WHPS population but experienced 63% of the arrests.

  • This is unreal to me, and it’s one of the numbers that got a lot of press because it’s so outrageous. Sample sizes are of course small, but show consistency across the two years of the study. If I may adapt the lingo of this, our Internet … W.T.F.?

10. In 05-07, African American students were twice as likely to be arrested as white students for committing the same infraction (“physical altercations”). From 2005-2007, physical altercations in West Hartford were likely to lead to arrests rates of 23% for African Americans, but only 11% for Whites.

  • Chief Strillaci responded directly to this information the day the report was released, arguing that all fights are not made equal. And that, undoubtedly, is true. But this disparity suggests, at best, an unconscious social prejudice that happens to emerge in the place someone went looking for it — the schools.

11. From 05-06 to 06-07, arrests in West Hartford fell sharply, from 121-52. However, the ratio of incident reports to arrests in WH remained higher than in the other districts. West Hartford’s suspension rate was much lower than the other two districts.

  • This I don’t entirely get — if we arrest a student, wouldn’t the school issue its own punishment — a suspension, on top of that arrest? Are we quick to arrest, but slow to suspend? Is suspension considered as much of a last resort as arrest? That seems unlikely, and leaves me confused about the meaning of this number.

12. In 05-06 and 06-07, African-Americans, Hispanics and Whites were arrested in approximately equal numbers in West Hartford, despite the fact that there were far more Whites in the school system. In 05-06 in West Hartford, there were 30 arrests per 1000 Hispanic students, 43 arrests per 1000 African American students, and 5 arrests per 1000 White students. Similar disparities prevailed in 06-07, despite the lower arrest rate as a whole.

13. For drug/alcohol/tobacco incidents in West Hartford, African Americans were likely to be arrested 27% of the time, Hispanic students were likely to be arrested 31% of the time, and Whites were arrested 10% of the time. The ACLU grants that these numbers may be impacted by small sample size.

  • This category seems very broad, and the numbers may also be impacted by the types of offense. It’s one thing for a 16 year old to have a pack of cigarettes on them — and another to have a baggie. The ACLU admits as much in the report.

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So, Why the Disparities?

14. If school based arrests are occurring in numbers that are out of whack, the ACLU asks the following practical question: “What concrete steps can we (that we is “West Hartford” in this case) take to determine the cause and to reduce those disparities?”

15. The report provides one potential reason for the disparities, arguing they are likely the cause of “conscious and unconscious decision making.” They further state that perception of an in-school transgression is largely subjective, claiming that “…research suggests that educators view certain behaviors more harshly when observed in students of color than when observed in white students (e.g., a white student who talks back may be cited for ‘insubordination,’ while an African American student engaging in the same conduct is found to have engaged in ‘threatening.’)”

So, I turn the ACLU’s question over to you. Based on the ACLU’s argument that not all students in West Hartford are being treated the same way (or perhaps you reject the argument or a component of it?):

“What concrete steps can we take to determine the cause and to reduce those disparities?”

Posted in Institutionalized Discrimination, West Hartford, WHPD, WHPS | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

West Hartford, Teachers Union, Reach Deal

Posted by whforums on December 10, 2008

The Courant is reporting this morning that the teachers union and the town have agreed (with union ratification) on a contract through the end of academic year 2011. The teachers will receive a 1% raise in the first year and a 1.25% raise in a second year — raises that are significantly lower than the 3% raise union members had been receiving under the previous agreement. In return, teachers will work one fewer day per year and will still receive annual step increases.

The Courant estimates that the raises will cost the town an extra one million dollars over the life of the deal.

Now, I can hear the howling coming from the far reaches of the anti-teacher crowd already, but I have to tell you, I think this strikes a reasonable compromise between a town under financial stress and a personnel who are also under financial stress. And I think we also have to ask ourselves — would arbitration really have brought a better deal?

I know many would like to have seen a pay freeze, and others would argue that taking any raise, in this environment, smacks of selfishness. But I would argue that, down the road, we would have had to pay more for both — in compensation for a freeze, and in pedagogical brain-drain.

Maintaining a fleet of happy teachers at the expense of one year of leaf collection? I’ll take it. 😉

Posted in West Hartford, WHPS | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Ok, Ok. I Get It.

Posted by whforums on December 8, 2008

So, I want to write about banks.

But, if the search hits I’m getting teach me anything, you want to read about food.

So the answer to your overarching question?

Yes.  PF Changs is open.

Now eat there and report back.

Posted in West Hartford, West Hartford Restaurants, westfarms | Tagged: , , | 11 Comments »

West Hartford Credit Union Goes Belly Up — The Hartford Just Goes Up

Posted by whforums on December 7, 2008

I know, I know.  Your first thought was probably the same as mine — West Hartford had a credit union?  And it was called the West Hartford Credit Union?

Obvioulsy, none of us likes to see a local business fail, but what really stand out to me about this story (as reported in the Courant version, anyway) is the relative obscurity of the business itself.  When Lane and Lenge left The Center, and when Simmer shuttered, well, those were quasi-big deals to me — local businesses that were looking to protect their profit margins by leaving high rents behind (well, I thought that was the deal with Simmer).  But in this case, I’m really struck by the anonymity of this apparently veteran small business — the credit union was 58 years old, had somewhere between 2 and 4 million dollars in assets (depending on the version of the story you read)  and somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 customers.  If we ridiculously assume that all of those customers were residents, we’re talking about roughly 2% of the population of the town (granted, that market share is a lot bigger than the market share of this blog — but then, I’m not trying to make a profit, either). It’s not that I’m saying that market share was uber-small — I guess I’m saying, in a market like West Hartford, and even with a name like West Hartford (on your bank, no less), I’m really taken aback that I never even knew the institution existed.

In some ways, I guess I also feel a twisted guilt.  I bank with several mammoth institutions, each of which is essentially devoid of local roots (not that my accounts would have made a difference for “our” credit union, and not that “our” credit union would have done me much good while traveling, either).  But there’s another weird fact in this whole situation that gives me pause.  The West Hartford Credit Union?  Yeah.  Its offices were in Farmington.

As the “WHCU” was going under, shares of the The Hartford went through “the roof” (though the roof has been lowered by, oh, about 90%, recently).  This is good for many in my family (and for many in yours, I’m sure — The Hartford is a mammoth employer for residents of West Hartford), but it serves as a stark reminder of the fog we’re in — a fog in which a bank I’ve never heard of seems to have as tenuous a grasp on existence as a mega-major company upon which our entire region depends.

Posted in Crap Economy, Hartford, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Weekend Open Thread

Posted by whforums on December 6, 2008

What’s on your mind, West Hartford?

Post your thoughts (your joy or hatred) in WH Forums’ first open thread.

Please note that this thread, in all likelihood, will be a flaming disaster. 

If you make me edit things …

*shakes fist*

Posted in Open Thread, West Hartford | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Purchases at Ten Thousand Villages to Support HopeWorks

Posted by whforums on December 4, 2008

Because I’m a skeptical jerk, I’ve throughout my short life been sort of iffy about Ten Thousand Villages. Back in the day, when I lived in Cow Country, NY, my wife and I would wander through the store and I’d say to her “This can’t really be for real.” The idea of fair trade in an environment that seemed so fracking capitalistic (wandering through the store was like wandering through any other store) seemed so outlandish (or perhaps so hopeful) that I sort of felt like I had to dismiss it.

Since those days, my friends, my reading and my experiences have convinced me that the store and the idea behind it are both for real (that it’s not some horrific, feel-good front for exploitation), and even more, that the people behind the store have been fairly influential in the global fair trade movement. And while I still have some qualms about the store (why not sell products from Americans who need an outlet alongside products from artisans from developing nations?), it seems like Ten Thousand Villages is doing exactly what I demand other companies do — they’re engaging in a more ethical capitalism.

So what does this have to do with West Hartford? Well, if you shop at the Ten Thousand Villages in the Center between Noon and five this Sunday (December 7th), the store will donate 15% of all profits to HopeWorks. What a great chance to make your money work for the good of your global and local communities, yes?

Posted in Sorry I'm So Cynical, Things to Do, West Hartford, West Hartford Center | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Lower Drinking Age at These Institutions!

Posted by whforums on December 1, 2008

Four West Hartford outlets busted for selling to underage buyers recently:

Delicacy Market
Harvey’s Wine and Spirit Shoppe
Kingswood Package Store
Cheers Wines and Spirits

I think my reaction is supposed to be “shame on them,” or “I’m not shopping there anymore.”  My honest reaction?  Well, the drinking age should be 18, anyway, so, these businesses are performing a necessary and important cultural subversion.  Without these folks, we’ll never get ourselves de-Puritanized (I know, I know.  I can hear the pro-Puritanization voices from here).

The WHPD says each business is given time to clean up their practices, so, college students, I wouldn’t head in there without an ID for a while.

Get the full story in the Courant here.

Posted in West Hartford, WHPD | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

BOE Reaction to ACLU Report

Posted by whforums on December 1, 2008

I posted last week about an ACLU report that showed that “minority” students were significantly more likely to be arrested in West Hartford schools than white students.  Real Hartford also has a great post on the topic here. While this story has certainly been a mainstream story (in the Courant, on the TV news, even in the West Hartford News), I’ve been surprised at how little reaction there’s been within the blogosphere (not just in comments, but in general traffic/interest), maybe because, to me, it seems like a pretty significant story.

In any case, the West Hartford News has an interesting piece about the BOE reaction to the report, which can best be described as politic.  The BOE essentially said the following — we take it seriously, if there’s a problem, which there isn’t.  They called into question the data collection methods of the ACLU, the lack of presence of West Hartford officials in the study, and a declining number of arrests since the implementation of the SRO program.

All of which sort of brings me back to square one.  The problem, folks, isn’t with the SROs, but is instead the institutional discrimination (likely not conscious) which calcifies the processes of almost any large scale organization.  This isn’t about some “boss” making decisions, it’s about the unexamined prejudices of the many, slowly rolling together into silent discrimination against the disempowered.

The argument, then, as of December 1st, 2008, looks like this:

The ACLU says:  The numbers demonstrate that children of different races and ethnicities are treated differently. (Implicit:  Institutional racism.  Look in the mirror).

WHPS says:  Oh, that’s a problem if it’s true.  Good thing we know it’s not true.  (We will not look in the mirror, but thanks).

Posted in Institutionalized Discrimination, Media, WHPS | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »