November 29, 2012
Dear Ms. Richardson,
Hello – my name is Michaela Fissel, and I am parent of a child who currently is enrolled in the Windsor Public School system. I am also a member of the Windsor High School class of 2004, and I am a strong supporter of fostering a positive school climate for all students. With that said, I am very concerned by the Board of Education’s recent decision to contract Dr. Marlon James to conduct the Equity and Excellence Review without following the formal bidding procedures. I am concerned because I strongly believe that there are researchers here in Connecticut who are fully capable of conducting a reliable and valid review of the key components of a successful public school that are outlined in the “Toward a Vision of Equity and Excellence” document posted to the Windsor Public Schools’ website (see http://www.windsorct.org/).
I have been following the information provided in the media and within the BOE minutes, and I have yet to fully grasp the reason why the Board of Education would waive the bidding procedure. I understand the need to close the achievement gap to ensure that every child is graduating at grade-level and with equal academic success - this is a shared concern by community members who have school-aged children in our community. However with your recent statement in the Patch article, School Board President: What Happened Was Unfortunate, “We did not hire Dr. James to close the achievement gap, as some have said. That is our job. His job is to create data and bring his educational expertise to the school, which will help us develop a response [to his findings],” has reaffirmed my concerns about the purpose of hiring Dr. Marlon James. I would urge you, and other Board of Education members to not rush through a process that has the potential to produce results that will inform and steer the direction of our entire school district.
There are other researchers within our region who have the experience and qualifications necessary to conduct the Equity and Excellence Review, without charging 306K dollars. I perceive that amount of money to be inflated by unnecessary budgetary items that can be cut. I make this judgment based on my professional background as an Independent Consultant who is contracted to carry out research throughout the Connecticut behavioral health system. Although the review has the potential to provide information that is of high intellectual value, it is only going to give us written information – how much more money will it take to actually carry out the reformation?
As an individual with research experience, I am concerned by Dr. Marlon James’ area of specialty being so narrowly focused on African American students, with his research interest in multiculturalism including the line, “Preparation of White teachers and leaders for diverse classrooms and schools,” provided on his CV. Ms. Richardson, you were quoted in the Patch article, cited above, as stating, “This is not a race-based or gender-based study,” however that leads me to believe that the Board of Education has not been fully informed or fully understands Dr. Marlon James’ area of specialty. Furthermore in response to the question of What will Dr. James and the University do over the next three years? “race” and “culture” are specifically noted. This is an obvious contradiction and greatly reduces my confidence in the Windsor Board of Education.
I can appreciate the need for teachers to be culturally competent and acquire a degree of sensitivity for both group and individual difference; however I strongly believe that Dr. Marlon James’ will be unable to carry out the review free from the influence of both an observer and confirmation bias. This is just a fact of research and life – everyone has biases. However, in the case of Dr. Marlon James, his area of specialty and his published findings being rooted centrally in ethnicity and culture, will limit the reliability of his findings and inhibit the best possible solution to be realized. I respect the work that Dr. James has completed throughout his professional career and I support him to work within the Loyola University area to assist in the reformation of school districts within his region that are failing to ensure ethnic and cultural equity. If the Windsor BOE believes that these variables are influencing the achievement gap, then I would support this review; however, the BOE has denied this repeatedly.
I strongly encourage the Windsor Board of Education to reconsider their decision to waive the bidding procedure. We need to ensure that we are doing the best for our children, and we elected you to make responsible decisions that will protect our community. As much as I have challenged myself to see this decision as being the best approach to assisting our lowest performers achieve the level of academic success that we know that they can, I still remain highly skeptical that this decision is being made with the best interest of all children within the Windsor Public School system in mind.
I would greatly appreciate a response to my letter because I only wish to better understand the BOE’s justification for seeing this as a reasonable case for waiving the bidding procedure.
Thank you for considering my position and I look forward to your response.
Michaela I. Fissel
Cc: Dr. Jeffrey Villar
Windsor Patch - Local Voices