The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression. --W.E.B. DuBois
We’re Speaking. . .but Nobody’s Listening

We’re Speaking. . .but Nobody’s Listening

In May of 2015 a negligence lawsuit was filed against the Norman Public School District (Oklahoma) and its superintendent for violating the Constitutional rights of a student diagnosed with disabilities and special needs, leaving him with physical and psychological damage. The plaintiff alleged that the superintendent placed the student in the classroom of two abusive teachers. The district had been notified about the abusiveness of both teachers for more than 5 consecutive years. Despite the recurring grievances filed by several parents, Superintendent Siano continued to disregard their concerns. The lawsuit stated that the superintendent had a fiduciary duty to take actions on behalf of the children given that the Superintendent was notified of previous abuses. Unfortunately, the superintendent did nothing.

For several years I have heard Hartford Board of Education superintendents, one after another , promising to hear the concerns of the parents, community leaders and others to act responsibly to those concerns.  Regrettably each Superintendent continued to fail to deliver on their word. Interestingly enough, if only the former Superintendent of the Norman Public School District listened to and acted upon the complaints of parents, a lawsuit could have been averted and a child may have been unharmed. The underlying problem is that there has been a major shift from what education should be, as compared to how education is practiced today. The focus of education has changed. The raw truth is that education as displayed in our present day public school system is not a tool to make our children better, more exposed, and prepared to compete in a rapidly evolving world market, but is rather a secret society.

Education has become a secret society whose sole purpose is to protect the “brotherhood and sisterhood” of an exorbitantly high paid cabinet of chiefs who are not obligated to consider the welfare of the children. The children’s well being and development is no longer the measurement of progress. The measurement of progress is now measured by hosting weekly meetings, workshops, and conferences. These meetings have replaced accountability and meaningful conversation among parents, teachers, and the superintendents of schools. The problem has never been that parent’s and teacher’s are not speaking but rather that no one is listening, no one is taking action. The problem is further exacerbated by the truth that no one is being held accountable to the fiduciary responsibility to hear and act on parents or teachers concerns.

I’ve heard many times from Hartford Board of Education Superintendent Beth Schiavano-Narvaez that she wants to engage parents and that she cares about teacher concerns. She claims that her office has an open door policy and she is ready to hear the concerns of people possessing fresh ideas to help improve our students. Dr. Narvaez makes a bold claim that “it’s all about the children.” But during her two-years as Superintendent of schools those claims can not be verified. Andrea Johnson, president of the Hartford Federation of Teachers would agree that Dr. Narvaez is not hearing at all.

In early 2016, Johnson presented a 30 bullet point document that listed a myriad of educational and workplace complaints on behalf of the 2000 teachers that her union represents. Her complaints listed inadequate support for special education, “filthy” conditions in some school buildings, and desiring properly functioning technology. Despite consistent and clear grievances being presented monthly, Johnson claims that “very few” of the issues have been resolved. Johnson rightly stated that “Enough is enough.” Something has to be done. Who is required to listen to parents, to the teachers, or even the children? According to Hartford Board of Education policies, no one.

No matter what the Superintendent does wrong, she is fiercely defended by an oligarchy who clearly has a vested interest in securing her post as in doing so gives them access to power and political future aspirations. People are speaking and have always been. In fact, many are screaming for change in our system but very little is being heard. Eduardo “Eddie” Genao who is now under police investigation for inappropriate contact with a minor is no novice to the system that allows for predators to thrive. In fact, he knows how to work it to his benefit. Files show that Genao has been loosely reprimanded for years under three administrations for similar lewd conduct.

While serving as Principal of Sport and Medical Science Academy, Genao was reprimanded for using, “exceedingly poor” judgment in engaging in social interactions with a student electronically. Perhaps a clearer translation of this highly romanticized central office language is that he was “sexting” and preying on young girls. It’s very hard to understand how education is one of the rare sectors that continues to cover up criminal behavior, especially when it involves children. People are speaking but no one is listening. In a January 2008 letter signed by then Assistant Superintendent Penny McCormack the reprimand stated that Genao also “engaged in the same conduct with a former student who became an employee; again administration exhibited a poor decision.

For “poor decision making” Genao was not reported to the police or the FBI. He was not fired. He was not put on a watch list. Instead Genao was given a promotion to central office, a position that yielded him in excess of $176,000.00 salary. The Office of Talent and Management and the then Superintendent seemed to have believed that it would be better to transfer and promote Genao to a position where he wouldn’t have immediate access to children rather than to fire him or prosecute him. There is a grave danger when people speak but no one listens.  Education in general is in desperate need for reform.

This reform has been stalemated by people who fail to care but also who fail to listen and act.  Of course, some may disagree and claim that the Board of Education is listening. In fact, they have hired a team, a communication team to address all of their vital public concerns so the Superintendent won’t have to.  Although the newly appointed city school’s spokesperson Pedro Zayas has only been on board for a few months he speaks in vague terms about information concerning the system failures at the Hartford Board of Education, some of which happened more than a decade ago. Interestingly enough he is paid to say whatever “they” (the stakeholders) tell him to say whether it makes sense or not. He is a professional pitch man who is not paid to speak truth but rather to deflect anyone and anything that comes against the Hartford Board of Education and its “Holy Grail” failed policies. His job is clear to make the Board of Education look good even if the ship is swiftly sinking.

Of course the reports from Zayas and his team of advisors clearly explains that we should not be worried about Genao’s predatory actions since he was intelligent enough to target an out-of-state little girl instead of one of our own. This point was made clear that the little girl who was the victim is not a part of the Hartford School system. She does not live in Hartford. Thus, every parent should feel safe. The confidence in the board should now be restored because parental concern should only arise if Genao’s target was a Hartford resident or Hartford student. This nonsense is what our tax dollars pays for. Why should it matter whether the victim lives in Hartford, New York or Europe? If the Board of Education continues to cover up predators and ignore the voices of reason I cannot be comfortable. In fact, it is an outrage.

What does this say about our care for “all” children not just those living in Harford and its surrounding towns? Dr. Narvaez, Dr. Ngounou, and Attorney Wareing have failed all of our children. If we follow the past protocol, then they should all be promoted for ignoring the warnings. Not this time! They have proven to be threatening to our children’s future. Only the blind cannot see the handwriting on the wall. This administration does not hear and cannot see. Parents, teachers, advocates, union leaders, and even harassed employees have been screaming yet Dr. Narvaez, Dr. Ngounou, and Attorney Wareing, by their own admissions, do not have the time to respond, they overlook emails, because they are busy. They do not care.

There is a small child in the middle of the highway with fast moving cars, in fact, there are many children in harms way. If someone doesn’t act quickly they will die. Is there anyone who has the time to respond? Will you continue to turn a deaf ear to the voice of the people? Time will tell.

“He that has an ear to hear let him hear.”

Dr. Aaron Lewis 4/11/16

San Paulo, Brazil