Milford approves 5-year goals for school system, including 'equitable participation'

MILFORD — The Board of Education approved a series of nine commitments and five goals for city schools for the next five years and, with one exception,was unanimous in its enthusiasm for the list.

Superintendent of Schools Anna Cutaia presented a draft of the commitments to the board. The commitments included ideas such as, “continually growing a learning community rooted in strong, trusting, and dependable relationships,” and “creating and maintaining a safe and secure climate that promotes a supportive academic, social, emotional and physical learning environment.”

The schools also committed to maintaining a diverse community of talented professionals, investing in the most advanced practices and supporting high quality instruction.

The four goals consisted of: challenging learners, fostering personal development, developing global citizens and cultivating creativity and innovation.

The goal that had the most discussion during the recent meeting was No. 3 , which states in part, “Learners will develop a lens that focuses on equitable participation from all members within a community that is shaped to meet each member’s needs.”

Cutaia said the intent of that third goal was to help students develop awareness of and to be active in equitable participation from all people in a community.

“We belong to many communities, so this is a generic community definition,” said Cutaia. “Because of that lens, it’s shaping the community’s ability to meet each individual’s needs.”

Board member Una Petroske referred to a conversation the board had with Ingrid Canady about social justice, race and equity.

“I’m wondering if equitable, based upon our conversation with (Ingrid) Canady, the difference between race, equity and social justice, and it seemed like we were leaning to social justice versus equity,” said Petroske. “I didn’t know if that impacted the statement or not.”

President Susan Glennon said she thought equitable was more inclusive. Cutaia agreed, and the board maintained the wording.

Cindy Wolfe Boynton commended the use of the phrase “developing a lens.”

“I think the idea of the lens of how we are looking at the world, we can’t repeat enough today,” she said. “It sends the message that everybody’s lenses might be different.”

But the goal, which she said was “very warm and inclusive,” was transformed into something more generic by the wording, “all members within a community.” She suggested making a change to “our community.”

Cutaia, in response, said she had spoken to a person of color who had expressed the sentiment that they didn’t feel part of a community, even though they live in Milford.

“I understand the addition of ‘our,’ but if you go back to the phrase global citizens, is it really about Milford or are we a people on this globe called Earth?” she said. “I like the idea that we are expanding beyond our borders, and we are demonstrating a sense of we belong in a community that meets everybody’s needs equitably.”

The board ultimately approved all the goals and commitments, with all members except Andrew Fowler voting to approve the list.

Fowler said his vote against the commitments centered on commitment No. 5.

“Overall, I’m hesitant to commit to our fifth commitment, and this is just after a lot of thinking and prayer,” he said.

The fifth commitment states that Milford will lay a foundation that “fosters an environment of unity that addresses race, equity and social justice in a safe and supportive learning environment.”

The schools also will take deliberate steps to make clear that people who have been historically marginalized are fully included and valued, according to the commitment.

Fowler said he though the third commitment on the list, where the schools committed to creating a safe and secure climate and promoting a supportive academic, social, emotional and physical learning environment, was sufficient.

“I think if we commit to this over the next several years, I believe we are inviting critical race theory and other divisive theories into our curriculum and our classrooms. I think this will do more harm and create more division in our community and in our schools because of this,” said Fowler. “I think commitment No. 3 suffices in giving students the giving students the opportunity the opportunity to succeed and feeling comfortable to learn, especially in an unbiased classroom.”