Wearing his Civil Air Patrol dress blue uniform, Metropolitan Business Academy rising junior Nico Rivera took his oath of office making him the newest elected student member of the Board of Education.
Rivera was sworn in by Mayor Toni Harp during the board’s regular monthly meeting Monday evening in the cafetorium of Celentano Biotech, Health, and Medical Magnet School.
With his friends and family members looking on, he told the audience in a brief speech that he is a young man on a mission.
“Not a mission to just better my future but the future of others,” he said. “A mission to lend a helping hand to many students and also a mission to make the students of New Haven Public Schools greater.”
He said he’s had a lot of people come up to him and ask if he was going to just “talk the talk or are you going to walk the walk.”
“I’m telling you here today, New Haven, I’m going to walk it,” he said. Though he didn’t bring it up — fellow board member Joe Rodriguez did — Rivera already scored a victory for New Haven students before he was even sworn in. He convinced the school district to change its policy on how it heats up plastic-wrapped breakfast foods. (Read more about that here.)
He said when he was an eighth-grader he sat in the audience at school board meetings watching the two student reps and wondering what he would do if he were in their shoes. Rivera said that curiosity drove him to ultimately run and get elected. He said he plans to help bring as much positive change for students that he can.
“I started off my campaign with the slogan, ‘We stand together,’” he said. “And I want to let the board, and also New Haven know that I’m willing to do anything that is going to positively impact school students.”
Cousin To BOE: ‘Be On The Same Page’
The Rev. Steven Cousin Jr. used his three minutes during the public participation portion of the meeting Monday to implore the Board of Ed to not let difficult financial times cause them to unravel as a unit.
“We’re living in some difficult times across the country, in the school district,” he said. “They can be overcome but we have to be on the same page. We have to come together, put our differences aside and do what’s best for residents, what’s best for our children.”
The appeal came following a week where the majority of the board members (including Mayor Toni Harp; not including Ed Joyner) participated in a press conference where they announced that new schools’ Superintendent Carol Birks, who was conspicuously absent from the event, would be ordered to rescind the layoff notices she recently sent in an effort to close a projected $20 million budget deficit.
While he didn’t address the tension between the board and Birks directly, he urged members to be mindful that closing the deficit is going to cause some pain for everyone connected to the school system. Whether it’s more than 1,100 people laid off or a number below that, he said there will be pain.
“You cannot reduce the deficit without everyone feeling it,” he said. “There is no easy way to do this. Please be together.”
“I don’t want to be in your shoes,” he added.