Kimber Sparks Racial Furor Over Schools

Christopher Peak PhotoRev. Boise Kimber knows how to fill a room —  especially with political opponents he has riled up.

At Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting, Hispanic leaders turned out in force, packing the cafeteria at Celentano Biotech, Health, and Medical Magnet School, to respond to comments that the controversial minister made at a sparsely attended meeting last month suggesting that too many top jobs go to Latinos.

At that meeting two weeks ago, Kimber said white parents and brown politicians had meddled in Superintendent Carol Birks’s administrative reorganization (keeping on three six-figure supervisors for bilingual programs in Central Office and a magnet resource coordinator at New Haven Academy), while black leaders had stayed silent about cuts and moves that affected their community.

“I want you all to take the politics out of moving people and deal with the real issue of education our children,” Kimber said. “The black community has not protested on not one move of anybody. We ain’t said nothing about you all having three [English Learner] directors. We said nothing about you all moving our people across town. But if you want to move one assistant principal, want to move one guidance counselor, everybody from the other communities are getting their kids to write letters. Let’s stop playing the game. Allow [Birks] to do her job.”

At the most recent meeting Wednesday night, during a record-long public comment period —  with nearly as many speeches as at meetings about school closures and teacher layoffs  —  Tamiko Jackson-McArthur, the board’s secretary, called off a roster of lawmakers, clergy, students and activists. The fiery speeches drowned out the alarms from her cell-phone timer, announcing the end of their three minutes.

It’s unclear what motivated the turnout. Were the speakers genuinely offended by Kimber’s comments? Were they protecting the supervisors who’ve been targeted as an unnecessary expense? Or were they simply flexing their organizing muscle before a new superintendent made further moves?

The event was surely political. (More alders showed up than at any school event in recent history.) But the speakers also made a powerful statement about their kids: As demographics have changed in New Haven, Latino students, particularly the 2,850 with limited English, can’t be ignored any longer.

DeStefano Era’s Over

From the very start of public comment, State Rep. Juan Candelaria went after Rev. Kimber for trying to “attack and divide communities.” He argued that New Haven needs more faculty to teach students with limited English.

“In New Haven Public Schools, 45 percent are Latinos and almost 16 percent are English learners. That is why it is important — and justifiable — that we have the resources in place to provide supports districtwide, from central office to the classroom,” Candelaria said. “So, when someone stands here in front of this board and attacks Latino educators — our community — suggesting we have enough, it is simply ludicrous. It is an attempt to divide and conquer.”

Others were more pointed in their jabs at Rev. Kimber, calling him out for trying to bring back the tactics ex-Mayor John DeStefano used to keep a hold on City Hall for decades.

“To have Rev. Kimber come in here and say that the Hispanics have too many jobs is ridiculous,” said Hill Alder Dolores Colon, the chair of the Black and Hispanic Caucus. “We are trying to get jobs from Yale and the hospital for people from Dixwell, Dwight and Newhallville. We are not looking at color; we are fighting for jobs.

“We want to hire positions based on what this person can do for the students,” she went on. “If they’re looking for jobs in our city, we don’t want them to be held back by the color of their skin or their accent. We want them to be hired because they know how to do the job. I hope that Rev. Kimber remembers that. The days of using jobs as political clout, the days of DeStefano are over.”

The crowd whooped in loud applause. Someone shouted out, “Take that!”

(Kimber is African-American; Candelaria and Colon, Hispanic.)

More speakers continued to pile on. Even Varick Memorial AME Zion Church’s Rev. Kelcy Steele, who is African-American, sent in a letter. “Racism is not okay, full stop,” Rev. Abraham Hernandez, vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, read on his behalf.

The one person who stood up for Kimber was Rodney Williams, a ward co-chair in Newhallville who owns a contracting business in Dixwell.

“To me, I just feel like this is going to create more friction in our community,” he said. “This fight back and forth, I don’t think you all know what you just did. This is going to make it worse, because [Kimber] isn’t somebody to back down and you all know that.” He added, “Let me tell you something, he did a lot of great things for a lot of black people.”

One or two people clapped.

Later, Maritza Baez, whose son graduated from Cortlandt V.R. Creed Health & Sports Science High School, said there is no reason to be “afraid of this man.”

Williams stood up to protest.

Darnell Goldson, the board’s president, called out their names, trying to defuse the situation. As their voices raised, Goldson pulled the plug and ordered a five-minute recess. During the break, Goldson asked security what he could do.

When public comment resumed, Baez apologized for her temper and Goldson apologized letting the discussion veer off course from kids’ education into personal attacks.

You Know Where To Find Me

Rev. Kimber wasn’t there to hear most of that.

More than a half-hour into the meeting, at 6:08 p.m., he burst through the cafeteria’s back doors, breathing heavily like he’d just finished a run. Even though he was late, Kimber had somehow managed to get his name on the sign-up sheet Jackson-McArthur had pulled when the meeting started.

During his three minutes, he pointed out that NHPS Advocates, a watchdog group of parents and teachers with white members as well as Latinos, had also questioned why the district needed three bilingual supervisors. He admitted he’d said the black community hadn’t complained about reshuffling principals, but he said he was asking a genuine question about the district’s spending.

Kimber said he felt attacked unfairly.

“No one has called me, no one has asked me anything, but they’ve come out like Pharisees in the night,” he said. “I have in my family grandkids that are Hispanic that I see every weekend. Nothing that I said was racist. I’ve sat at the table with you all on many occasions. If it was that bad, everybody knows where to find me, right there in Newhallville, where I fight for the rights of people every day.”

Someone screamed out, “Apologize!”

By then, most of the room had cleared out, with the alders at hearings back on Church Street. After close to two hours, public comment finished, and the board moved on to the rest of the agenda.

Numbers, Not Power

While many of the speeches aimed at Kimber, they did highlight a larger change in New Haven’s demographics. The percentage of New Haven’s public school students who identify as Hispanic or Latino has dramatically increased in recent years, making them the single largest demographic group in 2015.

As many black families leave for nearby suburbs — an exodus that’s resulted in nearly 2,000 fewer African-American students in New Haven than a decade ago — the arrival of brown families has made up that difference and more.

Today, there are almost 2,600 more Hispanic or Latino children in the city’s public schools than a decade ago. (Over the same time period, the number of whites increased by 470, and the number of Asians, the fastest growing demographic, shot up by 160.) If the racial demographics continue at current rates, Hispanic and Latino students will make up an outright majority by 2022.

Given those recent shifts, many Hispanic and Latino families feel like they’re not adequately represented among the city’s top decision-makers. That’s been especially noticeable in the school system, where there’s no comprehensive plan to reach students who are learning English.

As with many recent openings for top government positions (like New Haven’s police chief and Connecticut’s lieutenant governor), those tensions flared up around New Haven’s schools last year, during the chaotic search for a new superintendent.

To pick a replacement for former Superintendent Garth Harries, the outgoing school board members, mostly picked by DeStefano, initially consolidated around Orlando Ramos, a Spanish speaker of Puerto Rican descent who’d been a top administrator in Milwaukee Public Schools.

But after the unexpected death of one board member, their voting bloc was outnumbered by Mayor Toni Harp’s appointees. Ramos didn’t make it to the last round, even after two of the six semifinalists dropped out.

With the search narrowed down to three black finalists, the board’s factions split between the three who wanted Pamela Brown, the former superintendent in Buffalo, N.Y., who speaks Spanish, and the four who wanted Carol Birks, then the chief of staff in Hartford Public Schools, who doesn’t speak Spanish.

Just before the vote where Birks won out, several Latinos said they felt disenfranchised by an inability to communicate with administrators —  an ongoing complaint for more than a decade. That night, one parent from Columbus Family Academy gave his remarks entirely in Spanish, then challenged the board members: “How does it feel for this board not to understand?”

Translation has since been added at Board of Education meetings, and Birks has hired a tutor to help her learn Spanish.

Are English Language Learners Learning?

Activism by Latino leaders has focused most intently on how to teach English to those who grow up in households where Spanish is the primary language. Within the city’s schools, there’s no unified approach, and measures of academic achievement have dragged.

Across New Haven’s elementary schools, English learners score dramatically worse on standardized tests than the district’s other students. Only 11.2 percent of the city’s English-language learners are scoring proficient in reading, and worse, only 8.8 percent are scoring proficient in math.

The effects of the achievement gap persist through high school, where they’re more likely to drop out. Two years ago, 70.9 percent of New Haven’s English-language learners graduated within four years, 10.5 points lower than the district’s other students.

At several schools, like Barnard Environmental Magnet School, Fair Haven School, Hill Central Music Academy, John S. Martinez Sea & Sky STEM School, and Quinnipiac Real World Math STEM School, significant numbers of English learners are starting to catch up.

But the district hasn’t yet articulated a plan to replicate those successes elsewhere. In fact, across New Haven’s schools, there’s currently no standard method for teaching English learners.

Depending on staffing and curriculum, schools vary widely in how much of their native language kids continue to learn in the early grades. Only three schools offer dual-language immersion programs, considered the gold standard, while some schools just have tutors that help out in English-only classes.

Last spring, Birks said she wants to “make sure that we are honoring students’ native languages,” but she said she’s still reviewing model programs in other states to figure out the district’s core curriculum.

Candelaria, who co-chaired a task force on improving instruction for English language learners, said the limited rollout of bilingual programs so far has defeated the point of New Haven’s portfolio of themed magnet schools. If only a handful can actually support students learning English, there’s no real choice for parents in the lottery.

“We know that bilingual services are not even across the district. We know that English leaners are pushed into mainstream classes,” he said. “What is the equity in that?”

Tags: , , , , ,

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: westville man on September 13, 2018  7:49am

I have a question for educators, administrators, coaches, etc in the New Haven school system; what solutions are there for communicating adequately with children and young adults who don’t speak much English or any at all? 

Any practical answers are appreciated (learn Spanish, have translators available, better “immersion” programs).  It is a very real and troubling issue.

posted by: Fairhavener on September 13, 2018  8:42am

Great indivualized education, and later access to jobs will lead to better residents where black, white, hispanic, asian, or other. Inclusiveness is a key component of great education.

posted by: observer1 on September 13, 2018  8:48am

I have grown up and lived in the city for many years. What is now occurring with Hispanic people is not any different than what has occurred with other ethnic groups in the past. Hispanic people are bonded together with their language rather than a country of origin bond as they come from many divergent areas. This is the only difference between the Hispanics and the Irish, Germans, Polish, and Italians. Each of these groups have formed alliances to gain political power in the city at various times. Each of these groups has had their “power time” to run the city and become employed by the city in a variety of jobs. Each of these groups then leave the incubator which is the city and pass into the suburbs. It is a naturally occurring process. It is now approaching that time when we will have a Hispanic mayor, police chief and fire chief along with other Hispanics holding power jobs in the city and at the state level. The Hispanic people arriving in the city are rapidly assimilating into the political, business and cultural life of the city. They are marrying into other ethnic groups, and while maintaining their cultural roots will also move on as others did before them.  Kimber might as well try to hold back a speeding train, because he will not be successful. This is not to say that all Hispanics vote, think or act as one, because they are from many different areas. Like other groups they are divergent in their thinking, but boned together in this instance by language. Other ethnic groups were divergent due to religion or geography, but they formed a common group as immigrants to the city. Time marches on and we are now observing the dawn of the Hispanic day. Good luck to them.

posted by: Not Worthy on September 13, 2018  8:57am

Kimber said: “The black community has not protested on not one move of anybody. We ain’t said nothing about you all having three [English Learner] directors. We said nothing about you all moving our people across town. But if you want to move one assistant principal, want to move one guidance counselor, everybody from the other communities are getting their kids to write letters. Let’s stop playing the game. Allow [Birks] to do her job.”

Whether these claims are true or not, the underlying attitude here is terribly corrosive for democracy. Don’t say nothing, say something! Don’t praise communities for inaction, praise communities for taking action!

posted by: elmcityale on September 13, 2018  9:56am

“No one has called me, no one has asked me anything, but they’ve come out like Pharisees in the night,”

I see stirring the pot by Rev. Kimber was not limited to merely racial and ethnic groups, but crossed over to religious polemic.  I must admit, I thought I knew a few things about the history of the Pharisees, a Jewish group that are effectively the start of a rabbinic approach Judaism as practiced for the last 2,000 or so years, but I had no idea that they would come out “in the night”... like Ninjas?  I would guess that perhaps the gentleman actually meant to refer to Sicarii, a small group of Jewish Zealots known for attacking Romans and sympathizers with small daggers.  In any case, throwing out such statements disparaging another religious group is disappointing and unacceptable in general, and nonsensical in the context of debate over public school issues.

posted by: Noteworthy on September 13, 2018  11:07am

English You Can Understand Notes:

1. There is zero need for three bi-lingual supervisors. We need one.

2. But the NHPS is never about need. It’s been about FOTs and FODs. It’s a cesspool of incompetence and double dippers.

3. Stop the racial division.

4. Why don’t these kids learn language at home? Did the schools teach English to the Italians or Polish? No. Where’s the discussion of personal responsibility?

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on September 13, 2018  11:44am

I don’t think anyone has been more critical of Mr. Kimber’s exploits than I have.  That said, I have to side with him on this one.  If Juan can stand up and fight (seemingly) for people who look like him only, then why can’t Kimber do the same? 

Here’s the problem in a nut shell with these opposition groups, Mrs. Birks is the superintendent.  Had one of the aforementioned individuals been hired instead of Birks, the silence from these groups would be deafening.

Should the school system hire more bilingual educators to address the emergent population of Spanish speaking students?  Absolutely.  But because a poor black kid from Newhallville doesn’t speak Spanish, and yet doesn’t grasp the concept of English either, shouldn’t mean that he or she should be shortchanged from receiving the same attention/resources that those who do.

Boisy’s an easy target for many.  Because he’s willing to take a stand on issues that are germane to the community from which he lives, when others are content with hiding. 

I may not agree with a person’s stance on an issue, but I commend them for taking a stance nevertheless.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on September 13, 2018  12:06pm

@ Elmcityale,

Not to sound as if I’m defending Mr. Kimber’s statement, because he’s more than capable of doing that on his own.  However, my take on his mentioning “Pharisees” in the manner in which he did, was metaphorical.  No one group owns the content of that which exist biblically.  Moreover, in reading the article as has been written, I am yet to see where Mr. Kimber made any inflammatory or condemnatory remark that would prompt such an uproar.  It sounds like someone is tired of being a State Rep., and wants to try and throw a haymaker in this faux conundrum to give the appearance that somethings there, when in fact there isn’t.  That behaviour of in itself can be construed as being Pharisaic.

posted by: newhavenishome on September 13, 2018  12:26pm

Gross, I feel like I need to take a shower after reading this. Just a pack of vultures fighting over crumbs.  It will NEVER be about the needs of the children first at the NHPS. If people of any color have the means to leave NHPS, just go.  I have no faith that this will ever get better.  The names and faces may change, but the egoism remains.

posted by: 06511 on September 13, 2018  12:33pm

Lost in this debate and unmentioned in this article are the hundreds of English language learners enrolled in New Haven Public Schools who don’t speak Spanish as a first language. That’s a real shame.

posted by: Marion on September 13, 2018  1:02pm

Wonder if Rev. Kimber still supports New Haven being a sanctuary city.

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on September 13, 2018  1:13pm

“Just a pack of vultures fighting over crumbs.”

This is what happens when vital public services get reduced to crumbs.

posted by: jamesj@newhaven on September 13, 2018  1:52pm

Unfortunately Kimber has always been about playing the race card—just look at his history here in New Haven. I honestly don’t know if 3 bilingual supervisors are too many or not enough, but that’s not the point.  Kimber and his ilk would make Hispanics second-class citizens in this city and he sounds like Trump by implying “we should be happy with what we got”.  Other than a handful of Black politicos who are still scared of him, most of this town’s politicians know he is all talk and only looks out for his self-interest.  All of a sudden he is Dr. Birks’ defender???  Only because he’ll pull the “you owe me” card to her at the first chance to get his school for African-American boys—which Mayor Harp backs as well.  The Board of Education has become the bastion of race politics in New Haven and its disgusting.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on September 13, 2018  2:40pm

@ James@New Haven,

“The Board of Education has become the bastion of race politics in New Haven and its disgusting.”

What an interesting depiction of the Board of Education.  For the readers of this fine newspaper, if you don’t mind, can you explain exactly what you’re referencing regarding “race politics?”

posted by: Latina on September 13, 2018  3:18pm

As a latina resident I feel latinos are always sitting in the back of the bus Thank you to state Rep. Candelaria, alder and Hernandez for voicing the truth. Boise Kimber always stands to protest about the lack of service to his community not about the entire community in New Haven . Don’t you remember Boise wanted to open the school for “black boys” only? Please! Enough is enough and I applaud Birks for having a bilingual director and 2 supervisors because children need the support in this community.  The city needs to realize that demographics have changed and we must do what is right for the children. Boise Kimber is a minister who needs to attend his church and get involved in a more effective way like the Bible states. Latinos wake up and keep on speaking!!!

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on September 13, 2018  4:02pm

06511, on a related note, it would be useful if one of the bilingual supervisors focused on developing curricula for the kids you refer to. Teaching English to kids whose first language is Spanish is one thing; teaching English to Pashto speakers is another.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on September 13, 2018  4:06pm

I find myself in agreement with a great deal of your recent comment.  However, if it’s ok for Juan and Alderman Hernandez to fight for the interest of the Latino community (and they should), then why is it wrong for Kimber to do the same?

Know this about my position, I will never endorse the idea of anyone pitting one group against another.  But I’d be less than truthful if I didn’t allert the public, to this obvious political jockeying, manifested in this exchange between the elected officials.

The focus has to be placed, on addressing the academic needs all the kids in system.  If the test scores are down citywide, then all the kid are in need of help despite ethnicity.

posted by: FacChec on September 13, 2018  4:51pm

Kimber in Camera:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Boise Kimber (born February 9, 1959) is an American Baptist minister and civil rights activist. He is the pastor of First Calvary Baptist churches in New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut.

1   Political and community life
2   Early life and education
3   Personal life
4   US Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano (2009)
5   Philanthropy
6   References

US Supreme Court case Ricci v. DeStefano (2009)[edit]
As Chairman of the New Haven Fire Commission, in 2004, Kimber lobbied with other members to set aside the results of a firefighter’s promotion exam, as no blacks qualified highly enough to have a chance at the available slots. Using the exam results would have promoted whites and a Latino firefighter to the available upper positions. The 20 firefighters who qualified for promotion under this exam filed suit against the city for its action.

In his concurring opinion in Ricci v. DeStefano (2009), Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito singled out Kimber for having political motivations in his decision to set aside the results. This brought Kimber into the center of the controversy and led to mass media attention.[14] Journalist Emily Bazelon of Slate referred to Kimber as “a convenient example of small-time race baiting and semi-thuggery.”[15]

posted by: Gimp on September 13, 2018  7:43pm

Fac Check - The Wikipedia bio is very much abbreviated and sanitized. Old timers will know that Boise is very much better at dealing with corpses than living people. He is very powerful and connected though, as witnessed by previous Mayor John DeStefano Jr, and fellow lodge member, giving a compelling character witness at a trial back in the early nineties. He is also a Baptist, as is Mayor Harp. All good stuff on the resume. He is highly approachable at his house. Not the one in his name in Newhallville. He actually lives in one on Stevenson Road which is owned by First Calvary Baptist Church. Very modest, it’s only worth a half a million. Good luck to all those that have to deal with him. Mr. Peak, get this reviewed by your editor, as there may be too much compost in this posting.

posted by: Childrenfirst on September 13, 2018  10:36pm

@Brian Jenkins

It is interesting to read that people get upset about 1 Bilingual Director and 2 Supervisors for English Learners when this number is very small when looking at what is needed to ensure sucess of students. 

It is sad to read that you think that the comments made by a Reverend who is suposed to be a Christian may be okay to say. Those comments were discriminatory and racist.

Some facts:
Public information available about per pupil spending was less for schools in New Haven showed that schools where the majority of students were Latinos. Look it up from last year’s Board of Education meetings

47% of students in New Haven are Latino and yet there less than 10% of principals/leaders/central office staff are latinos.

The percentage of teachers who are Latinos is very similar.

The African American conmunity does not have to “say anything” because I am sure that if New Haven had less than 10% of African Americans Administrators and 47% they would have done the same.

It is also very concerning to say that what the Latino community is doing is creating division when Latinos have never been provided with equitable access. 

In the case of Lao regarding Bilingual education and denial of Free Appropiate Public Education it was demonstrated that ELL students’ civil rights were violated because they were not being provided with the supports necessary to succeed.

For example, it is a violation of civil right law if a student who is an EL or a family needs a translator iis not provided with one.
The bilingual clerk and the only two guidance counselors that were there were laid off. Hence, if a students needs the support who could have provided then based on the law? No one. It is why they need the bilingual counselors and it is one the reasons they were “re-hire.” 
Does New Haven want to go though the OCR audit regarding violation of FAPE just like Stamford did?

Before comments are made, do the Research.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 14, 2018  9:35am

(Kimber is African-American; Candelaria and Colon, Hispanic.)

But if you look at Colon she is more of a Afro-Latino. You see people better be very careful when they speak about the Latino Community because you have Afro-Latinos in the Latino Community.

What Does It Mean To Be Afro-Latino

Hiring Bias Blacks And Latinos Face Hasn’t Improved In 25 Years

This crap reminds me when the system would pit Black Americans against people from the Caribbean.

Like I said we are One.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on September 14, 2018  10:50am

@ Childrenfirst,

“Do the research before commenting.”  I appreciate your directive, but I march to my drumbeat, and scratch only when I itch. 

To suggest that I would not be saying anything if the proverbial shoe was on the other foot (my words), is absurd.  You apparently no nothing of me.

“It is sad to read that you think that the comments made by a Reverend who is suposed to be a Christian may be okay to say. Those comments were discriminatory and racist.” 

Childrenfirst, since you’re an arbiter on all things Christian, can you locate the “discriminatory and racist” comments spewed by Mr. Kimber that I agree with?

Had you read my comments in their totality, you would’ve arrived at these aforementioned words of my supporting the crux of the argument: Should the school system hire more bilingual educators to address the emergent population of Spanish speaking students?  Absolutely. 

Now allow me to underscore a more broader point.  Because Mr. Kimber aligns himself with issues that you, others and sometimes myself may disagree with, am I to always disagree with what he says because you do?

Had you done your research before trying to dissect me, you would have noticed, that as the former Chairman of the Black and Hispanic Caucus for the Board of Alderman, I faught so valiantly for the causes of the Hispanic community, that members of the black community coincidentally, were labeling me a “Hispanic lover.”  And they were correct.  Because I love all people.

posted by: JCFremont on September 14, 2018  2:24pm

I am surprised this conflict has not come up sooner. The black community has been most affected by funds and who’s children’s classrooms have been hit with bi-lingual programs. Before we all became white, Germans, Pols, Italians and Irish where not given a choice of which language they’d like to be taught in. As far as the Reverend’s idea of a School for African American Boys, why is this racist? Is Howard University racist? Is Smith College sexist?

posted by: Fairhavener on September 14, 2018  3:04pm

@JCFremont: the argument that because we didn’t do it in the past, so it must be right now is weak sauce, I am used to better than that from you.

As for the other, you have a point, though, racism is still wrong.

posted by: NHPLEB on September 16, 2018  2:20pm

@JCFremont:  Howard and Smith are PRIVATE SCHOOLS.  Kimber wants control of the money that would be given to this “charter” school.  I do believe there is a history of Kimber’s dealings when it comes to money. Can someone share so we know why NOT to put public taxpayer money into Kimer’s hands??

posted by: sbrad4510 on September 16, 2018  8:32pm

I am no fan of the Reverend Bosie Kimber, but his reference to ‘Pharisee’s in the night’
I believe is in regard to Nicodemus who came to question Jesus under the cover of darkness about being born again. Even I did not infer the statement as some sort of slur against any Jewish sect.  I see politics has not changed much in the city of New Haven, just the ethnicities appear everchanging.