BOE chair (opinion): ‘Campaigning is a lot different from actually serving’

Colin Hosten, left, currently chair of the Norwalk Board of Education, at a 9/11 ceremony in 2019.

Colin Hosten, left, currently chair of the Norwalk Board of Education, at a 9/11 ceremony in 2019.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

Nothing has been a more humbling and learning experience than serving as your Board of Education chair in Norwalk.

Even as I’ve prioritized students and families in every vote and decision-making process, I’ve learned that there are many challenges in public education without clear and easy solutions. I am eternally grateful to the parents, families, and community members who have reached out to let me know they appreciate the work we are doing. But what I value even more is when they let me know they disagree with something I’ve done, because they offer opportunities for me to see things from a new perspective, and then to do better next time.

The global pandemic has not been easy on any of us, and it has been an especially tough for public education. All of us, from the BOE, to Central Office, administrators, teachers, staff, and especially our students and their families, have felt the enormous strain of it.

And yet, here am I, asking for your support in November as I seek another term on the board. I am inspired in large part by our very students, whose perseverance and strength these past couple years has been nothing short of inspirational. They are the living proof that we will get through this.

But we can only do it by working together. Election season sometimes puts us at odds with one another, in different camps on the many issues affecting us as the local level. Disagreement can certainly be a healthy part of our democracy. But it is important to at least know what we’re disagreeing about. It’s one thing to be a candidate and criticize the service of others. It’s a much different story when you have to be the one making decisions affecting the lives of thousands of students and families.

It’s easy to criticize school funding, for example, but I haven’t heard other candidates articulate what they would do about it, other than to demonize people who rent apartments. Some candidates are running on the platform of helping all students succeed, while condemning the equity-focused strategic plan recently approved by the board to help address those systemic achievement gaps. They talk about transparency and representation, yet I’ve never seen some of them attend a board meeting.

I have deep and abiding respect for anyone seeking to serve. I know from experience that it take a lot of effort and determination. But campaigning is a lot different from actually serving. On Election Day, we have a choice between empty criticism on one hand, and a proven track record on the other. Our public servants, from Mayor Harry Rilling on down, have proven their ability to serve with integrity and purpose. I am proud to be on the ballot alongside three remarkable women — Janine W. Randolph, Kara Nelson Baekey and Sheri McCready Brown — who bring incredible passion and exciting ideas for helping Norwalk Public Schools serve all our student and families equitably, compassionately, and transparently. It takes more than just offering critiques. We, your Democratic candidates, are here to serve.

Campaigning is important, and I look forward to a spirited discussion this election season. But when it’s all over, after all the attacks and criticisms from the other candidates, I’ll be here, ready to serve — because that’s what counts for those who matter most: our students, their families, and our entire learning community.

Colin Hosten is chair of the Norwalk Board of Education.