After listening to dozens of members of Waterbury’s black community speak out in support of Dr. Portia Bonner, a black woman who was born and raised in Waterbury, the Board of Education voted 7-3 to hire Dr. Kathleen Ouellette as the new Superintendent of Schools in Waterbury. The board members who voted for Ouellette cited her strong track record of experience as the deciding factor.
Pastor Pamela Hughes of the Faith Generation Ministries Church called the Board of Education’s decision to not hire Dr. Portia Bonner a “failed situation” and that the board had “failed the community”.
Community activist Jimmie Griffin, a former leader of the NAACP in Connecticut, didn’t back down from his accusation that the selection process was biased and that Waterbury was “the most racist city he’d ever seen.” When Griffin injected the race card into the process he splintered the black community and alienated the white community. Unapologetic, he vowed to fight on.
Some of the loudest applause of the evening were directed at two young students who said they weren’t allowed to make decisions in secret, and neither should the board of education.
Pierce Reigner spoke in favor of Dr. Bonner at the meeting. Although most of the speakers during the evening were from the black community in Waterbury, several white speakers rose to defend the selection process, and the city of Waterbury, against racist accusations.
Nearly 200 people packed into the Waterbury Magnet Arts School on East Main Street to either public speak, or watch the drama unfold.
Board of education member Karen Harvey was a staunch supporter of Dr. Bonner and was instrumental in stopping the board from going into executive session to vote for the new superintendent. Harvey had contacted the Freedom of Information Committee in Hartford and had been advised that the board should conduct the meeting out in the open. After a brief discussion, all ten board members voted to conduct business openly in front of the nearly 200 Waterbury residents in attendance. The board had been criticized for going into executive session to conduct a non-binding straw poll one week ago.
Republican board members Charles Stango, left, and Jason Van Stone, right, and Democrat Coleen Flaherty-Merritt all cast their vote in favor of Dr. Kathleen Ouellette. Stango took detailed notes of a fact finding mission to Manchester, where Dr. Ouellette currently serves as the superintendent of schools, and said she was described as feisty, determined and focused on the children. Board member Karen Harvey questioned how the fact finding trip was set up, and when Stango said Dr. Ouellete had helped organize portions of it, a rumble of discontent was heard from the pro-Bonner audience.
Republican board member Jason Van Stone went on the fact finding mission to Manchester and said he was intent on looking for flaws, which he reported were difficult to find. There had been a split in 2007 with a minority parent group over the teaching of Huckleberry Finn, but other than that, Van Stone said the feedback on Dr. Ouellette was “very positive”.
Democrat board member Jose Morales supported Dr. Bonner for the post citing she would be a tremendous role model for the minority students.
Board of Education President, Pat Hayes, center, said he had a difficult time making the decision to support Dr. Ouellette over a qualified home-grown candidate. In the end he said it came down to experience, and he said there still might be opportunities for Bonner in the future.
Jimmie Griffin’s call for a protest march to the meeting fizzled when his calls of racism were rebuffed by members of the black community, who focused their comments and support on Dr. Bonner’s qualifications and knowledge of Waterbury. Griffin, right, is pictured above listening to Pat Hayes, the President of the Board of Education, explain his support for Dr. Ouellette. Moments after this image was taken both Griffin and Reverend Leroy Perry of the Mount Zion AME Church, left, walked out of the meeting in protest. A majority of the members of the black community in the audience followed.
After pouring themselves out emotionally for two hours in support of Dr. Bonner, the majority of the blacks in the audience left in protest after it was clear that the board was going to select Dr. Ouellette. If the Waterbury Board of Education wasn’t going to listen to them, they weren’t going to sit and watch the actual vote unfold to select Ouellette.
Dr. Kathleen Ouellete was in the back of the room listening intently as the meeting reached its climax. She is pictured here moments after the 7-3 vote was cast to select her as the next superintendent of schools in Waterbury.
Speaking to the board Dr. Ouellete was gracious and said she understands the disappointment in the black community and vows to transform it into approval.
Dr. Ouellete being welcomed by Pat Hayes and Mayor Michael Jarjura.
Democrat Board of Education member Neil O’Leary is the Democratic nominee for mayor in November and supported Dr. Bonner for the superintendent’s job. He “reluctantly” cast his vote against Dr. Ouellette, who he said was an impressive and highly qualified candidate. O’Leary, like the other two board members who supported Dr. Bonner, believed that a home-grown and highly qualified candidate would send an electrifying message to the local minority community that if they worked hard they could make it to the top.
Monroe Webster, the former president of the Greater Waterbury Branch of NAACP was a staunch supporter of Dr. Portia Bonner, but remained seated when the majority of the black community walked out in protest. After Dr, Ouellette addressed the board of education from the podium, Webster was one of the first people to congratulate her and welcome her to Waterbury. The healing had begun……