The U.S. Secretary of Education stopped by Hartford on Wednesday to talk about the importance of school diversity.
Secretary John King only has a few months left in his position, but he made one thing clear to an audience of about 100 educators and students -- diversity helps everyone.
"We know, with decades of evidence," King said, "that diverse schools can produce stronger academic outcomes for all students, and prepare our young people for the diverse world they will inhabit."
Speaking at the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy school, King joined a panel to discuss Hartford's progress toward integration.
Among those on the panel was Elizabeth Horton Sheff, who was the named plaintiff in a school segregation lawsuit that settled in 1996 and led to an ongoing court-ordered effort to diversify Hartford schools. While progress has been made, most public schools in the city remain racially and economically segregated.
"It's time to lay down our petty differences, look at where we are, look at the resources that we have, look at our mistakes, look at our successes, find new ways -- innovative measures -- to ensure that our children get the kind of education that we need in order to sustain this state and this nation," Sheff said.
There's also a problem of teacher diversity. People of color make up about 40 percent of the state's population, but they account for only about eight percent of public school teachers. The state recently passed a law aimed to improve educator diversity.
Connecticut teacher Jahana Hayes, who was named national teacher of the year, said the problem of segregation can only be solved if the broader community makes an effort.
"It's about entire communities, changing our outlook about how we treat people, how we deal with groups of people, about coming together, and working on solutions together," Hayes said. "You know, I can't do my work as a teacher if it's not supported within the community, if it's not followed through at home. So as a community we have to take ownership of our students and really do better together."
Federal lawmakers are considering providing $120 million to support strategies that increase diversity, through an initiative sponsored by U.S. Senator Chris Murphy.