BLOOMFIELD, NJ – Building equity in education was the topic during the third ‘Community Conversation’ installment regarding race hosted by the Township of Bloomfield on Wednesday, August 12.

Following a string of previously successful conversations on race this summer, this discussion featured guest speakers Dr. Maureen Gillette, Dean, College of Education, Seton Hall University; Dr. Jennifer Robinson, Executive Director, Center of Pedagogy, Montclair State University; and Former Assemblyman Bill Payne.

The Zoom event was hosted by Bloomfield First-Ward Councilwoman Jenny Mundell and moderated by Councilwoman-At-Large Dr. Wartyna Davis.

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Jennifer Robinson is Professor and Executive Director of the Center of Pedagogy, the institutional unit at Montclair State University that coordinates initial teacher preparation and the simultaneous renewal of teacher education and the schools.

“We look forward to these conversations and like answering questions as we are not just talking at you,” said Dr. Robinson.  “Reality says in a social justice minded perspective, the fence is coming down because people have to take it down, and the fence does not come down on its own.  It’s required action by everyone.  And this means making sure our education system is just.”

A career educator, Robinson has directed more than $14 million in externally funded grants to recruit, prepare, and sustain beginning and experienced educators for school districts in New Jersey.  She has made numerous professional presentations, conducted research, and written about teacher recruitment/retention and sustaining school/university partnerships.

Maureen Gillette is the dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Seton Hall University.  Originally from the Chicago area, she was an elementary and middle school teacher for twelve years prior to completing a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It’s almost impossible to talk about the situation without discussing what is going on in the community,” Dr. Gillette said.  “Equitable education for all includes access to livable wages, access to transportation, access to provide students resources and tools, and access to affordable housing and having a moratorium on evictions, and do kids live in a safe neighborhood and can they walk to school, and do all kids have access to healthcare, healthy foods and access to doctors?”

Gillette began her career in teacher education at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York.  She served for six years as Associate Dean in the College of Education at William Paterson University, and was Dean of the Daniel L. Goodwin College of Education at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, IL for eleven years.

“Equality means everyone gets a box to stand on,” Gillette explained.  “Liberation means we don’t need a box or a fence, and liberation means we want to build a sense of empowerment for our students so they can fully participate in all that our democracy has to offer.  We want the fence to come down and ensure equitable access for all students.”

The broad discussion on equity in education included data on national trends and general definitions.  Both resources and assessment tools for parents, educators and decision makers were discussed and provided to the community on the township website.

“What you are doing in Bloomfield I commend all of you who are taking the steps to take on some meaningful discussion about racism that we face here in our country, especially police behavior in the past couple of months,” said Assemblyman Payne.  “The fact Bloomfield has stepped out front and wants to address this head on with your residents is something I want to see repeated among all 22 municipalities in Essex County.”

Payne added, “sometimes people want to sweep things under the rug and it’s important that we are willing to admit that racism does exist, and we are willing to face up to it and discuss it.  Racism is something I’ve lived with all of my life.”

The purpose of the community conversations on race is to allow an opportunity for residents to learn from experts what Bloomfield can be doing better regarding race issues.

"We are pleased to have so many highly credentialed and wonderful presenters,” said Councilwoman Davis.

“This conversation is as necessary as any of the conversations we’ve had so far as they help us learn and grow as a community,” Councilwoman Mundell said.

Other notable participants on the Zoom meeting were Mayor Michael Venezia, Second-Ward Councilman Nicholas Joanow, Third-Ward Councilwoman Sarah Cruz, Councilman-at-Large Ted Gamble, Councilman-At-Large Richard Rockwell, Bloomfield Commission on Civil Rights member Dr. Djanna Hill-Tall, Bloomfield Board of Education President Jill Fischman and Board of Education members Ralph Walker, Thomas Heaney and Michael Heller.

“Building off of the productive and informative conversations we have had this summer regarding race, I look forward to learning more about how we can build equity in our education system,” said Mayor Venezia. “Both the Council and I have gained valuable insight from these conversations and we look forward to applying what we have learned to make our community a more equal and inclusive place for all.”

Community Conversation resource information can be found at bloomfieldtwpnj.com/1538/Community-Conversation-Resource-Links.