What Does Ferguson Have to Do With Quality Education?

By Melissa Spear, Executive Director


Student Tyler Cash shows his support at the Rally For Every Child.

On December 3, Common Ground students and staff joined over 6,000 others on the New Haven Green.  We had all come to call for changes to an educational system that currently suffers from the largest achievement gap in the nation, and that isn’t giving all our students the educational opportunities they deserve. Students, parents, and teachers were out in force despite the cold drizzly day, holding signs and voicing support for the idea that every CT child deserves a great education at a great public school.

Charter schools like Common Ground are an integral part of Connecticut’s public school system.  As a public school we are committed to contributing in any way we can to addressing Connecticut’s educational challenges. We consider ourselves partners with local public schools and school districts, other charter schools, the State Department of Education – anyone and everyone who is committed to reforming our education system so that it addresses the needs of EVERY child. Want to learn more?  Here is a link to the blog post “Common Ground is a Charter School” written by myself, Liz Cox, and Joel Tolman in this blog in November.


Common Ground Senior Jesus Reyes speaking at the For Every Child Rally

At the December 3rd rally, Graduating Common Ground senior Jesus Reyes told a moving story about the impact that the right school can have.  “If I had never attended Common Ground High school, I would honestly have no idea where I would be, or whether I’d be alive or not. Initially I did not want to go to Common Ground. When I was accepted the school really changed my life…. I’ve been accepted to the University of Maine at Machias, and plan to follow a career as an environmental conservation officer and advocate. All because I attended Common Ground High School, a great school.”

When we acknowledge that having access to the right, great school – whether a magnet school, a community school, or a charter school – is an important part of the formula that leads to success for our young people, we must then ask:  Why isn’t every school a great school?

As we all stood on the Green listening to speeches calling for every child to have access to an excellent education at the great school of their choice, I heard several people express surprise and confusion when more than one speaker brought up the events in Ferguson.  After all, what does Ferguson have to do with ensuring every school can be a great school?  Doesn’t bringing up the terrible events in Ferguson and Staten Island overshadow the true purpose of our being here on the Green, which is to ensure that every school can be a “great” school for the students it serves?

In response to these questions, I would respond that the protests that have taken place in Ferguson and across the country are actually very relevant.   Ferguson has become more than just a tragic series of events leading to the un-necessary death of a young black man.  It has become symbolic of all of the inequities faced by communities of color – including in our own education system where communities of color are disproportionately served by schools that are not delivering the desired educational outcomes.


Common Ground students and staff at the Millions March in NYC. Photo courtesy of Chris Randall/ilovenewhaven.org

Common Ground students and staff at the Millions March in NYC. Photo courtesy of Chris Randall/ilovenewhaven.org

Here at Common Ground, as I believe is true in every school in Connecticut, our primary objective is to prepare our students for success as they mature into independent adults.  But we cannot do that well if we do not recognize and fight ALL of the inequities they may encounter as they venture into the wider world.  I am, and we are, committed to the idea that all students deserve a fair and equal opportunity to learn, grow, and realize their potential as leaders.

Common Ground is in the midst of an important conversation about how inequities  manifest both in our school and throughout society, and what we as individuals, and as an organization can and should do about them. Last week, all 60+ Common Ground staff gathered to discuss these issues. On Friday, our whole school community came together to talk about the pros and cons of joining in marches in New York City in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions. On Saturday, two dozen of our staff and students chose to join in the Millions March. I am proud to see our students and staff share openly, listen carefully, and take action based on their beliefs.

Confronting inequity and its causes is at times hard — but it is very necessary, in particular for Common Ground as a community based educational institution – and I would submit for all educational institutions committed to preparing young people for success in the world.  Common Ground brings together a genuinely diverse community, and that means that we have many different points of view. All our voices matter as we engage in this important work of creating a fair and just society.  Committing to this work is the only way we will ever realize a truly equitable system of education, and provide every one of our young people with access to the great school that they need and deserve.  I hope you will join us in making this commitment.





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