NORWALK, Conn. -- Before Norwalk children return to school Wednesday, teachers and staff gathered for the annual convocation ceremony Monday where they were encouraged to not give up on their students.
This year's guest speaker was Geoffrey Canada, founder, president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone .
He spoke to district faculty members who gathered Monday at Brien McMahon High School about the importance of reaching out to kids who others may have given up on. He spoke about children who go through the Harlem Children's Zone and on to college, who then return and work with kids who may not expect to go to college one day.
"It changes the way kids see their future," Canada said.
He also spoke about teachers in his own life who inspired him, who encouraged him to work hard and helped him to understand the subjects he was studying. Canada shared a story about his first-grade teacher who helped him learn how to read by nurturing his love of the book "Green Eggs and Ham."
"I learned how to read because of one teacher who was intent on capturing my imagination and my soul," Canada said. "Let's all make sure that we are all focused on saving every single kid."
Norwalk district officials and administrators expressed enthusiasm for the district's progress in recent years. They highlighted new teachers and administrators who the district has hired for the new school year, $2.6 million spent on security upgrades for the upcoming year, new curriculum, pre-k programs, and the Norwalk Early College Academy as some of the ways the district is improving.
"Two years ago we were running multimillion-dollar deficits and there were marches on City Hall. Now we're running surpluses," said Board of Education Chair Mike Lyons. "We were laying off teachers a few years ago. Now I'm so happy to see we're hiring teachers and aides and curriculum instruction experts."
Superintendent Manuel Rivera praised the work of Norwalk teachers in reaching their students.
"We have a number of staff who go way beyond the call of duty, who work tirelessly to make sure our young people are getting what they need and are doing whatever it takes," Rivera said.
More changes still need to be made, he said, and the district must continue to fight for students. Among the steps he advocated were for more after school, summer and Saturday programs for kids, as well as making sure every student is ready for kindergarten.
"We can no longer tolerate the old ways of doing business when we know some of our students are getting short changed," Rivera said. "We need to be relentless about doing what's right for each and every child to create the kind of culture that works. Let's not tolerate anything that gets in our way."