NEW BRITAIN - School board member Merrill Gay is the newest president of the New Britain Board of Education and he is getting right to work.
The biggest challenge the district has from his perspective is that it doesn’t get as much city funding compared to wealthier suburban districts. “It’s just not fair that a poorer city with kids in far greater need than wealthier counterparts is being given less. That’s something that we, as a board, will continue to fight for,” he said, pointing out that over the last 20 years, state funds for education have gone up, but funding from the city remains flat.
This is not a new issue for the longtime education advocate. Gay was reelected to the board in November and voted as board president during a regular school board meeting on Monday. Nick Mercier was elected as vice president and Violet Sims was elected as the board secretary.
Gay first got involved in education advocacy about 18 years ago. After attending a Parent-Teacher Association meeting when his daughter was in elementary school, he was told that no one talked politics or ongoing issues at the meetings.
“I remember thinking, what’s the point of these PTA meetings if we weren’t going to talk about the issues that impact the students?” he said. After several attempts of organizing concerned parent groups and connecting with local and state organizations to try to procure funding, Gay eventually became the executive director of the Coalition for New Britain’s Children. He served on a number of early childhood initiatives, including the New Britain School Readiness Council, New Britain Head Start Policy Council, Early Childhood Finance Project Work Group, Early Childhood Workforce Task Force, and Infant Toddler Task Force. He was also co-chair of the CT Early Childhood Alliance and the New Britain lead for the Annie E. Casey Grade-Level Reading Campaign.
He is currently the executive director of CT Early Childhood Alliance, a statewide organization committed to improving outcomes in the areas of learning, health, safety and economic security, for children ages birth to eight.
“I’m an advocate for early childhood issues because I firmly believe that our kids who grow up in poverty are coming to school a year or two years behind their peers,” said Gay. “Because they start out behind, they tend to fall behind, both in grades and attendance.”
While he recognizes that what the board has the power to do is all contingent on what they can afford to do, Gay said as president, he will start focusing on equity issues and make sure that students of all ethnicities are getting the same education and experience.
“We will be asking the administrative staff to keep us posted on what’s going on across the board,” he said.
Gay also pointed out the importance of having student representatives on board. “We want to engage both parents and students. It’s important to bring back student representatives so we can make sure that we’re listening to what the students have to say and their experiences.”
“I know the city isn’t made of money, but we can do better,” he said. “I think we’ve been shortchanging our students and the financial contributions towards our schools needs to be higher to help make improvements.”
Superintendent Nancy Sarra said she is looking forward to working with Gay in his new role as board president.
“He has always been a strong advocate for our students and their families. We share the same goal of providing the best education for our students to prepare them for success in our classrooms and beyond,” she said. “I look forward to our continued progress working together with the Board of Education under his leadership.”
Contact Catherine Shen at 860-801-5093 or email@example.com