The state of Stamford's public school system, past and present, has been a topic of conversation in black-owned establishments across Stamford, and remains an issue that local black-run churches keep an eye on.
During last month's at the Yerwood Center, individuals such as , acknowledged the existence of an achievement gap in SPS, even if they couldn't specifically place it's source.
"I don't have a kid in Stamford Public Schools, and I wouldn't have a kid in Stamford Public Schools," said Keisha Rose, parent of a boy who goes to . Rose stated that she favored Waterside over any local public school, recalling a time when her son was accepted to Hart, but she ultimately didn't send her son there because the girls were dressed "inappropriately," and Waterside offered more.
"They offer parenting classes, and have two licensed teachers in a child's first three years of school. That is critical," Rose said.
"The achievement gap was created because of giving opportunities to one group and not the other," said Rodney Bass, a retired SPS principal and member of the Bethel AME congregation. On Jan. 14, he received the 2012 ICON Award for his accomplishments as a local educator.
Bass, who was principal at for 14 years, for 1 year, and for 2 years, believes that the achievement gap is a result of homogeneous grouping in the past, and that it's held back local progress in education.
"The research around the world is suggesting that homogeneity is a thing of the past...most places in the country that have some diversity don't even think about homogeneous grouping, and Stamford is still trying to preserve it, which shows you some of the segregated feelings that people have, but I think they're trying to move in the right direction. That's encouraging," Bass said.
Parents of former SPS students, such as Bethel AME congregation member Janet Shavers, acknowledge that SPS has always been diverse and fair-by-design, but still, black students can find themselves alienated. Shavers elaborated on a situation that occurred while her daughter was in Turn of River school 16 years ago:
"They went on a field trip to D.C. with many mixed ethnic groups, but she was the only black one. They'd locked her out of the hotel room for an hour. One of the black ladies who had chaperoned told me; my daughter didn't."
While Shavers wasn't certain if the other students were simply playing a prank on her daughter, no one was reprimanded for the incident, and she believes that it was racially-motivated.
While Stamford was never a segregated region for education, Bass compared homogeneous grouping to segregation. "The academic high groups are really white. Conversely, the lower groups are minority and mostly black. Years ago, that was a no-brainer, that's just the way it was, but I think now they're trying to expand offerings for all kids."
Thomas Bradford, longtime West Side resident and owner of 369 West Main Street's Superior Barber Shop, has a positive view of the work SPS does, perceiving flaws in the students and not always the system. Thomas remembers that in his youth, there wasn't as much of a drug problem in the local schools, and children were more respectful.
"SPS does a lot of things for kids through after school programs...the kids involved with positive things are more well-mannered," said Mary Bradford, Thomas Bradford's daughter and a former bus driver for SPS.
Like most residents, members within Stamford's black community agree that SPS is doing its best to close the achievement gap, even if they do not agree on their level of success in doing so.
"They try to be fair, and they try to do what's right," Shavers said.
"You can tell that the level of interest in those kids is not the same. It's going through the motions," Keisha Rose said, comparing SPS to local private schools.