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Introducing A New Series, Meeting Speaker Profiles: Nerlande Foote



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This is the first in a new The Newtown Bee series focusing on people who are making their voices heard at town meetings. This week we focus on Nerlande Foote, a regular Board of Education participant.

In a recent interview, Nerlande Foote, a member of Newtown Allies For Change’s (NAFC) executive committee, said she started attending meetings to stay informed. She had also seen national news coverage of meetings across the country with “fearmongering” tactics.

After discussions with fellow district parents, Foote said they decided to “get ahead” of anything that could happen locally. So she started attending meetings, she listened, and she did “hear fear.”

Foote said she attends meetings for all children — whether they are black children, children of color, white children, or her own two kindergarteners. She said it is because having a culturally responsive education is important — so as to not “send your children out into the world completely blind.”

Foote spoke to the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, and of creating an inclusive world for all without taking away anything positive.

She is hopeful the Board of Education will continue to stay committed to its Resolution on Equity and Diversity, which was passed by the school board in July 2020. With the school district’s current Superintendent Search, Foote said the community needs to have faith that the school board will do that job properly, and she is concerned about mixed messages coming from the board.

Foote reflected in a recent e-mail, “People will act like you want to turn the classroom into a battleground just so others can dismiss what you are saying. Gaslighting can be effective. However, many of the loudest naysayers remain behind the keyboard where it’s ‘safe.’”

Since becoming a member of the Allies movement, and a frequent meeting attendee, Foote said one of her proudest moments, “was being a part of the Newtown Arts Festival, and speaking to people in the community genuinely interested about our grassroots group. Another was the honor of meeting and speaking to civil rights activist Joan Mulholland in a discussion facilitated by [NAFC’s] president and vice president, Kate McGrady and Nicole Maddox.”

“We don’t just sit at school board meetings every other Tuesday,” she said, “we act. We have impact.”

In a follow-up e-mail on April 26, Foote said she and Board of Education Chair Deborra Zukowski recently shared coffee following “uneducated and untrue comments regarding NAFC’s bullying and disrespect of the BOE Chair.”

“It was great to chat and demonstrate again that there is no hostility, shutting down outside noise of an ‘angry group targeting the BOE,’” Foote wrote. “The children are the future and the priority. However, continuing to make a positive impact for our children involves self-work that leaders in the community need not shy away from. All leaders. The very system we are hoping to improve for our children is the one that shaped our adults, which is why many have a hard time with accepting undeniable truths. Children can be taught to do better than their parents’ generations did.”

For her own children, Foote said she is attending board meetings in the hopes that they have substantially more positive than negative experiences in school. While parents cannot prevent everything, she said she fosters their kindness and ability to include all people around them.

People who attend town meetings frequently and who are interested in being profiled can e-mail Education Editor Eliza Hallabeck at eliza@thebee.com.

Nerlande Foote.—Bee Photo, Hallabeck
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