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Hoping That A Hartford School Board Candidate's Drive Survives The Politics

Helen Ubiñas

October 29, 2009

Yeah, it was rude to invite Milly Arciniegas to lunch a week before the board of education elections only to tell her a big part of me hoped she didn't win.

But, as I tried to explain to her the other day over a couple of bowls of butternut squash soup at First & Last Bakery Café, it wasn't that I thought she wouldn't be a good addition to the board.

I was worried about the void she'd leave if the outspoken champion of parent rights moved on.

I've watched what you've done the last couple of years as the president of the Hartford Parent Organization Council, I told her.

The way you've helped empower parents who've been too quickly brushed aside as uninterested and uninvolved.

The way you've demanded parents be included in decisions affecting their children.

The endlessly amusing way you've battled bully school administrators who seem shocked parents would dare question their wisdom. (She credits her stint in the Navy with that.)

I'm just not convinced, I said, that — from the inside — you'll be able to continue to keep people honest.

Surprisingly, Arciniegas took my hopes for her defeat in stride.

Truth is, the married mother of two boys wondered about the move herself, which is why she talked long and hard about it with the parents she's been working alongside on issues from transportation to communication.

In the end, they decided they would form their own slate, Parents Choice, and put up Arciniegas and two others, Mary Storey and Cherylann Perry.

A well-intentioned move, for sure.

But good intentions have a funny way of going bad.

Truth is, compromise is part of politics and that's only if aspiring politicians don't sell out altogether.

For a grand example of that, look no further than El Jefe himself. Long before Mayor Eddie Perez was facing prison he had a reputation as a strong community organizer. In fact, he used that track record to run on the idea that he'd be the people's mayor — and we all know how that worked out.

And even if Arciniegas is able to hold on to her refreshing candor, how many of these lone voices of dissent have we seen ignored over the years? With the majority of the members on the board appointed by the mayor, what are the chances that she'll be able to be heard ?

"Hopefully, I'll be different," Arciniegas said.

Well, she certainly has plenty of incentive. The parents she works with are a vivid reminder of her own mother, who struggled to navigate the Hartford schools for her five children. The children on whose behalf she works could very well be her when she enrolled in college only to discover she had an eighth-grade reading comprehension.

Arciniegas said I was underestimating her, and the other parents.

The mark of a good leader is one who knows when to move on to the next challenge, she said, who is honest enough with themselves to admit they've done all they could do in one position and give someone else a chance to do their part.

And the parents she's worked alongside are ready, she said.

"Whether we win or lose, we'll all still be right here," she said. "These are our kids, our schools."

"Don't you have any faith?" she asked when she saw the doubt on my face.

Faith? Plenty. But while I wish her luck, I've seen politics trump faith far too many times to share her confidence.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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