State Rep. John-Michael Parker

John-Michael Parker Talks Housing, Education and Regionalization

For John-Michael Parker, the newly elected state representative for the towns of Madison and Durham, art and music have always offered a critical means of connecting with others.  

It was true when he was growing up in Madison, and it is true again since he moved back to the area in 2018 after a decade of living and working in New York City.

“The arts had been the place where — and right here in this community — I got to grow and develop and learn a lot,” said Parker.

So perhaps it is no surprise that music found a way into his campaign for the 101st district. 

“We had a lot of young people involved in this campaign. A lot of those young people I met through music programs, through the show choir, through the band, through the musical.” 

In 2018, Parker ran a nail-biting race against incumbent Republican State Rep. Noreen Kokoruda. He lost by 18 votes in a recount. He attributes his success this year, in which he won by a margin of 1,139 votes, to the increase in voter turnout and the availability of absentee ballots. 

Parker said that digital outreach also had a big impact — during his campaign, he assembled a team to produce short videos detailing his platform and shared them on Facebook. One of the videos featured John Lennon’s Imagine

“That’s just kind of who I am and what I do and where my community is,” he said. “And it’s going to continue to be a big part of my work.”  

Education

Parker is the executive director of Arts for Learning CT, a nonprofit that coordinates arts and music workshops and performances with schools across the state. Before that, he worked at an education-focused non-profit in New York City. 

And the issue of education was a particular focus of his campaign.

Parker said the first priority for schools should be making sure that they have the necessary funding to protect students and educators during the pandemic. 

“My mom is a school nurse,” he said, “So I’ve seen sort of firsthand through her experience, just how difficult it can be to get the resources that it really takes — things as simple as plexiglass in front of your desk to things as complex as a contact tracing system.” 

Beyond that, Parker said he wants to expand social and emotional learning opportunities for students in schools. This includes, of course, support for art and music programs, but he also wants to offer broader professional development for educators and potentially expand the state curriculum to include programs that would emphasize skills that students need in order to navigate the world.  

“When we’re talking about educating students, we should have a very wide lens,” he said. “How do you develop young people that have a strong, broad set of skills and competencies — not just to, to be able to do math problems… but also how to solve complex problems, how to work in teams, how to communicate effectively, how to be resilient?” 

“When we’re talking about educating students, we should have a very wide lens,” he said. “How do you develop young people that have a strong, broad set of skills and competencies — not just to, to be able to do math problems… but also how to solve complex problems, how to work in teams, how to communicate effectively, how to be resilient?” 

He said that he also wants to tackle issues of inequality in the schools. 

“Students of color and students from low-income communities have such a tougher hill to climb,” said Parker.

Parker said that he wants to look at how the state’s Education Cost-Sharing formula is funded and improve the ways that the state counts low-income students and distributes special education funding. 

From a community perspective, he believes the important thing is spreading awareness about the educational inequities that exist in different areas of the state. For example, he said, the public schools in Madison are incredibly well-resourced, but this isn’t true for schools located even 15 or 30 minutes away. 

“I think more and more of a statewide acknowledgement of this conversation and solutions and strategies is going to be important.” 

Regionalization and affordable housing

Parker said he’s opposed to mandating regionalization of schools, but he added that towns should have the option to do so when it makes sense.

“Right here in the 101st district in Durham, we have regional high schools,” he said. “And I think folks in the community are very happy with it, and they still cite education as one of the number one reasons that people come to and stay in the community,” he said. 

According to Parker, many municipal leaders are willing to consider regionalization — not only of the schools, but of emergency services and public health — because of the money it can save.

“The thing that we’re all talking about is, how do we make sure that budgets work in the time of COVID-19 and in the broader context of a tough state budget in Connecticut,” he said. “Savings are important.”  

“The 10 percent number was probably ill-informed, if you simply look at how far off it’s been for so many communities across the state, including my own here in Madison and Durham,” he said.

Parker also underscored the importance of affordable housing as an issue, saying that he is concerned that Connecticut is becoming a state where young people and senior citizens are being priced out. 

“If we believe in the future for our community, it’s gotta be a place where not only young families can afford to buy houses and build businesses and get kids in schools and invest and grow, it also has to be a place where people like my mom can afford to stay in town and stay in their homes and stay in the community,” said Parker.

Parker said that the state’s job should be to offer policies and guidelines, as well as financial incentives for towns that meet those standards, but that he disagrees with the current goal of constructing 10 percent affordable housing in every community.

“The 10 percent number was probably ill-informed, if you simply look at how far off it’s been for so many communities across the state, including my own here in Madison and Durham,” he said.

Parker said the legislature needs to do more research and think about what would make sense in a statewide context. He also said that affordable housing wasn’t an end in itself, but needed to come with improvements to transportation and workforce development programs. 

An effort toward bipartisanship

Parker first decided to run for representative after witnessing what he considered a lot of divisiveness during the 2016 election season. 

“It felt like politics was so nasty and so dysfunctional,” he said. “Certainly inside communities, it was very toxic, and I thought, ‘Well, it’s only going to get better if folks get involved and try to make it better.’”  

In response, Parker made bipartisanship a central part of his campaign, and he emphasized his willingness to work with all of his constituents. 

“Whether it’s the train station and the northbound platform in Madison, our downtown project here, our wastewater treatment — there are so many bipartisan issues that if we work on will stir and spur economic development and grow our community.”

“This is not about campaigning anymore. This is not about some contest. It’s about getting results for people in Madison and Durham,” he said. 

He said he wants to talk with police representatives about making improvements to the police accountability bill, particularly regarding the provisions about qualified immunity and use of force. He also wants to work on economic development initiatives in his district. 

“Whether it’s the train station and the northbound platform in Madison, our downtown project here, our wastewater treatment — there are so many bipartisan issues that if we work on will stir and spur economic development and grow our community.”

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