National education leaders lauded New Haven and its public school teachers Monday afternoon for approving a groundbreaking contract this month.
“They came up with an agreement that did not just talk about breaking the mold, but actually broke the mold,” President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten said Monday at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School on College Street.
Weingarten, who was joined by U.S. Department of Education Undersecretary Martha Kanter and the department’s General Counsel Charles Rose, congratulated New Haven and its teachers’ union on the contract, which she called “a model of process and outcome.” New Haven Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo deemed the day a “kick-off celebration” for the contract, which awaits final approval from the Board of Aldermen.
The contract, which strengthens performance evaluations and reduces job protections, is the result of an unprecedented effort by the city and the teachers’ union to find common ground — an effort that is being acclaimed as a model for other cities as they work to reform their own public school systems.
The New Haven Federation of Teachers ratified the contract by a vote of 842 to 39 on Oct. 13. During Monday’s panel, which was open to parents and teachers, Weingarten said she believes the contract is important because of both its content and the collaborative way it was agreed upon.
“They fundamentally came together on issues,” Weingarten said of the teachers’ union and the city. She said the two parties worked to “solve problems not win arguments” and added that it is the opposite of what has happened in the Washington, D.C. public school system.
National officials Monday also spoke highly of the fact that the agreement makes student progress a factor in teacher evaluations and ensures that three teachers will be a part of an education reform committee, which Rose called “an extraordinary statement.”
Rose also mentioned that there are federal grants available to encourage education reform, but he did not comment on whether New Haven will be receiving any of those funds.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said at the panel that a goal of the city’s public education reform efforts is to come up with criteria for and preliminary rankings of New Haven’s schools. By March, the schools will be divided according to their performance so that the city can implement reforms before the school year starts up again in September 2010.
Three parents interviewed who attended the panel said they were impressed with the contract.
“I think it’s major,” Mary Rosario, who has a daughter at Hill Regional Career High School, said. “It’s a huge collaboration with everybody.”
A handful of students from the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School on College Street, which was a part of the New Haven’s School Construction Program, sat in on Monday’s informational festivities.
At a meeting held prior to Monday afternoon’s panel, DeStefano and other city leaders met with national, state and local officials — including representatives of Sen. Chris Dodd, Sen. Joseph Liebermen ’64 LAW ’67 and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro — to discuss the city’s plans for education reform. University President Richard Levin, President of Southern Connecticut State University Cheryl Norton and Gateway Community College President Dorsey Kendrick were also present for the meeting, which DeStefano joked was “like a group date.”
DeStefano said Monday’s panel felt “self-congratulatory” at times, and stressed that change, while on the horizon, has not come yet. The mayor has made school reform a primary part of his platform since he first ran for office in 1993.
DeStefano is now running for his ninth consecutive term. If elected on Nov. 3, he will be New Haven’s longest serving elected mayor.
Correction: Oct . 27, 2009
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article said a meeting between Mayor John DeStefano Jr., city, state and national officials, University President Richard Levin and two other local college presidents took place at the Monday panel described earlier in the article. The meeting in fact took place separately earlier in the day Monday. Because of another editing error, the earlier version of the article also stated incorrectly that if re-elected next Tuesday, DeStefano would be New Haven’s longest serving mayor. He would in fact be the city’s longest serving elected mayor.