Aldermen back teacher contract

The Board of Aldermen approved the groundbreaking New Haven teachers’ union contract on Thursday, clearing the path for city officials to embark on extensive public school reform plans.

With one abstention — Ward 21 Alderwoman Katrina Jones, who is an employee for New Haven Public Schools — the aldermen unanimously voted to approve the contract, which will increase both teacher wages and costs for medical coverage starting in July 2010. Meanwhile, a mile and a half away, a crowd of approximately 60 New Haven parents — two representatives from each public school — gathered at Wilbur Cross High School to discuss the role of parents in public schools.

New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Reginald Mayo said that the ultimate goal is to make New Haven the best urban school district in the nation: “We want to be the Yankees of New Haven public schools,” he said.

Still, outgoing Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus ’09 said after the aldermanic meeting that the community needs to be mobilized for school reform to be a success. And Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez said there are still some unknown elements of the reform process, such as how parents will be involved.

Education reform is Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s “top priority” going into his ninth term, campaign manager Keya Jayaram said Tuesday. DeStefano has described his reform goals as cutting the dropout rate in half and making sure all New Haven Public School students graduate from high school and enroll in college.

The teachers’ union contract has been widely praised by both state and national officials who see it as a model for education reform around the nation.

“I think this is the best contract we’ve had in a very long time,” Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said after the meeting.

During the parents’ meeting, Catherine McCaslin, New Haven Public Schools director of research, assessment and student information, said that as part of the reform plans, New Haven parents will be able to access Schoolnet — a Web site that records students’ grades, performance on district-wide assessments and attendance records — starting in mid-November.

But about half a dozen parents expressed ambivalence toward Schoolnet during the meeting. They said the Web site would become an unhealthy source of stress to already anxious students.

In response, New Haven Assistant Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries said anxiety is a “fair” concern, but it is up to the parents to talk with their children about how often they would access the Web site, if at all.

Harries added that parents should come to pick up their children’s report cards and meet with teachers.

Four parents said in interviews that the meeting shows that school officials want to listen.

“I think it’s a great start,” Cindy Vieira, 51, a Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School parent, said of the Wilbur Cross meeting. “It’s just a huge undertaking.”

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