Administrators are exploring ways to encourage faculty to send their children to public school — and the city’s recent efforts at education reform may help them make a stronger case for enrolling in New Haven public schools.
Deputy Provost for Faculty Development Frances Rosenbluth said she is now collecting information about how faculty members choose schools for their children, but she said her efforts are still in preliminary stages, and she does not yet have a concrete plan for making public school more attractive for faculty. Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, associate vice president of Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, is working with Rosenbluth on the project. Morand said that New Haven public schools’ bad reputation is discouraging faculty from sending their children to public schools. Adding that he thinks the school system’s bad reputation is now unjustified, Morand said Yale could do a better job of providing information about improved public school options in the city.
“It’s everybody’s responsibility to get rid of those outdated stereotypes by distributing accurate information,” he said.
Claudia Merson, director of public school partnerships in the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, said new reforms will make public schools more attractive for Yale faculty, along with other parents in the New Haven community. The School Change Initiative, which went into effect this school year, takes a critical approach to evaluating teacher performance and allows the city to institute sweeping changes in underperforming schools while allowing top schools to continue with their current systems. The reforms are likely to result in higher test scores for New Haven students, Merson said, which parents often take into account when researching schools.
Six of eight faculty and spouses interviewed said New Haven Promise, which was announced Tuesday and guarantees funding to in-state public schools to New Haven Public School graduates who meet certain academic thresholds, would not have a significant effect about how they view the decision between private and public school.
“It’s so hard to think so far ahead,” said Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen ARC ’94, an associate professor in the School of Architecture, of the appeal the New Haven Promise held for her. “I think when parents make the decision [about which school their children will attend], it’s more about the here and now.”
Others said the New Haven Promise has less of an impact for Yale faculty because Yale already subsidizes their children’s college education.
The University provides up to $15,200 per academic year faculty and staff who have been employed by Yale for at least six years.
Public schools are advantageous for faculty because they do not pose the financial burden of private schools, Provost Peter Salovey said, and Yale faculty also benefit the community when they get involved in the public school system.
Yale currently provides a brief introduction to New Haven schools for Yale staff on the “Living in New Haven” page of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs website, and includes links to the school district’s websites.
Basmah Safdar, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the School of Medicine, said finding information about the private school admissions process was much easier than finding information about public schools. Still, Safdar said she would have benefited from receiving clearer information on schooling options from the University.
“Having an appointed person or even a website instead of just the generic information available on school websites would be really helpful,” she said.
Morand said people tend to take advice more seriously when it comes from a friend or colleague, instead of from admissions officers at schools or from school websites. He said department chairs, provosts, and other faculty should take a more active role in sharing information about private and public education in New Haven, adding that relaying this knowledge to incoming faculty is especially important.
But some faculty still believe that the area’s public schools do not measure up to some of the private schools. Three of five faculty and spouses interviewed who have children in private schools said that quality of education was the deciding factor.
Cindy Karlan, wife of economics professor Dean Karlan, said her son entered a public school in 2004 when her family moved to New Haven, but she was unhappy with the class sizes and the lack of programming for advanced students. She decided to send her son and her younger daughter to the Foote School, a private school in New Haven north of Science Hill, where a math specialist works with accelerated students. Though she is happy with her decision, she said, the cost of private school tuition has made her “soul-sick” at times.
“If we had kept them in public school, we would have been satisfied with the cost, but [we would have] wondered if we made the right decision because of the academics,” she said, “but now we are satisfied with the academics but wonder if we made the right decision because of the cost.”
Faculty whose children are in public schools said they believe in the importance of public education, and several said diversity of the student body was critical in their decision.
“We thought it would be great for our kids to interact with the whole cross section of people that New Haven has to offer,” said ecology and evolutionary biology professor Oswald Schmitz, whose children went to Conte-West Hills School. “They got to appreciate people from different walks of life.”
Danny Serna contributed reporting.