New Haven Promise expanded

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Photo by Sarah Sullivan.

At a panel discussion at the Whitney Humanities Center Wednesday, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. unveiled new initiatives that will expand the recently announced New Haven Promise program.

The panel, moderated by Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Master of Timothy Dwight College Jeffrey Brenzel, included Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers, and J.B. Schramm ’86, founder and CEO of College Summit, a nonprofit that works with 25,000 under-resourced students nationwide on college readiness. DeStefano, who was invited to Yale as part of Timothy Dwight’s Chubb Fellowship, announced the New Haven Promise “Partnership,” a threefold set of initiatives designed to develop college aspirations and preparedness among public school students.

“Since the Promise scholarship is an earned benefit, we have an obligation to help kids be able to earn it,” DeStefano said.

The New Haven Promise scholarships, funded primarily by Yale, will be awarded to public school students in the city who meet minimum GPA, attendance and community service requirements. The University has committed to spending as much as $4 million per year by the time the program is fully phased in, President Richard Levin said at a press conference last Tuesday.

One component, which DeStefano dubbed “CollegeCorps,” will consist of volunteers going “door to door” throughout the city to assist families in preparing their children for college.

These supports, in addition to boosting the number of Promise scholarships awarded, will help to “institutionalize school reform beyond the tenure of a mayor or a superintendent,” said DeStefano, who is serving a record ninth term as mayor.

“Not that I intend to leave anytime soon,” DeStefano joked.

A second component of the Partnership announced Wednesday will involve College Summit, which will work with New Haven high school teachers in guiding students through the process of applying to and paying for college, Schramm said. The city plans to enter into a multi-year contract with College Summit that will cost $290,000 in the first year and up to $650,000 in subsequent years, mayoral spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said.

“College Summit’s role in this is to work with the educators in the high schools to help every student connect the dots between the [Promise] scholarship down the road and their day-to-day academic decisions,” Schramm said.

Schramm said College Summit’s approach to helping students prepare for college is centered on its message about the importance of academic excellence, a college-to-career connection, understanding the vocabulary and expectations of college, self-advocacy, and financial management skills.

Schramm added that Yale will host a training session next summer for 150 “influential high school students” who will return to school in the fall to help develop a college-going culture in their schools.

“Young people are not recipients of culture in their schools, rather they are drivers of their schools’ culture,” Schramm said. “The most under-tapped human capital in American education reform is the students themselves.”

The Partnership will also develop a curriculum for students in pre-K through eighth grade that DeStefano said will seek to cultivate an aspiration for college early in their education.

DeStefano praised Weingarten for the national teachers’ union’s supporting role in the negotiations that produced a nationally acclaimed teachers’ contract last October. The contract, DeStefano said, would not have been possible without the American Federation of Teachers and was an essential ingredient to the success of his school reform efforts, known as School Change, and the New Haven Promise Program.

Weingarten said New Haven was a promising example of what national education reform can achieve and specifically praised the New Haven Promise Partnership for its potential to make current reform efforts sustainable.

“We know a lot about what works in education reform — the problem is we don’t build it,” Weingarten said.

Weingarten said she is pessimistic about the national landscape of education reform and expects more “high-octane rhetoric” and “screamfests” because of intense partisanship in Washington, D.C. New Haven’s story, she said, could serve as a powerful narrative to communities in which education reform is breeding more antagonism than collaboration, such as the capital’s public school district.

“What you’re doing here is so important,” Weingarten said. “Just ignore the pack and keep doing what you’re doing.”

The panel discussion concluded DeStefano’s visit to Yale as part of the Chubb Fellowship, which was established in 1936 through an endowment provided by Hendon Chubb 1895.

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