Teachers divided over consultants

Though the Board of Education approved the proposed budget for New Haven Public Schools Monday night, budget cuts have called into question the practice of hiring outside consultants to advise teachers and principals on educational strategies.

The school board regularly hires contracted consultants to assist with improving teaching and management methods within schools. Though these consultants are funded by federal Title 1 and Title IIA grants which totaled almost $800,000 this school year, many teachers are divided on the need for the school system to hire such employees. David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, said he receives frequent complaints from teachers about the presence of consultants in schools.

At a meeting arranged for the News yesterday afternoon, Imma Canelli, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, and several teachers and principals said their experiences with consultants have been positive.

Debra Boughton, an English teacher at Hill Regional Career High School, said she found the consultants she had worked with in the past to be useful. She added that many teachers may not be as willing as she was to accept criticism, and that their perception of consultants may be affected as a result. Three teachers said they were always properly informed both of consultants’ visits to their classrooms, and of the results of their observations. Marilyn Ciarleglio, who teaches at Clinton Avenue School, said she thinks principals at other schools may not communicate with their teachers as effectively as they should.

Still, Cicarella said he has had many reports of concerns from stewards, or teachers’ union representatives, and individual teachers.

“On a fairly regular basis, [complaints] come up at stewards’ meetings and at executive board meetings,” said Cicarella. “Teachers feel that they shouldn’t have so many external consultants.”

But Cicarella said while the majority of comments he receives regarding consultants are negative, he said he has received some positive feedback in the past. He added that some teachers “love and welcome” certain consultants into their classrooms, and the reason he mostly hears of complaints is because few teachers would choose to call him “out of the blue” to praise a consultant.

Cicarella said he does not have a personal opinion on consultants in the school board, as he said he has never worked with them directly. But Cicarella added that teachers criticize consultants because neither their work nor their results are ever explained within schools. Marianne Maloney, a math teacher at the magnet high school New Haven Academy who has been a steward for three years, said concerns about consultants have arisen regularly at stewards’ meetings. She added that she does not recall stewards ever saying something positive regarding consultants at the meetings.

Maloney said that a consultant, affiliated with the firm Cambridge Education, visited her classroom unnanounced with the school’s principal. Maloney said she was not given any feedback on her lesson afterward, until she ran into her principal several weeks later.

“I was just told that ‘everything was fine,’” she said. “What are the odds that my class was so beyond perfect that there was nothing for me to improve on?”

But Canelli said not all consultants are hired to work with teachers directly.

This school year, three independent consultants and two firms, Mondo Publishing and Cambridge Education, were contracted to work in the district.

Mike Crocco, principal of the Barnard Environmental Studies School, an elementary school, said he had been personally advised by consultants from Cambridge Education in the past. The consultants observed him giving feedback to his teachers, he said, and later suggested how to better communicate with his staff members.

Maloney said she had never been given feedback by her principal in the presence of the consultant from Cambridge Education.

Gregory Baldwin, principal of New Haven Academy, did not respond to request for comment.

In the mayor’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, the Board of Education’s budget will remain at $173 million.

Correction: March 4, 2011

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Marianne Maloney was given feedback by a consultant from Cambridge Education, when in fact she was given feedback by her principal.

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