City discusses education initiatives

The New Haven Board of Aldermen’s education committee met with the staff of New Haven Public Schools on Tuesday night to discuss city education issues.

New Haven Public Schools staff and the education committee first discussed Parent University, a Nov. 3 daylong event at Gateway Community College with free workshops to help parents support their kids in school. The committee also examined the redistricting of school zones in New Haven and heard recommendations presented by an advisory committee formed to make suggestions to the Board of Education regarding redistricting.

Susan Weisselberg, chief of Wraparound Services of New Haven Public Schools, and Abbe Smith, NHPS communications director, presented their summary and analysis of Parent University to attendees, noting the event was a success with both parents and children.

“We really had a lot of parents that wanted to stay longer, because there were real robust conversations going on about issues that really mattered to parents,” Smith said. “We had to sort of say, ‘Hey — buses are leaving.’ They were saying, ‘We want more.’”

Weisselberg said Gateway Community College agreed to stay on as a Parent University partner and to host a similar event in early April. He added that Gateway is thinking of joining the event to college fairs for both students and parents so families can learn more about planning for college.

Ward 16 Alderman Migdalia Castro said that she wanted organizers to consider the timing and the date of the next event. Castro was unable to attend the Nov. 3 event because she was busy canvassing before Election Day.

Weisselberg said that she hoped neighborhoods would host similar events that could be shorter in length and require less planning. About 250 parents attended the last Parent University, and neighborhoods could gauge the demand for more local workshops and hold their own, she said.

In addition to discussing Parent University, the committee also heard recommendations from an advisory committee regarding redistricting of New Haven public school districts.

Ward 27 Alderman Angela Russell, who was a member of the advisory committee, said the discussion was a “very detailed process” and that parents’ concerns included students’ proximity to their schools and students’ ability to choose the school they wanted to attend.

Ed Linehan, chairman of the redistricting committee, presented the recommendations to board members along with Garth Harries, assistant superintendent of New Haven Public Schools, and Will Clark, chief operating officer of the New Haven Board of Education.

Linehan said some of the committee’s recommendations were made with the intent of ensuring that students could attend a school in a zone that was close to them.

“Do we have enough seats for everybody? Yes. We have almost 12,000 students and over 12,000 seats,” Linehan said. “But where the seats are and where the children are is where there’s a mismatch.”

For example, for the Ross Woodward Classical Studies Interdistrict Magnet, there are 421 open seats but 1,021 students in the zone, meaning 600 students have to attend schools outside of their zone. Conversely, in the Brennan-Rogers Interdistrict Magnet, there are 292 spots but only 118 students, leaving an excess of 174 seats for those outside of the zone.

Castro said she was concerned that the committee did not account for ongoing construction in her ward that will add 80 new homes by next summer.

Ward 18 Alderman Salvatore DeCola said that he wanted more information about the numbers of students forced to attend a school outside of their zone due to the mismatching that Linehan discussed.

“I get the calls and I get the mothers crying. Why aren’t the numbers in here? If there’s room, why aren’t they being put in here?” DeCola asked. Linehan said they did not have those numbers but that he would try to find that information.

The committee’s recommendations include 12 redistricting and new school recommendations, five planning recommendations and seven other related recommendations.

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