Superintendent forum exposes parent concerns

New Haven Superintendent Reginald Mayo announced in February that he will step down at the end of the school year.
New Haven Superintendent Reginald Mayo announced in February that he will step down at the end of the school year. Photo by Joy Chen.

A small but energized group of parents voiced concerns with the superintendent search process at the first of three forums Tuesday night at Career Regional High School.

Only eight parents, three school administrators and three members of the Board of Education attended the event, resulting in a fairly empty meeting that was still filled with debate about the superintendent search process and the direction of the district as a whole. Board members responded to concerns about the speed of the process and called for increased parental engagement in the search, adding that they hope to choose a superintendent by June 30.

“What the board has put out in terms of opportunities [for parental engagement] may have given people the sense that public engagement was window dressing,” said Samuel Ross-Lee, the parent of a New Haven Public Schools student.

One of the most contentious issues discussed at the forum was the superintendent search process itself. Several parents said the process is moving too quickly and that finishing the search before July is unrealistic. Ward 8 Alderman Michael Smart said he attended the forum specifically to discuss this issue and suggested that since Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 is a candidate in the search, appointing him as interim superintendent may have the dual benefit of allowing search committee members to observe how he adjusts to the role while allowing for a longer, more thorough process.

Part of the parents’ frustration stemmed from how they were informed about the community forum — a Sunday robo-call. As one mother pointed out, the lack of advance notice made the process feel rushed, adding that it was far less notification than parents received during the February snowstorm or following Newtown.

Approximately halfway through the meeting, Board of Education members Carlos Antonio Torre and Alex Johnston arrived and began to respond to the community members’ concerns. Johnston explained that the Board’s reasoning behind the speedy search process was to allow the school district to keep moving forward with school reform.

“If you press pause those things lose momentum. If you stop moving forward, things start to fall by the wayside,” Johnston said.

But he added that if the board fails to garner enough community support, the district would be open to extending the search process. Board members also took suggestions for how to better inform parents of the remaining forums, which will take place today and Saturday.

Ross-Lee said he would like to see what he called an “honest” superintendent, who would focus on broader education culture beyond the classroom. He explained that students need to be academically engaged at home and receive support from their parents, something that a lot of school reform measures fail to take into account.

“We keep putting these reform bandages on things,” Ross-Lee said.

The next forum will be held tonight at Fair Haven Middle School.

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