Garth Harries ’95 felt that to know him, his audience had to know what he believed in.
“I believe that children want to rise,” said Harries, who was appointed superintendent of New Haven Public Schools this summer. “That’s what they do, that is what human instinct is — it’s to be better tomorrow than you are today, it’s to be better next year than you are right now, and that’s particularly true for children.”
Harries addressed a crowd of almost 100 parents, educators and community members in Lincoln-Bassett School’s cafeteria Wednesday night for the debut of Superintendent’s Night Out, a listening tour during which he will travel to New Haven’s neighborhoods to gather input about the district. Harries, who oversees a district of 21,500 youth, emphasized the need for collaboration and transparency and encouraged the audience to suggest improvements to the school system. Afterwards, parents said they enjoyed the event and had a good impression of Harries.
After laying out three ways he planned to improve New Haven schools — raising academic standards, inculcating good character in its students and hiring top teachers and staff — Harries asked parents in the audience to come up with some of the district’s strengths and weaknesses with others at their tables. Lincoln-Bassett staff helped facilitate discussion by joining audience members at their seats.
Linda O’Brien, an assistant principal at Lincoln-Bassett, sat down with a group of parents and asked them whether there was anything about New Haven public schools that could use improving. Jim Elyasie, whose third child is now attending the school, said that the buses regularly came 30 minutes late or sometimes not at all. Dominic Dawson, whose daughter is also at Lincoln-Bassett, added that he did not feel welcome to visit the school.
“I don’t know if she’s learning,” Dawson said. “I feel like I’m a parent that tries to get involved with my child’s education, but I’m getting pushed away.”
“I hear you, but you should let the teacher know,” O’Brien replied.
When Harries asked the audience for some of the district’s weaknesses, Renee Scott said that her son, who has special needs, did not receive enough attention from his teacher because there were 25 other students in the class. Harries replied that “26 kids is a lot of kids” and laid out the issue of large class sizes for the district’s youngest.
“Frankly, our biggest classes are our kindergarten and first grade in the districts,” Harries said. “Most people would say that’s when you should have the smallest class size, in the early grades, and we know that’s something that’s a big investment, that’s something we really have to look at, but I hear that concern. Thank you.”
As the parents dispersed to meet with their children’s teachers and eat dinner, Harries bounced from table to table, chatting with parents and community members. He asked one group of parents to make sure they continue coming to these open houses as their children move up through the school.
Kalimah Maurice, the mother of a third-grader at Lincoln-Bassett, said that the open house held more parents than she had ever seen at the school.
Deborah Salters, a New Haven resident who raised four children in New Haven schools, said the open house was the best she had ever been to.
“I loved that they opened the participation not just to the students and the parents but to the entire community,” Salters said. “We want our children’s education to be not just statewide but global.”
The next superintendent’s open house will be on Oct. 2 at John Daniels School.