NHPS contemplates changes

Superintendent of New Have Schools, Garth Harries
Superintendent of New Have Schools, Garth Harries Photo by Raymond Noonan.

Early in Garth Harries’ ’95 tenure as superintendent of the New Haven Public School system, the Board of Education is making changes at every level of the district, both restructuring the superintendent’s leadership team and ensuring that all students enjoy a recess period.

At a Monday night Board of Education meeting at Hill Regional Career High School, the board spent the majority of the meeting discussing how to implement a state-mandated 20-minute recess period. Previously, several schools across New Haven had been curtailing recess in favor of extra class time or a disciplinary period, but the board decided last night that these schools will now have five months to create and enforce a new plan that includes the mandatory unstructured play time.

In addition, Harries proposed a reorganization of his top staffers that includes creating a new finance division with a senior position focused on school budgets. Currently, other positions have to handle budgets in conjunction with their other work, and Harries said this new division will take pressure off of existing departments.

He also recommended a new position called the chief of talent. The chief of talent would oversee leadership development, teacher evaluations, staff development and human resources.

The next point that Harries addressed was a proposal to reorganize staff, and the new superintendent created an updated staff chart to streamline communication between positions.

“Each school has its unique path to success,” Harries said, adding that having a well-structured team will allow for a more efficient dialogue between schools and the Board of Education.

The Board of Education was receptive to the proposals and agreed to consider them.

Recess was the other main item on the school board’s agenda last night. The Connecticut general statutes on recess, passed in July of 2012, make it state law to schedule 20-minute recesses for Connecticut students. However, the policy has been poorly implemented throughout the New Haven Public School system according to members of the NHPS recess task force, who presented to the Board of Education on Monday. The recess task force was created by a group of school leaders and parents to ensure that all New Haven elementary school students have at least a 20-minute lunch and a 20-minute recess every day, and are dedicated to ensuring that all students enjoy recess regardless of misbehavior.

This caveat is important to Tahnee Muhammad, a New Haven parent and a leader of the recess task force. Muhammad shared her son’s experience at the Board of Education meeting on Monday. Her son did not have recess at his school and was less motivated as a result, she said. Just the promise of recess positively changed his outlook on school, she said. Muhammad and fellow presenter Nicholas Perrone from the Barnard Environmental Studies Magnet School listed many benefits of recess, such as increased pro-social behaviors, more physical activity and improved classroom behavior.

In addition, board member Daisy Gonzalez said that interaction between students at recess teaches communication.

Though board members and parents agree that recess is important, Harries told a parent that the chief problem with the instituted recess policy has been implementation. He added that the district would work to comply with the state law.

The committee proposed a five-month plan to enforce a school-day break in all schools in New Haven. Committee members said this time frame would allow school leaders enough time to submit, review and revise a recess plan alongside the recess task force. Though the committee thinks that five months is necessary to implement a comprehensive plan, Board of Education member Che Dawson questioned whether the process could be speedier.

“We’ve been talking about recess for a while — if we have 20 minutes in a day, can’t we say we have 20 minutes in a day and do it?” Dawson said.

The meeting concluded on a celebratory note, mentioning an $11 million grant that will create four new magnet schools over the next three years. This grant money is a big stride for New Haven schools, and will support three existing public schools transitioning to magnet programs as well as funding an entirely new school, according to Board of Education members.

The New Haven Board of Education meets twice a month.

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