Yale alums discuss education

Yale alums gathered to discuss topics in education.
Yale alums gathered to discuss topics in education. Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

An education panel of all-star Yale alums gathered at Dwight Hall last night to share their career experiences and thoughts about how to fix the most pressing issues in the field.

The event was the first in exCHANGE, a planned series of forums on critical issues surrounding education moderated by professor Elizabeth Carroll, director of education studies. Over 50 students, educators, experts in education and members of the Yale community participated in this first installment of the program. The event broguht together a panel of experts from many different backgrounds to speak, including Melissa Bailey ’04, managing editor and education reporter for The New Haven Independent, Josh Griggs ’03, chief administrative officer of Teach for America (TFA), Katya Levitan-Reiner SOM ’08, director of field impact for Student Achievement Partners in New York and Garth Harries ’95, the superintendent of New Haven Public Schools. At the end of the panel, participants broke out into groups and continued the discussion amongst themselves.

“This is a different style of panel,” said Peter Crumlish, executive director of Dwight Hall. “What we’re going to do today is really about creating conversations and helping to bring as many voices into the conversation as possible.”

Each panelist gave a brief introduction to their experiences in New Haven and at Yale, which they said were catalysts for their careers.

While taking sociology courses at Yale, Griggs said he came to realize that race, class and privilege govern issues in education and also in many other fields. Griggs said he took this awareness to TFA in 2003 after he graduated from Yale. Harries agreed that his experience at Yale pushed him towards community involvement.

Harries said New Haven helped him make the decision to come to Yale because he thought the university was more invested in the community than some of its peers.

Each of the panelists was then asked by Carroll their beliefs about the most significant challenges in education today. The “trauma” felt by students in low-income households is what Bailey said she believes is the most pressing issue in education today. She added that its negative effects are lasting and hard to erase. Griggs responded that the main problem the field faces is lack of attention from the public.

“Until we get to a place where the average middle-class person sitting around [his] dinner table feels like education is one of our most pressing problems to solve in this country, we will continue to have a problem,” Griggs said.

After hearing from the experts, participants were then given a chance to discuss in groups their responses to the panelists’ views and their own solutions for how to fix the broken system of education. Many were in agreement with the speakers and also discussed society’s negative perception of teachers.

The event concluded with a question-and-answer period, which allowed audience members to engage directly with the panelists. During the question-and-answer session, Carlos Torre, the president of New Haven’s Board of Education, took the opportunity to address the audience. He encouraged participants to be more involved in city politics.

“A lot of what can be done now in our society has to be done at the city level,” Torre said. Another audience member asked how to stay involved and informed in public education, to which Griggs answered that she attend local school board meetings.

Participants said they were impressed by the speakers and by the format of the panel. Cathy Huang ’14 said that she didn’t think there were many opportunities at Yale to “hear people talk candidly” as they did at the exCHANGE forum.

Harries was appointed as the superintendent of New Haven Public Schools in July.

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