Board moves to reappoint Harries

The New Haven Board of Education announced at its Monday meeting that it will enter into negotiations with Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries ’95 to renew his contract for three years.

Because of city charter regulations, Harries was limited to a one-year contract when he was appointed as superintendent last July. The Board now faces a March 1 deadline to decide whether it should extend his tenure for another three years. At its meeting in Hill Regional Career High School on Monday evening, the Board released a positive mid-year written evaluation of Harries’ performance and signaled its commitment to keeping Harries on board.

“[Harries is] a visible, accessible and interactive leader who will champion a vision for transformed student outcomes,” the evaluation stated.

The evaluation rates Harries in four different criteria using the same five-point scale that is used to evaluate the district’s teachers and administrators: with 1 at the bottom of the scale, 3 indicating effectiveness and 5 marking excellence.

The Board awarded Harries a 4 on the five-point scale in “Collaboration and Engagement” as well as in “Transparency, Access and Equity,” noting his Listening Tour initiative as an effective tool to solicit input from teachers, parents and other community stakeholders. The Board rated Harries a 3, “effective” in the remaining two categories of “Student Impact” and “Vision and Leadership.”

Before the Board deliberated about Harries’ contract renewal, members of the public had a chance to voice their opinions about Harries’ performance over the last six months. Parents and teachers lined up behind a podium to declare their support for the new superintendent.

“He’s brought a heart to his job,” said NHPS parent and teacher Jessica Light. Light said Harries demonstrated his willingness to hear parents’ concerns during his listening tour last year.

Light said that she was particularly moved by a heartfelt email Harries sent to teachers last year after Nelson Mandela died. The email described the characteristics that Nelson embodied and, Light said, renewed her own sense of urgency as a teacher.

Another parent referenced Harries’ readiness to help students in areas outside of his job description. On Jan. 13, a student was shot at Hillhouse High School, and Harries went to the Yale-New Haven Hospital to be with the victim at his bedside, said NHPS parent Tonya Jackson.

“That’s the kind of person who we need on our side,” Jackson said. “Our kids deserve that Superintendent who goes above and beyond to work with our students for their best interest.”

Parents, teachers and administrators were urged to submit comments and feedback about Harries by last Friday, and Board member Alex Johnson sifted through them over the weekend to help the board make its own evaluation.

During the meeting, the Board also discussed the current state of the 2013-2014 budget deficit. The district began the year with a $9.5 million deficit, which it reduced to $3.5 million as of last November. Currently, the deficit stands at approximately $2.4 million.

Harries said that while this roughly $1 million decrease over the past couple months is noteworthy, the district still has a ways to go before reaching its goal of balancing the budget.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Toni Harp threatened to push for a delay in voting on Harries’ reappointment because she was concerned about an alleged $9 million budget deficit. Harries and Harp met and resolved these concerns — the budget was not reflective of the district’s current fiscal state — but Harp continues to emphasize the importance of working towards a balanced budget.

At the meeting, she told the Board that it must maintain better oversight of the budget.

“We need to know what is going on department by department, school by school, and it’s my sense that we don’t,” Harp said.

She added that while the city can offer some monetary support for education initiatives, the Board should also more actively seek funds from other avenues, like the federal government and the state. She noted that partners like Yale University can also help.

Of particular concern in the education budget was food service, which accounted for roughly 50 percent of last year’s budget deficit. Chief Operating Officer of the New Haven Board of Education Will Clark said the district is currently exceeding its goals of reducing food service expenses by five percent and increasing revenue by three percent.

The next Board of Education meeting will be held on Feb. 24.

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