New Haven public schools are by no means immune to the challenges that many city school districts confront, but recent reforms have been aimed at ensuring that the schools will not fall through the cracks.

Brian Perkins EPH ’92, the chair of the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at Southern Connecticut State University, delivered a talk entitled “The Challenges of Urban Education: New Haven, Ct.” in front of an audience of about 35 at Dwight Hall Wednesday. The talk, sponsored by the Dwight Hall Education Network, focused primarily on the evolving nature of New Haven public schools and a series of progressive reforms aimed at general student welfare.

Perkins advocated a complementary interchange between education in the classroom and attention to the students’ well-being. He said that an emphasis on “social outcomes” now supplements the pre-1960 approach of merely reading, writing and arithmetic.

“We want students to be positive not only just in their minds but in their daily activities,” he said. “We are looking to develop these things so that they happen not by accident but by design.”

Some of the programs include eyeglass distribution, in-school health clinics, a dental van, a mental health clinic and asthma reduction programs. In addition, Perkins said that the schools’ own initiatives — among them the presence of school social workers and psychologists, peer mediation and a “Guns Are Not Toys” program — are just as much a function of the school’s operation as classroom work.

Many New Haven public schools suffer from a lack of diversity, a profile that differs markedly from that of the city at large, Perkins said. This phenomenon can be attributed to the “white flight” movement from the cities into the suburbs that began in the ’60s and ’70s and continues to this day.

“You still have individuals in great numbers that are not participating in the school system,” he said.

Benjamin Staub ’06, the public relations coordinator for Dwight Hall, said New Haven offers an attractive public school system.

“I think that part of what makes New Haven such an incredible place to learn is the fact that so much thought is put into education here and that there are such incredible teachers and administrators in the school districts,” Staub said. “It provides an incredible environment for those who want to get involved in education.”

The discussion later shifted to the No Child Left Behind Act and its impact on public school systems nationwide. Perkins said there are certain aspects of the act itself, as well as negative responses, that he finds “dangerous.” The act includes a provision for giving $1,300 to the parent of a student enrolled in a “failing school,” a measure which would cost $3 million if all students in New Haven were to be categorized as such, Perkins said.

“At the end of the day people want to know how the student did on the test,” Perkins said. “We need people to reframe the conversation.”

Jack Gillette, the director of the teacher preparation program at Yale, said reform goes beyond leadership change at the Department of Education and Perkins defined the pertinent issues clearly.

“I think he outlined nicely the ways in which there are unintended consequences of public policies,” Gillette said. “I think the issues are way beyond the leadership. There’s some wonderful intention behind No Child Left Behind. We know that there is a significant achievement gap that needs to be addressed.”