New Haven Public Schools started classes today with a new leader who himself first became involved in New Haven education as a student at Yale over 20 years ago.

Garth Harries ’95, who began his first year as the superintendent of the Elm City’s school district Wednesday morning, will continue to guide New Haven through a School Change Initiative that he designed when he came back to New Haven in 2009 as the assistant superintendent.

Harries said he originally decided to attend Yale partly because it was located in New Haven. On an early visit to Yale, Harries said that he was walking on Lynwood Place and had a confrontation with a New Haven resident. Instead of discouraging him from attending the University, the incident cemented his views that Yale would be the right place to learn about work in the public interest, he added.

“I came [to Yale] in part because of New Haven and because of the way that Yale was embedded in this very urban, very real community,” Harries said. He added that the Yale education offers a rigorous academic experience combined with “real world experiences of fellow Americans and fellow New Haveners.”

While at Yale, Harries said he saw New Haven by biking through the city on his way to soccer practice and by tutoring in the New Haven Public Schools.

It was many years after his days as a Yale student that he found his way back to New Haven. Among other jobs, Harries went to Stanford Law School and worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company before taking a job in the New York City public school system as a senior cabinet member to Chancellor Joel Klein in charge of special education and portfolio development.

He was recruited four years ago to return to New Haven to design a School Change Initiative that he now plans to expand as superintendent. The initiative already includes a teacher evaluation system, a school tiering system and a college scholarship.

Harries said he plans to concentrate on four main areas as the superintendent: engaging students in more critical thinking, developing teachers and staff, increasing system transparency, and engaging parents.

Harries’ appointment comes at a time when other Yale graduates are vying for top leadership positions in New Haven. Three current mayoral candidates — Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, Henry Fernandez LAW ’94 and Toni Harp ARC ’78 — attended Yale graduate and professional schools. Several aldermen including Doug Hausladen ’04 and Sarah Eidelson ’12 are also Yale graduates.

The influx of Yalies filling leadership positions in New Haven is representative of an upswing in town-gown relations over recent years, Harries said. He added that he feels that New Haven Public Schools and Yale have a mutually beneficial relationship, which he plans to continue as superintendent.

As students and parents hustled around the New Haven Public School office on the eve of the first day of school, Harries said he was proud, excited and intimidated to begin the year.

“I’m full of emotion and have been full of emotion since I’ve been appointed,” Harries said. “I’m using every bit of preparation and more that I’ve had in my education and my career to try to make sure we’re ready to serve these kids.”

The previous superintendent, Reginald Mayo, was the superintendent for 21 years.

Correction: Aug. 28 

A previous version of this article failed to mention that Toni Harp ARC ’78  graduated from a Yale professional school.