Less than two months after opposing a partnership between charter school network Achievement First and the New Haven Board of Education, Carlos Torre, the board’s president, has been announced as Mayor Toni Harp’s replacement as a member of AF’s board.
At a meeting on Feb. 17, Torre and fellow board member Alicia Caraballo expressed disapproval of a proposed financial partnership that would have seen the creation of a new charter school, Elm City Imagine. But in a Thursday interview with the News, Torre said creating a connection between the two boards would be a reasonable endeavor.
“I can’t speak to how people are going to react to [my joining], but if I’m going to be on the [AF] board, I need to advocate for what I feel is best for our students,” Torre said.
A government statute requires the president of the city’s Board of Education, or his designated replacement, to serve on the charter schools’ governing councils. According to Torre, the previous president of the Board of Education had designated Harp as his representative. He added that when he became president, he did not see any reason to question her position. But, in late March, Harp requested that Torre serve in her place.
Torre said that among his goals for his new position on the AF board is to evaluate whether charter schools are fulfilling their original purpose: to find new ways to better teach more challenging students. He added that there is a need to advocate for students who are not doing as well in education, as opposed to having charter schools that teach only students with high test scores.
Elm City College Prep Board Chair Dick Ferguson and Amistad Academy Board Chair Carolyn Greenspan welcomed Torre’s participation on their leadership board in a joint statement to the News.
“We are excited that Dr. Carlos Torre has joined our Elm City College Prep and Amistad Academy boards,” the statement read. “Dr. Torre’s participation on both boards will foster even greater collaboration and partnership between AF and NHPS, as both organizations work toward the common goal of improving educational outcomes for New Haven’s public school students.”
New Haven Board of Education Communications Director Abbe Smith said that historically, the two organizations have had a strong relationship and have even partnered on a program devoted to educating administrators.
Torre, however, said he is hesitant for the Board of Education to jump into a formal partnership with AF. He said any organization seeking partnership with the New Haven Public Schools would have to include the board in their plans from the beginning. Otherwise, he said, the agreement would be less of a partnership and more of a compromise, which would not be good for the students.
Still, Torre stressed that the lack of an agreement did not signify a conflict between charter schools and public schools. Rather, he said, the board wants to ensure that all of its students are receiving education that is “academically sound.”
Jeremiah Grace, Connecticut state director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network, said he was disappointed that politics came into play when making a decision that could impact the lives of students in New Haven.
“We have vocal naysayers that don’t always speak truth to the work that our schools are doing,” Grace said, adding that he thought politics played a significant role in the initial negotiations between the board and AF.
Grace said he hopes once Torre is on the board and more familiar with the work of the organization, he will be more supportive of its efforts.
Despite Grace’s insistence that the move was political, Torre said one of the main reasons for rejecting Elm City Imagine was that AF did not communicate with the board early enough in the process. According to Torre, Achievement First had been working on the project for two years, but he was only made aware of it in December.
“The single most important element in determining the quality of the education is the interaction that takes place among everyone involved, and that wasn’t happening,” he said. “This is very important work that needs to be taken into consideration.”
Since its inception, AF has grown into a network of 29 schools in five cities, serving 9,500 students in grades K through 12.
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