Mayor Toni Harp addressed a room full of community leaders and members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People about her vision for New Haven and the progress her administration is making in its effort to improve community life.
The Greater New Haven Branch of the NAACP welcomed Harp as a guest speaker during its monthly meeting in St. Luke’s Church at 111 Whalley Ave. yesterday evening. Harp said she has focused her agenda on three categories: safety, education and employment, and economic development, or the “SEE” approach. She also noted her administration’s approach to improving the quality and availability of education and after-school programs for New Haven youth in order to prevent further youth violence. She said that when she first came into office, she was surprised by the amount of youth violence in the city.
“I didn’t know being the mayor meant you were the top funeral-goer in the city, especially for young people,” Harp said.
Education programs that look after at-risk youth are critical to keep young people engaged and safe, she said, adding that all schools should run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in order to provide the after-school support students need to stay off the streets.
Harp emphasized that New Haven’s schools have not properly handled disengaged youth — instead of implementing programs that engage disruptive students, schools tend to remove these students. Students with poor attendance records and who are earning grades in the D and F range are the ones most frequently suspended or expelled, and are precisely the ones who need the school’s attention, she said.
“[Removing these students] makes things easy for the school, but a nightmare for our community,” she added.
Emphasizing that suspension and expulsion must only be used as last resort measures, Harp said her administration is working to add a “Restorative Practices” program to New Haven Public Schools, through which schools will work to restore the child’s place in the community.
One such program Harp’s administration has focused on is “Youth Stat,” a data-driven support system that uses academic information to identify and support at-risk youth. The program is driven by a committee of leaders of youth support groups in New Haven, such as child guidance clinics, the juvenile prison system and the New Haven school board — organizations that normally work individually rather than collectively to help youth. Currently, Youth Stat monitors and supports 450 at-risk youth in New Haven.
Harp also emphasized the importance of maintaining community-based policing efforts, in which the community and police force actively work with one another to ensure neighborhood safety.
Questions following Harp’s address focused on employment opportunities, particularly on whether the city is creating developmental and rehabilitative programs for prisoners and felons. Harp said that while New Haven is applying for funding to implement rehabilitative programs, there is still much work to be done to curb the city’s high recidivism rate.
Overall, NAACP members in attendance applauded the progress Harp has made, particularly in improving transportation efficiency, establishing youth programs and balancing the budget.
“[We] asked her to come, and she immediately agreed to do it,” said President of the Greater New Haven Branch of the NAACP Dori Dumas. “Having her come shows her commitment to the community, the NAACP’s mission and to the New Haven community, which is exactly what we want our mayor to do.”
Dumas said that it is difficult to critically evaluate Harp’s effectiveness after only one year in office, but that she and the NAACP are satisfied with Harp’s prioritization and progress on education. Diane Petaway, who has been a member of the Greater New Haven NAACP for over 15 years, echoed Dumas’s approval.
“Mayor Harp was upstanding and enthusiastic, explaining things as they are without sugar-coating any of it,” Petaway said after the address. “I don’t recall the last time a mayor has come [to this meeting].”