As New Haven public school students transition back to school, representatives on the city’s Board of Education — including its two new student members — called for improved school support systems and increased student engagement at its meeting Tuesday night.
This past June, New Haven students elected two student representatives, James Hillhouse High School junior Coral Ortiz and Sound School junior Kimberly Sullivan, to the city school board. At the meeting Tuesday, the two new representatives joined their eight other board members to discuss two major initiatives: providing more support for city teenagers and helping new teachers adapt to their schools. During the discussion, Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 also addressed what he considered to be the primary concern for New Haven public schools: low-attendance numbers.
“One in four New Haven high school students miss 10 percent of school,” Harries said. “It doesn’t seem to be a lot on the spot, but, over time, it builds up and students lose a significant amount of time for study.”
During the meeting, board members also discussed ways to improve school support functions and heighten the focus on reading skills in the classrooms. The board hopes to work to increase the graduation rate from the current four-year rate of 75 percent to an 85 percent four-year rate and a 95 percent rate of earning a diploma within six years. BOE President Carlos Torre underscored the importance of increasing the number of New Haven teenagers receiving a higher level of education, while also advocating for the promotion of health clinics in the city’s public schools.
The two new student representatives also played a major role in shaping conversation at the meeting, hoping to ensure students’ concerns are accurately communicated to the board. Sullivan underscored the need to decrease the dropout rate by pinpointing the reasons why young students feel unsafe in going back to school, while Ortiz emphasized the importance of increasing teacher participation in orientations when they shift to new classrooms.
“I think it’s important that, during the committee meetings, students’ perspective gets represented since it is their concerns that we’re addressing in the end,” Ortiz said.
Like Ortiz, board member Alicia Caraballo emphasized the need to focus on providing support to new teachers. Thirty of 52 teachers who were recruited had less than two years of teaching experience, and many of them come straight from college classrooms.
Caraballo added that some of the resources that the city distributes each year to training youth talent — $14 million — could be redirected toward providing teacher training support for new teachers whenever they need it.
“We need to do a lot more, and we have the resource for doing it,” Caraballo said.
The Board of Education’s teaching and learning subcommittee will next meet Sept. 28.