The New Haven Board of Education has elected a new president — and this time, it is the mayor.
The Board of Education elected Mayor Toni Harp president by a 6–1 margin during a Monday night meeting in Fair Haven’s John Martinez School. The lone dissenting vote came from Alicia Caraballo, a former principal of the New Haven Adult Education Center. Harp will succeed the outgoing president Carlos Torre, who stepped down as president during the meeting.
In public remarks after the election, Harp said she looks forward to working with the Board to advance education policy in the city.
“I’m very excited about strides we’re making in public education in New Haven,” she said. “We know the number of students enrolled has grown, we know the number of students in high school has grown, and we know the persistence to college is greater.”
Harp commended New Haven’s recent progress in reducing the number of suspensions and expulsions in the school system. Much of the credit for that success, she said, should go to Youth Stat, a program devoted to engaging and connecting with at-risk youth.
Harp also credited restorative justice programs, which focus on conflict resolution instead of punishment, with helping reduce suspensions and expulsions. While describing a visit to a third-grade classroom earlier Monday, Harp said she saw a teacher leading a restorative justice session as she arrived.
“Helping students learn to be accountable for their behavior, good and bad, is a huge part of our collective responsibility to them,” she said.
Harp’s elevation to president comes at a time of change for the Board of Education. The first student representatives to the board, Coral Ortiz and Kimberly Sullivan, were elected in June and sat alongside the regular board members during the meeting.
Still, the meeting was not without controversy. Before the new officers were elected, community and board members alike raised concerns about the state of the public school system.
For one community leader, Boise Kimber, the city’s education system is failing to train its youth. He cited recent statistics showing low rates of proficiency in reading and mathematics as indications of a broader failure, and questioned Superintendent Garth Harries’ ’95 commitment to resolving these problems.
“What I wanted to discuss tonight is that the reading scores came back, and that the reading scores for this district were 70 percent underachievement, 80 percent with the math,” Kimber said in public remarks during the meeting. “I do not know whether this board or this superintendent has an urgency for what is happening in this district.”
Kimber added that the low academic proficiency rates are tied to crime and youth violence around the city, encouraging the Board to address education as a means of reducing crime.
Other speakers raised different concerns about the state of the school system.
Ortiz, a current high school junior, said students at High School in the Community had complained to her about crumbling infrastructure in the school — the bathrooms, she said, are in danger of collapsing. Sullivan struck a similar tone, asking Harries and Torre what could be done to curb drug use in schools.
Still, Torre ended the meeting on a positive note, stating that New Haven has the 11th-poorest school system in the country, but outperforms academic expectations of schools at that level.
Above all, he said, the Board of Education must continue to work for the benefit of the students.
There are 21,500 students in the New Haven Public School System.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that both Democratic candidates for Board of Education are unopposed. In fact, Edward Joyner is opposed by the Republican James O’Connell in District 1.