Mayor Toni Harp unveiled the 10 Point Education Plan Tuesday at her first meeting as the president of the New Haven Board of Education.
The education plan calls for efforts to improve literacy, mentoring services and technology in schools. Harp emphasized the importance of students and teachers feeling optimistic and empowered, adding that academic success in the classroom depends on self-confidence and support. Harp said she considered it important to clearly state her vision for a proactive BOE, given public concern about her assuming the presidency in late September. As the mayor of New Haven, Harp has the power to appoint BOE members, and the sitting member who voted against Harp — co-chair of the board’s Teaching and Learning Committee and a former New Haven school administrator Alicia Caraballo — said during the election that her appointment would be a conflict of interest.
“I know each of us shares the same wide goals: educating students and preparing them for college and life,” Harp said. “Our responsibility is precious and high because we are developing the future of this city and may even be developing the future of this nation.”
The first two ideas in Harp’s 10-point initiative focus on ensuring that there is a strategic reading plan for students of all ages. Harp asserted that reading and communication are vital life skills, adding that public-school educators must intervene for all students who are failing to read at grade level in elementary, middle or high school. Harp intends to create a Blue Ribbon Reading Commission of educational experts from around the state that the board would task with identifying issues in the current curriculum and presenting alternative practices.
Harp noted that she was deeply troubled to learn that some New Haven teachers and administrators do not believe they could effectively instruct students at underperforming schools in the Elm City. She argued that these teachers had an “unconscious bias” against minority students that prevents progress in schools.
“I know that all the kids that look like me and had the challenges I had in my life can learn as well,” Harp said. “If we have teachers that believe that little black and brown children can’t learn at grade level, then it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Harp also emphasized the need to tailor curriculum to 21st-century learning, implementing a combination of digital and social-emotional learning, while also providing internships and vocational opportunities. She added that she would like to see more city money invested in classroom computers, especially in the lowest-performing schools in the district.
Harp, who said she thinks the New Haven Public Schools system does many things well, encouraged an intensive review of the best practices employed by every public school. She said this review process would allow school administrators to see which strategies are improving student growth in other schools and thereby determine equity of resources and best practices in all classrooms.
“We need to canvass all our schools to figure out and make sure [the best] practices are instituted at schools that haven’t done as well on tests,” Harp said.
New Haven Federation of Teachers Vice President Tom Burns said tremendous progress had been made in the district since 2012, when NHPS received a $53 million federal grant. Burns added that test scores do not fully reflect students’ academic abilities and argued that teachers perform “miracles” each day in the classroom.
Caraballo said she does not think teachers in the NHPS system are doing as well as Burns claimed. Kimberly Sullivan, a senior at the Sound School and one of the two nonvoting student BOE members elected in June, said she sits in classrooms every day and has yet to witness the “miracles” Burns described.
According to an August report by the state Department of Education, 29.1 percent of New Haven students are meeting Common Core standards for literacy and 13.5 percent are meeting the standards for math, compared to 55.4 percent and 39.1 percent statewide.