Newly elected New Haven Board of Education members Darnell Goldson and Edward Joyner said Tuesday that before they vote on whether to renew New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries’ ’95 contract, they want to see more of his leadership.
On the night of last Tuesday’s BOE election — the first time Elm City residents voted for two BOE representatives, a position the mayor historically appoints — Goldson and Joyner said if asked now, they would be inclined to vote against the renewal of Harries’ contract as the NHPS superintendent when it expires in 2017. The BOE negotiates contracts with the superintendent for their time in the position and votes on whether or not to extend that contract as it approaches its expiration date. The board voted to renew Harries’ latest three-year contract with NHPS in 2014. After last week’s election, the new BOE representatives discussed their opinions about the next superintendent contract on which they will vote. The two newly elected members, who officially join the BOE in January, said that while Harries should improve communications with the district, they do not currently have sufficient information to call for the renewal or termination of his contract.
“I was asked if I had the vote now, I said no and I still say no [to renewal]. Now that’s very different than saying that I want him out,” said Joyner, the former executive director of Yale’s School Development Program. “Harries has a year and a half left to show whether or not he deserves to continue to be superintendent, and it should be based on performance metrics negotiated between him and the board.”
Goldson and Joyner emphasized the need for more transparency between Harries, the rest of the board and the school district. Goldson said he acquired the only information he currently has about Harries’ leadership during the last few months of his campaign for a seat on the BOE. He said he attended several BOE meetings while campaigning and noticed that parents often asked the same questions of Harries, which Goldson said indicates that the superintendent was not providing New Haven families with sufficient information.
Joyner said in addition to district parents and students, board members also lacked information about schools’ staffing challenges and other issues from Harries.
“The superintendent has a moral and legal responsibility to provide people with information,” Joyner said. “When you don’t answer people who make reasonable requests for information, then you create the perception that you’re either hiding something or don’t have the information.”
City Hall spokesman Laurence Grotheer said ample communication among all parties is a key ingredient to effective administration. But because NHPS is a very large organization, information sometimes falls through the cracks, he added. Grotheer said Harries and the board have acknowledged a need for improved communication.
Goldson and Joyner also expressed concerns about Harries’ decision-making about Hillhouse High School, which has undergone transformation from a comprehensive high school into four academies — each with a separate focus on law, entrepreneurship and social media and the arts — that students must now apply to. Just days before the school year began this year, the board announced it is still struggling to find principals for the academies.
Joyner said Hillhouse’s three-principal system is a “deformed structure” that reflects Harries’ poor leadership and a limited understanding of how organizations should be structured.
“I think Harries should take the school back to one leader and use some lessons learned in this city,” Joyner said. “With Hillhouse, you have a structure that is not consistent with the conventional wisdom about how you create an organization.”
Grotheer said the academies at Hillhouse will be given the chance to grow and gain acceptance among community members before Harries and the board reconsider the current structure.
Harries was named superintendent in July 2013.