New Haven’s Board of Education voted unanimously in support of a proposal to move the Strong Magnet School from The Hill neighborhood to Southern Connecticut State University’s campus at a Monday board meeting.
Mayor Toni Harp first proposed the school’s relocation in the budget she submitted to the Board of Alders last year. While the Connecticut General Assembly agreed to cover 80 percent of the cost of a new building — the maximum proportion permitted by state law — the alders rejected last year’s proposal. But the state’s one-year extension of the pledged funding led to a renewed push for approval by city education leaders, including BOE member Carlos Torre, who is a professor of education at SCSU.
“Southern already has a relationship with the Strong School, but with its not being on the campus, this can’t be as direct and continuous as we would want, and as children there deserve,” Torre said. “If it doesn’t pass this year, it’s dead in the water; it’s not going to happen.”
Citing the dilapidated conditions of the Strong School’s current building and the lack of ample space for school activities, Torre called the proposed relocation a “win-win” for students, parents, teachers and community members. Torre added that the new Strong School, which he wants to call a “university school,” would be modeled on “lab schools,” elementary or secondary schools that operate in association with colleges or universities and are used as training schools for teaching students. Torre highlighted the success of the lab school operating at the University of Puerto Rico, which he said boasts a 100 percent graduation and matriculation rate for all of its students, as well as a 100 percent college graduation rate among alumni within four or five years.
Strong School teacher Susan Bonanno read a letter penned by Kevin Bermudez, one of Torre’s freshman students majoring in education at SCSU. In the letter, Bermudez, who could not attend Monday’s meeting, emphasized the opportunities a Strong School on SCSU’s campus would provide him and other prospective-teacher classmates, who would gain the hands-on experience of student teaching in a New Haven public school on the university’s campus.
For Bonanno, there are also logistical reasons for which a relocation could benefit Strong School students and teachers.
Bonanno said while she and other teachers make the most of the limited space the current Strong School provides, the school has only one facility that serves as its auditorium, gymnasium and cafeteria. This forces students to have gym class in classrooms or hallways when the multi-purpose room is needed for conflicting performances or other events. She added that since the current school lacks a library, students do not have the same privilege as other NHPS students to learn the responsibility of borrowing and returning books.
Harp justified her support of the new building using the analogy of mending an old car, which eventually stops being cost-effective.
“It’s time to buy that new car and to get a new building — at an 80 percent discount,” Harp said.
The remaining 20 percent of funding would come from the city’s capital budget, which Harp included in her proposal to the alders. NHPS Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 said Harp balanced the budget to include the amount needed to finance building the new school without raising taxes on city residents.
The BOE is also seeking a $5 million raise in the overall NHPS budget for fiscal year 2017.