Facing widespread criticism over his job performance, New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 will step down from his position by Nov. 1, the Board of Education announced at the end of its monthly meeting late Monday night.
The decision came on the heels of a tense encounter between Harries and New Haven residents present at the meeting, who urged Harries to resign and cited his questionable use of city funds and temper as evidence of poor leadership. After almost four hours of public testimony, BOE members and Harries discussed his employment and decided that the superintendent should resign.
Still, Harries’ critics, as well as his supporters, said he was not being fired and that his leave was a joint decision between him and the board. Several BOE members spoke positively of Harries’ actions as superintendent throughout the meeting, including Mayor Toni Harp, who is also the president of the BOE.
At the meeting, which took place in the Beecher School auditorium, Harp said Harries’ decision to leave was sudden and was disappointed by the decision.
“Mayor Harp disagreed with the move to go forward with the separation agreement,” city spokesman Laurence Grotheer said. “She was a supporter of Mr. Harries and of his performance.”
Others said Harries’ exit was inconvenient because of its timing, given that schools are just starting the 2016–17 school year.
Vice Chair of the Board of Alders Education Committee and member of the BOE’s Choice and Enrollment Advisory Committee Darryl Brackeen said in a statement to the News that letting go of a district leader at the start of the school year is not a “wise choice, nor is it fiscally responsible.”
“I hope all individuals from the top down stop playing politics and focus on our children,” Brackeen added.
The exact date of Harries’ departure will be determined by how efficiently a search committee, established by Harp, finds an interim superintendent.
Yesterday, Harp assembled a committee of 11 people to select Harries’ replacement. The committee includes Will Ginsberg, CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, a local nonprofit organization, as well as several members of the BOE and Mayor Harp’s personal staff. The committee will determine an interim superintendent before beginning a national search for a permanent replacement.
BOE member Darnell Goldson said that as of now, the committee has no identified any candidates for either the interim or permanent superintendent position.
Because Harries will resign before the official end of his contract on Jun. 30, 2018, the city will have to pay him a severance fee, but city officials were not allowed to discuss the magnitude of the fee due to a nondisclosure clause in Harries’ contract, Grotheer said.
However, New Haven residents at Monday night’s meeting speculated that the cost to the city would be in the hundreds of thousands.
Throughout Harries’ term as superintendent, NHPS has drawn scrutiny for the size and cost of its central office operations. Many members of the BOE felt that Harries’ visions for the future of New Haven public education were incompatible with theirs, creating division within the Board of Education.
“Harries was trying to make an impact for closing the opportunity gap, and it became clear he was being blocked from continuing to do his job,” said Brackeen.
Harries’ supporters praised his work during Monday’s meeting, and a statement released by the BOE and Harries on Tuesday highlighted his focus on social and emotional learning, as well as his work helping historically challenged schools and disengaged students succeed.
And in a statement that same day, Harries said that during his tenure, he strengthened the role of teachers, contributed to a 17-point increase in high school graduation rates and oversaw a rise in the number of students pursuing higher education.
“I am proud of the many accomplishments this education community has achieved over the last seven years since I arrived in New Haven and over the last three years since I became superintendent,” Harries said in his official statement. “The statistics are meaningful to me because I see individual student faces and futures behind every one [of] the numbers.”
Harries became NHPS superintendent on Jul. 22, 2013.