Parents and community members voiced concerns at a New Haven Board of Education meeting Monday night amid an extended search for a new superintendent for New Haven Public Schools.
Among other complaints, meeting attendees called on the board of education to address the prolonged search for a new superintendent and the lack of communication between the community and the board. The New Haven school district has been without a permanent superintendent since the resignation of Garth Harries ’95 last September. Since October 2016, former superintendent Reginald Mayo has held the position in an interim capacity.
“There is a lot of saying, but I don’t know how much is actually action” said Ruchi Jain, the PTA president of Worthington Hooker middle school in New Haven.
Sarah Miller, a parent of two children at Christopher Columbus Academy, presented about a community forum she organized last Thursday with Ed Joyner, the president of the board of education. According to Miller, 51 parents, teachers and community members from 19 schools attended the event. This was the first meeting between parents and a board member, Miller said.
“We’ve been working to reach out to other parents across the city … to create an opportunity for parents to ask questions” Miller said.
She said she does not think there has been a practical opportunity for parents to share their concerns and opinions at board meetings. Public comments usually come at the end of meetings — at a late hour when parents are often preoccupied with putting their children to bed, she said. A copy of questions for Joyner and collective ideas for action developed during the meeting were distributed to attendees at Monday’s meeting.
Joyner said Thursday’s meetings was the “perfect example of how parents bring thoughtful insights” to the superintendent process.
Despite the meeting, Miller said the superintendent search, as a whole, has not been an inclusive process. She expressed concern over the delayed advertisement of past community forums organized by the board of education.
“The two [public forums] I was aware of we got notification that day … there wasn’t the sense that anyone was really listening or caring what parents had to say,” she said.
Jain said she wants to see more transparency in the superintendent search process. Moving forward, she said, she hopes the community will be kept more informed about the work of the search committee.
She said she also hopes the committee will take the information from the community forums and the public’s opinion into account during the search.
“If [the search committee] really spent so much effort in gathering this information, I am hoping that that all gets used to find a superintendent,” Jain said.
Still, many speakers at the meeting thanked the board for its efforts to increase openness and include local candidates in the search.
Last month, Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, the national headhunting firm hired by the board of education last spring, presented the board with a list of five final candidates from an original pool of 46 candidates. But all five candidates were from out of state, a result that caused frustration on the board, which ultimately decided to re-examine local applicants.
Community member Chrystal Augustine said she supports the addition of local candidates to the pool of applicants for superintendent and hopes the board takes into account their knowledge about the city.
“I look forward to hopefully having someone from New Haven as our next superintendent,” she said. “It does build strong morale, they do know the area and the community, so I do hope that one of those candidates is chosen.”
In addition, the search committee held a private meeting after the board meeting concluded. According to the current board of education timetable for the search, the committee was meeting with Haxard, Young, Attea and Associates to present an overview of the final candidates, as well as the rubric the committee will use to narrow the list of candidates and determine an initial group of candidates to interview.
The search committee has already made some alterations to the new timetable, which was originally finalized on Oct. 12 by search committee co-chairs Darnell Goldson and Che Dawson. A community forum hosted by the Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates firm was originally scheduled for some time this past weekend but was cancelled. The firm has requested board members not attend the community forums, Goldson said.
In an email to board of education and search committee members on Saturday, Goldson expressed concern over the lack of community outreach. Although the board approved a timetable including several community forums, he said he has not seen any movement from the firm to ensure the forums take place.
“Someone at the firm must take responsibility for coordinating with NHPS staff to get these done,” Goldson said.
At the board of education meeting, residents also raised concerns about other district issues.
Rodney Williams, a co-chair for the Ward 1 Democratic committee, spoke of the disconnect between the board of education and the community. The attendees at board meetings are not representative of the entire New Haven community, he said.
“Although we have a lot of people that come to these [board of education] meetings … a lot of them actually work for the board, and they have their own separate visions other than the community,” Williams said.
Williams said members of the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods do not attend meetings, and therefore do not speak about their needs. He urged the board to find new ways to hear from those neighborhoods.
“What we’re supposed to do for them is, if they’re not here, we need to figure out how to go to them … because their needs are not being addressed,” Williams said.
A new board member, Jamell Cotto, was also sworn in Monday night. Cotto, who serves as family center director at Catholic Charities Centro San Jose Family Center, was nominated by Mayor Toni Harp and approved by the Board of Alders on Oct. 16.
New Haven Board of Education meetings are held on the second and fourth Monday of every month.
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