Isabel Bysiewicz

After a year of turmoil and setbacks, New Haven’s superintendent search process is nearing a close.

On Nov. 13, the New Haven superintendent search committee decided on three candidates from a group of seven to proceed to the final round of the search process: educators Carol Birks, Pamela Brown and Gary Highsmith. The three finalists will participate in community forums on Tuesday, before a final vote by the New Haven Board of Education, which is scheduled for Nov. 20.

“I’m glad that we’re nearly the end of [the superintendent search], and that we’ll have somebody in leadership,” New Haven parent Tagan Engel said to the News at Monday’s school board meeting. “My appeal at this point is that we make this a meaningful transformation, and that it’s not just for show.”

New Haven Public Schools has been without a permanent superintendent since Garth Harries ’95 left the position last year. Since October 2016, former superintendent Reginald Mayo has held the position in an interim capacity.

Following 12 hours of interviews and deliberations, the search committee decided that Birks, Brown and Highsmith would move to the final round in the early hours of Friday morning. Last week, the search committee selected seven candidates to interview, out of about a dozen candidates who had been chosen for the final review process. The search committee will interview the final candidates on Wednesday. On Nov. 20, the search committee is scheduled to present their final recommendation to the board of education, which will then vote to authorize contract negotiations and background checks for the selected candidate.

In September, 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, including Birks and Brown, from an original pool of 46 candidates. All five candidates were from out of the state, a result that caused frustration on the board and from the public, and caused the board to re-examine the candidates. Highsmith was added to the applicant pool after this. Candidates reviewed this week included those chosen as finalists by Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates as well as Connecticut applicants who were passed over by the firm in September.

In an email on Monday to the search committee and local reporters, co-chair of the committee Darnell Goldson, expressed concern that Edward Joyner, president of the New Haven Board of Education, had distributed the resumes of the candidates to the News and other members of the public on Saturday. Goldson said this action constituted a “major breach of ethics,” especially since the decision to send out the resumes was not discussed with the rest of the board of education, search committee members or with the candidates themselves.

Board member Carlos Torre also expressed concern at Monday’s meeting about the public’s access to the the applications.

“I think that is the wrong thing to do,” Torre said. “It was done the wrong way.”

Goldson said the interview and deliberation processes were “smooth,” adding that the processes were inclusive and that all voices were heard. Jacob Spell, another board member, agreed.

“Everybody that was part of the process got the chance to voice their opinions, and I would definitely say that those opinions were taken into account in making the decisions,” Spell said.

Although three finalists were chosen, Goldson said, there were only “two or three” votes separating all the candidates.

A graduate of Hampton University and Columbia University Teacher’s College, Birks is currently the chief of staff of Hartford Public Schools, but served as assistant superintendent from 2013 to this July.

Brown, a graduate of Stanford and Harvard universities, is the chief of elementary schools in Fontana, California. Brown has served as the superintendent in Buffalo, N.Y. and as the assistant superintendent and chief academic officer of the School District of Philadelphia. Brown is literate and fluent in Spanish.

Highsmith, a graduate of Southern Connecticut State University, currently directs human resources for the Hamden Board of Education. He is a former principal at the L.W. Beecher Elementary School in New Haven and Hamden High School.

On Tuesday morning, the search committee will host a forum at Metropolitan Business Academy with the finalists and the Citywide Student Council. And in the evening, a community forum with the candidates will take place from 5:30 to 9 p.m at the Betsy Ross School.

Isabel Bysiewicz |