In her third term at the helm of New Haven’s government, Mayor Toni Harp is finally set to have the majority of support on the city’s Board of Education.
Major restructuring of New Haven’s BOE occurred during a meeting on Monday night, in which the board elected Darnell Goldson as its new president, while Harp’s third appointment, pediatrician Tamiko Jackson-McArthur, was sworn in as an official member. The BOE restructuring comes after a contentious, prolonged superintendent search last year, in which BOE meetings had ended with threats of violence and clear splits in opinion.
“The board will be more cohesive,” Goldson said in a Wednesday interview with the News. “That will be good for decision-making processes, the board handling its business, for the new superintendent … and for the community, the students and parents.”
After Jackson-McArthur took her oath, board members decided to shuffle the agenda and elect new leaders before the meeting was opened to the public. Frank Redente, a Harp appointee, nominated Goldson to serve as the BOE president, which was followed by a 5–1 vote in Goldson’s favor. Currently, Goldson is one of the two board members to hold on an elected position and takes over the presidency from Edward Joyner, who held the position starting last summer. Joyner was the only member to vote against Goldson’s nomination, and the two nonvoting student representatives — Makayla Dawkins and Jacob Spell — said during the meeting that they too would have voted against the motion.
Goldson said he is honored to serve as president and will focus on correcting some of the board’s administrative issues such as updating bylaws and policies, as well as creating a transition-support team for the new superintendent. In addition, Goldson said he would focus on developing a plan to make the board’s finances more transparent.
Last November, incoming Superintendent Carol Birks was appointed to head the school system by a 4–3 vote after a search process that lasted over a year, a process that led to divisions between the two coalitions.
In December, Carlos Torre and Che Dawson, who opposed Birks’ appointment, have finished their terms, paving the way for Harp to appoint new members. Jackson-McArthur said at the meeting that she hoped to ease tensions on the board, according to the New Haven Independent.
“I’m a peacekeeper, naturally. I don’t see myself having to keep the peace here, but I’m hoping to help the flow,” Jackson-McArthur said. “I don’t look forward to unnecessary disagreement, but I like healthy debate. Debate moves things along because it brings in everyone’s ideas.”
With Jackson-McArthur’s appointment, all seats that are filled through mayoral appointment have been filled by Harp.
Current board members praised Jackson-MacArthur’s qualifications and said they believe, as a pediatrician, she will bring helpful insights to the board.
“Mayor Harp has every confidence in the new officers to serve the district and the city and all those who depend on New Haven Public Schools,” mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer said.
Goldson described Jackson-McArthur as a “very capable professional.” Grotheer said Harp is still considering candidates for the remaining vacancy.
But others are concerned about the appointment. Sarah Miller, a parent of two children in the school district, said she is “skeptical” of the appointment, noting that Jackson-McArthur does not have experience as an educator.
Last November, before the superintendent vote, a select number of parents, teachers and community members, now calling themselves the NHPS Advocates, organized against Birks’ appointment, holding community protest events and spreading the hashtag #NotMySuperintendent in reference to Birks.
Through an online petition, the NHPS Advocates demanded that the next mayoral appointment to the board have expertise in the field of education and a demonstrated commitment to public education. The petition stated that members should avoid personal and financial conflicts of interest and asked the Board of Alders to establish parameters to ensure new appointees meet those requirements.
By Wednesday night, two days after it was published, the petition had already garnered almost 400 signatures.
In addition, the NHPS Advocates outlined steps for a transparent school board through an online website. Stipulations included that the BOE bylaws should be made public, special BOE meetings should be announced a week in advance, the board should answer all questions during the public comment section of meetings and all school board materials should be made available in Spanish.
“We feel there is a lot of information that is not available to the public,” Miller said. “And in order for us to understand what’s being done with our tax dollars and what decisions are being made about our kid’s education, we need a public presence in these meetings.”
Goldson said he was looking into the viability of the NHPS’ demands and said that he is the community’s “best friend” in terms of transparency.
New Haven’s Board of Education has seven seats.
Isabel Bysiewicz | firstname.lastname@example.org