Over the past six months, the New Haven Board of Education has hired a new superintendent and welcomed three new members to its group of seven members.
With changes in leadership and membership, the Board of Education is now taking steps to increase its influence in the district and to alleviate financial strain. In recent months, the school board has created new bodies of leadership within the organization and has shifted the focus of multiple old ones. Moving forward, members are confident that they can affect long-term changes for schools.
“This board is now becoming a working board, and that’s the main change,” President of the Board Darnell Goldson said. “We are now working on our mission, which is to provide support and direction to the school administration.”
Since Goldson took over as president in late January, the Board of Education has formed a new School Naming Committee — which will handle proposals for naming and renaming facilities — and a food service task group, which will monitor the schools’ food distribution.
According to Goldson, three committees have not been active in past years: the Governance Committee, the Teaching and Learning Committee and the School Construction Committee. Because of their past inactivity, Goldson said, he believes it is his job to ensure these committees meet. As president, Goldson is responsible for assigning Board of Education members to their respective committees, and he hopes to have staff assigned to committees by the end of the month to help take notes and upload documents to the school district’s website, he said.
The Teaching and Learning Committee, chaired by Mayor Toni Harp, is shifting its focus to ensuring a smooth transition between eighth grade and high school. Goldson said that data obtained by the district shows that many students drop out before entering high school. The move to secondary school is also significant because students become eligible for New Haven Promise, a college scholarship program, at the beginning of high school.
Although he could not attend the committee’s last meeting, Joseph Rodriguez — the committee’s vice chair, the newest school board member and a former Ward 15 alder — said the Teaching and Learning Committee held a series of discussions with administrators, as well as board and community members.
“I think the Board of Ed is at a crossroads where parents and advocates are very active, more so than ever before, because they see the change and there is an opportunity for change,” Rodriguez said.
The New Haven Board of Education’s new School Naming Committee, chaired by board member Jamell Cotto, held its first meeting last month. Goldson said the school board had received several suggestions from constituents and community groups to rename buildings and facilities within the district. The committee will have six members, including two school board members, two members of the Citywide School Construction Committee, a teacher or administrator and a parent representative appointed by the Board of Education, to deal with these requests.
According to Cotto, the naming committee has already been asked to develop names for three different facilities: the library at Barnard Environmental Magnet School, the bridge above Ella Grasso Boulevard, and the Strong-21st Century Communications Magnet and SCSU Lab School. As a parent who regularly attends biweekly board meetings, Krystal Augustine said she was “honored” to be nominated for a committee that will review public participation on naming proposals and then present their findings to the full board for approval.
“These committees are now working. They have agendas, goals,” Goldson said. “They are reporting from every meeting, what their goals are, for the next three, six, nine months.”
While other committees are going full steam ahead, the Student Elections Committee will have less work to do. One month ago, the committee began soliciting applications for the vacant nonvoting student-representative position on the Board of Education, but Rodriguez, who serves as the Board’s liaison to the committee, said that only one candidate submitted a petition by the deadline. Because of the sparse applicant pool, the committee will most likely appoint the new member rather than holding an election for the position, Rodriguez said.
Last year, three students applied for the position, and two proceeded to the election process.
Restructuring has come as the Board of Education prepares to take major steps to alleviate its budgetary concerns. New Haven’s education cost has been flat funded for many years, and the school board is facing a roughly $7 million deficit, so the district must look to improve efficiency and cut costs, according to mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
“[The school board] is looking at everything from staff layoffs to closing schools to wholesale changes in the transportation, adopted new guidelines of hiring outside contractors — looking across the district where efficiencies can be attained,” Grotheer said.
The school board holds meetings on the second and fourth Mondays of each month.
Isabel Bysiewicz | firstname.lastname@example.org