Aaron Jenkins

Racial tensions from a previous meeting spilled over to Monday’s biweekly New Haven Board of Education meeting on Monday evening.

Almost a month after criticizing community members for trying to interfere with personnel decisions under the jurisdiction of New Haven Public Schools administrators and accusing disproportionate funds of being diverted to the English Language Learners staff at Elm City schools, Rev. Boise Kimber — a black civil rights activist and the pastor of the First Calvary Baptist churches in New Haven and Hartford — appeared at Monday’s meeting to address the board. Throughout the session, attendees spoke of the importance of equity across the school district and access to education for all.

“My relationship with the Latino community is extremely close,” Kimber said during his remarks. “I cannot just abdicate my responsibility for the threat of being ridiculed, silenced, criticized for standing up.”

During the public participation section of the Aug. 27 Board of Education meeting, Kimber said that while many community members have publicly criticized the NHPS administrators over personnel decisions, the city’s black community has not pushed back on any changes. Kimber is a controversial figure in New Haven and created a stir at board meetings in 2017 when he pushed for the creation of an all-boys school.

“We ain’t said nothing of you people having three [English language specialists] directly, we ain’t said nothing about that,” Kimber said at the Aug. 27 meeting. “But if you want to move one assistant principal, you want to move one guidance counselor, everybody from the other communities are writing letters, getting their kids to write letters — let’s start playing the game.”

Community members, city officials and parents criticized Kimber’s statements at the Sept. 10 Board of Education meeting. Throughout a nearly two-hour public comment section, speakers — including State Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, and Ward 6 Alder Dolores Colon — said Kimber’s rhetoric was “unfounded” and that community members should advocate for the well-being of all students in the district. After district parent Maritza Baez called out Kimber directly in her comment, Board of Education President Darnell Goldson abruptly ended her speaking time and called for a recess.

Goldson outlined the Board’s rules for public comments before the public participation session of Monday’s meeting. No speaker was to spend more than three minutes at the podium or to mention any member of the public by name unless it was a family member. Violation of these rules warranted the possibility of being asked to leave the meeting, according to Goldson.

On Monday, Kimber told attendees he wants the Board of Education to follow through on promises to support equity and diversity. Kimber denied allegations of a racist sentiment in his previous speech, citing Latinx members of his family. He thought he deserved an apology.

Kimber serves as director of National Action Network, Inc., a nonprofit founded by American civil rights leader and Baptist minister Al Sharpton. He is also the executive director of the Social Justice Initiative.

Several speakers after Kimber argued that Black and Hispanic communities should not have to compete for public resources. President of the Citywide Parent Team and frequent Board meeting attendee Krystal Augustine said that all groups in New Haven should be able to advocate for their interests.

In addition, Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools Carol Birks — who took the helm of the district this March — provided an update to attendees on her first six months on the job. Josh Starr, the CEO of PDK International — the firm which headed Birks’ transition — presented a report. Starr commended the curricular focus and staff dynamics of the transition team. While he stated the team made equity leadership a priority, his report suggested consistent unequal distribution of resources in the school system. He also raised concerns over the lack of transparency regarding the school system’s equity failures.

Starr emphasized the importance of recruiting teachers of color to the New Haven public school district. At the close of his report, Starr noted the importance of anti-bias training in all aspects of public education and urged continuous examination of the distribution of resources in order to establish equity.

“We cannot let these kids down,” said Board member Edward Joyner after Starr concluded his report. “If [the school system] doesn’t move [forward] it’s because of us.”

Starr said he will release a comprehensive report of his findings in the coming weeks.

Aaron Jenkins | aaron.jenkins@yale.edu