The New Haven Board of Education convened Monday for its bimonthly meeting, taking comments from the public and discussing agenda items such as the superintendent evaluation process and the implementation of new programs in schools.

Jessica Haxhi, who works in the New Haven Public Schools World Language Department, presented on the Connecticut Seal of Biliteracy to the board. According to packets available at the meeting, former Gov. Dannel Malloy signed legislation in June of 2017, making the seal available to eligible students, once they attain a “high level of proficiency in English and in one or more foreign languages.” Board members said that this new program will help Elm City students prepare to be “global citizens in a multicultural, multilingual world,” as well as cement progress in language studies.

“I think this is a wonderful opportunity for our young people and our city,” said Mayor Toni Harp. “For so long, we’ve thought that speaking another language was an impediment, but now, it actually is a value.”

Haxhi explained that in order to be eligible, students must pass all English requirements in their school — along with a qualifying exam for the language they have chosen to study. In 2019, New Haven Public Schools will test 237 juniors and seniors at Wilbur Cross High School and HillHouse High School, with plans to offer the program to only sophomores and juniors in the future so that students will have language qualifications available to include in college applications. According to Haxhi, New Haven Public Schools will look to partner with private firms and Yale to form after-school study sessions for test takers.

As board members discussed new programs, conversation shifted to personnel changes and evaluations within the school system’s top administration. Despite his recent removal from the board, former board member Jamell Cotto attended, giving a presentation on the New Haven school system’s budget with other board members.

In past weeks, Cotto’s position on the board became a point of controversy. The community and parent activist group the New Haven Public School Advocates raised concerns about his performance — citing conflicts of interest and alleged poor communication with district parents. Following an 18–8 vote last week by the Board of Alders to remove Cotto from office, Harp has roughly two months to name his replacement. Though Cotto’s candidacy was not discussed at Monday’s meeting, New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Carol Birks promised that the searches for a new chief operating officer and chief financial officer within the school system are in their final round of interviews.

Beginning in the spring, board members will evaluate Birks herself, who has served as superintendent for 10 months. While a statewide law requires some form of a superintendent evaluation, the evaluation process is left to the discretion of the Board of Education in some cities, including New Haven.

University of Connecticut professor of educational leadership Robert Villanova, who spoke at the meeting, noted that the evaluation process should begin sometime between July and September. According to Board of Education president Darnell Goldson, the board is “on schedule” with its evaluation process.

Valerie Pavilonis |