Isabel Bysiewicz

On Monday, the New Haven Aldermanic Affairs Committee voted to advance to the full Board of Alders the nomination of Yesenia Rivera to sit on the city’s Board of Education.

Rivera currently works as the program director of Edgewood PTO Child Care — a position she has held for 20 years — as well as the director of Housing Assessment and Integration at The Connection Inc. in New Haven. She is a graduate of the city’s public schools and Albertus Magnus College, and her three daughters also attended public schools in the Elm City. In her initial statement to the committee, Rivera said that she intends to elevate parent voices on the Board of Education, which has been a source of contention for parent groups in the district.

“I was very nervous coming in,” Rivera said in an interview with the News on Monday. “I know that it was one of those positions where there was a contention about who was going to be the next board member. … I’m excited to get in there and start the work.”

Alders questioned Rivera before voting to move her nomination to the discretion of all 30 alders. Rivera said that one of the Board of Education’s challenges is a lack of communication among board members as well as between board members and district parents. In addition, Rivera said she hopes to reduce the district’s focus on standardized testing but did not provide further specifics.

During the meeting, Rivera erred on the side of caution and often said she would need more information to comment on questions, specifically regarding issues related to the management of the New Haven Public Schools budget. Before voting, Ward 12 Alder Gerald Antunes said that he appreciated Rivera’s candor when she admitted that she did not have an answer to all the issues the alders raised.

Maritza Casanova, member of NHPS Advocates — a parent activist group that aims to increase transparency on the Board of Education — spoke on Monday in favor of Rivera. She said her fellow members are “excited” to collaborate with Rivera in the future.

“We are also grateful to Mayor Toni Harp, for hearing the concerns of the community and appointing Mrs. Rivera to the Board,” Casanova read from a prepared statement. “In keeping with the premise that mayoral nominees demonstrate relevant knowledge, experience, and involvement in the public school.”

Casanova’s comments follow a long string of complaints from NHPS Advocates, particularly regarding the board’s lack of transparency with the community and the lack of educational experience on the board. Currently, only Edward Joyner has a background in education — the remaining members have worked in fields like business administration and politics.

According to Patrice McCarthy, deputy director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, all board members must focus on developing their knowledge of their positions regardless of their professional background.

“They [need] professional development that helps them become familiar with their roles and responsibilities, with critical education issues,” said McCarthy in an interview with the News last week. “And that way, they can build their knowledge base and therefore be able to make better decisions.”

Monday’s meeting was supposed to include a hearing for Liam Brennan LAW ’07, who was originally nominated by Harp to fill the position of Jamell Cotto, outgoing vice president of the board, after Cotto was not reapproved to his post last month. However, Brennan told the New Haven Independent last Thursday that he declined the nomination in order to take a job as the executive director for the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center in West Haven.

The next step after Monday’s confirmation will be a hearing in front of the entire Board of Alders on March 18. In an interview with the News, Rivera said she is “excited” to begin her duties as a Board of Education member.

“I’m confident that I can get in there and do the work without getting entangled in the politics,” Rivera added. “[I am] hoping that I can work with each of the members and move forward.”

The Aldermanic Affairs Committee meets the fourth Monday of every month.

Valerie Pavilonis |