On Monday, the New Haven Board of Alders voted to confirm librarian Matthew Wilcox to the Board of Education in a unanimous decision that will restore the board to a full roster after several tumultuous months.
Mayor Toni Harp announced Wilcox’s initial nomination to the board in late February. On March 25, the Aldermanic Affairs Committee unanimously voted to advance the nomination to Monday’s full board meeting. According to Ward 4 Alder Evelyn Rodriguez, who chairs the Aldermanic Affairs Committee, Wilcox’s long resume of qualifications in an academic environment and in New Haven qualify him for his new position.
“He has a great background — a great background. He also loves New Haven: Several individuals came and spoke on his appointment,” Rodriguez told the News. “If you look at all of his background — [a] very cohesive resume — it has everything, from teaching, written [work] and also all of his experience in libraries. And his collaboration with people.”
The confirmation comes at a time of turmoil for the board, which has seen two resignations in the past six months and conducted multiple searches for replacements. Following Frank Redente’s resignation from the board in December, Harp nominated Yesenia Rivera to fill his seat. After a process identical to Wilcox’s, the Board of Alders unanimously confirmed Rivera on March 18.
Wilcox’s own nomination was slightly more complex. While Redente’s resignation resulted in one empty seat on the board, the Board of Alders’ rejection of board Vice President Jamell Cotto in January left another position to fill. Harp originally tapped Liam Brennan LAW ’07 to serve on the board, but Brennan dropped out of the running to pursue a career as the executive director of the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center in West Haven. After Brennan rejected the nomination, Harp instead turned to Wilcox.
Wilcox currently works as a librarian at Quinnipiac University, having moved to New Haven about two decades ago for a position at the Yale School of Public Health after graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since his move, all three of his children have attended New Haven public schools.
Universities are not the only places where Wilcox has worked — he and his wife also work with Pecha Kucha, a program that was inspired by a Japanese architecture firm where participants have roughly seven minutes to present a slideshow about one of their passions to an audience of community members. Since becoming involved in the program about four years ago, Wilcox has seen speakers present topics ranging from art to drug legalization.
Wilcox has been vocal at Board of Education meetings in the past. Last week, following a discussion by the New Haven Finance and Operations Committee about whether or not to close the city’s last alternative school Riverside Academy, Wilcox stepped up to the podium to give his opinion, arguing that Riverside is a positive asset to the New Haven community and that any plans to redirect its students ought to be carefully monitored.
“I do have a growing appreciation of budget challenges facing the district, and I know that there are different paths to the same goals,” Wilcox said at last week’s meeting. “I’m also hoping that there will be a plan to track the students affected by these potential changes — this will allow us to see how well the plan works, and I for one do not intend to let these students slip through the cracks unnoticed.”
Wilcox spoke alongside several community members, some of whom belong to the education reform group New Haven Public Schools Advocates. One major point of contention between NHPS Advocates and the board is transparency. In an interview with the News, Wilcox stated that improving transparency is a priority for him now that he is a full board member.
Wilcox added that he also aims to work on the budget issues in which the district is currently entrenched. Currently, the Board of Education faces a $5.3 million deficit, which it must slash completely by the end of the fiscal year. If they cannot reduce the deficit, the city of New Haven is legally obligated to absorb the cost.
“I want to help the board increase transparency with the district. It’s a good way to build trust,” Wilcox told the News. “We have a lot of budget issues to work through, a lot of people have been working on them for a while now, and it’s going to take a lot more work.”
The New Haven Board of Alders meets twice a month on the second floor of 165 Church St.
Valerie Pavilonis | firstname.lastname@example.org