Carolyn Sacco

The New Haven Board of Alders confirmed former Riverside Education Academy Principal Larry Conaway by voice vote to serve on the Board of Education on Thursday, ending a controversial confirmation process that upset many members of New Haven’s Latino community.

The Board of Alders met on Thursday night to confirm Larry Conaway to the Board of Education. The vote followed an Oct. 28 Aldermanic Affairs Committee meeting, where the committee decided to allow Conaway’s appointment to reach the Board of Alders without formally recommending him. Both the committee meeting and Thursday’s meeting were met with protests from New Haven’s Latino community, including members of Unidad Latina en Acción and the New Haven Latino Council. The protestors demanded that Conaway’s post, which was formerly held by Joseph Rodriguez, should have been filled by a member of New Haven’s Hispanic community.

Alder David Reyes Jr. lamented the position that the current administration had placed upon him and other alders who represent the Latino community. He said alders are forced to decide between a nominee they consider qualified, although they want to give equal representation to members of the Elm City’s diverse communities.

“This was my hardest vote during my four years as an alder,” Reyes Jr., told the News. 

Reyes Jr. was joined by three other alders in opposing the nomination during deliberation. Those in opposition emphasized the need for a Latino nominee to best address the growing immigrant and non-English speaking population in New Haven. Appointing a Latino nominee would also help resolve the endemic underrepresentation of the Latino community in educational posts up and down the local public school system, those alders argued.

Five alders spoke in favor of Conaway before the nomination vote. Ward 29 Alder Brian Wingate protested calls for representation through ethnic or racial representation.

“[This vote] cannot be about a race war,” Wingate told his fellows alders. “It has to be about the kids, not colorism.”

Conaway has worked in local education for over 30 years, most recently as the principal of Riverside Education Academy. He retired in June.

Conaway discussed his position on equity during the Oct. 28 Aldermanic Affairs Committee meeting.

“I think there needs to be representation and diversity,” Conaway said at the committee meeting, responding to a question about the specific needs of Latino students. He added that he hopes to increase the number of black and Latino teachers and administrators throughout the district.

The Board of Education is comprised of seven members — one of whom is the New Haven mayor, four of whom are appointed by the mayor and two of whom are elected. Elicker has emphasized the need for professionals and field experts on the Board of Education.

Various New Haven Latino organizations — including Unidad Latina en Acción and the New Haven Latino Council — opposed Conaway’s nomination. The Council has emphasized significant underrepresentation of Latinos in all areas of New Haven Public Schools, from Board Members and administrators to teachers and assistants. Members of ULA at Thursday night’s vote and at the Oct. 28 Aldermanic Affairs Committee meeting expressed their opposition to the loss of Latino-held BOE seats.

“There is an obvious systemic culture in the New Haven School District which is anti-Latino,” Rev. Abraham Hernandez said on behalf of the New Haven Latino Council in an Oct. 28 press conference. 

Board of Education President Darnell Goldson expressed his support for Conaway’s confirmation.

Goldson was reelected on Tuesday in an uncontested election and received 5,850 votes.

Goldson, who was first elected to the Board of Education in 2015, told the News that he was overwhelmed and blessed to be reelected.

“The last four years I have been focused on getting the house in order with policy and bylaw updates, managing several switches in leadership, and reducing structural deficits by reducing costs such as leases and school closures,” Goldson wrote in an email. “I hope to focus my next term on bringing in more resources (like we did with the magnet seats and funding), and student achievement.”

The Board of Education recently terminated the contract of then Superintendent Carol Birks and last week confirmed former Assistant Superintendent of New Haven Public Schools Ilene Tracey as interim superintendent. The New Haven Register reported that Tracey will receive a salary of $225,000 in her post. According to the report, Tracey’s contract as assistant superintendent has been extended to June 30, 2022, and she will return to serving the city as the assistant superintendent once the official appointment is made.

Goldson told the News that the BOE would wait until the mayoral election to form a search committee for the next superintendent. On Thursday, he emphasized both Tracey’s qualifications and the importance of formalizing the search for the next superintendent.

“Forming a search committee for a new superintendent is not an immediate concern,” Goldson wrote in an email to the News. “Dr. Tracey is more than qualified and capable of running this district, and our plan is to allow her to steady the ship and bring stability to the district. Our leadership team plans to meet with the mayor-elect soon to discuss goals and our legislative agenda.”

Joseph Rodriguez stepped down from the Board of Education on Sept. 1.

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