Two prominent New Haven institutions will participate in a nationwide initiative that will seek to increase discussion on the effectiveness of school integration and diversification practices.
The Century Foundation, a New York-based progressive think tank, kicked off the inaugural Bridges Collaborative project last Thursday. Earlier this year, it selected two New Haven organizations, New Haven Public Schools and Elm City Communities, among 56 project contributors to participate in the program. Selections also include other school districts, charter schools and affordable housing organizations across Connecticut and the country.
According to the foundation’s website, the initiative will sponsor virtual conversations and programming, provide financial resources for organizations to attend events free of charge and offer access to other resources — like survey instruments and curriculum — “to help further the goals of increasing access to diverse, rigorous, integrated, and inclusive schools and neighborhoods.” City leaders have praised the new project for its cost-effectiveness and potential benefits for New Haven residents.
“The Bridges Collaborative brings about an exciting opportunity for New Haven to partner with school districts and organizations … to discuss diversity and to provide equitable opportunities for our students,” NHPS Assistant Superintendent Keisha Redd-Hannans told the News. “It will move us steps closer to achieving equity across the district.”
Redd-Hannans said NHPS joins the Bridges Collaborative as a school district with a long history of crafting school integration policies. The school’s investment in magnet schools, Redd Hannans said, is a reflection of these policies. The district’s magnet schools operate under a policy that reserves spaces for students from Greater New Haven suburbs in an attempt to diversify the district’s schools. The policy has attracted both controversy and praise.
The district’s Choice and Enrollment Office will spearhead the efforts in the Bridges Collaborative. Others, including a local school principal, the district’s head of research and Redd-Hannans, will contribute to national workshops and lead local virtual meetings for the New Haven community. The national group held its first public virtual meetings last Thursday and Friday. During the first, Former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. gave a keynote address and members of the Bridges Collaborative answered questions.
On Friday, Redd-Hannans said that student presenters talked about their experiences and how they felt isolated in school because of either their race or sexual preferences. She said that the discussion highlighted the need for NHPS to be inclusive of all students, especially when designing programming and social activities.
She expects the local New Haven group to meet in January with leaders from other Connecticut school districts and participating organizations.
“What I hope to see movement around over several years is [the development of] a broad, multi-sector, multi-organizational, and diverse coalition that is pushing for legislative change in the state,” said Karen DuBois-Walton ’89, the president of Elm City Communities, the Housing Authority of New Haven.
DuBois-Walton said she hoped the large number of Connecticut-based organizations participating in the initiative will collaborate on ideas for housing and education policies. She said she is excited by the network of like-purposed organizations the initiative will offer Elm City Communities.
She told the News she appreciates the initiative’s focus on both the “culturally competent curriculum” and a “diverse teaching force” of schools, as well as the diversity of living communities.
“[t’s important] that they’re going home to a community that’s diverse,” said DuBois-Walton. “That we live amongst each other and go to school amongst each other.”
Outside of New Haven, the Century Foundation selected five other Connecticut organizations due to its interest in the effects of the state’s long history of ambitious school integration policy. For instance, the state’s 1969 Racial Imbalance Law required schools to maintain minority — non-white, non-Hispanic — student enrollment numbers somewhere between 25 percent less and 25 percent more than the district average.
In an email to the News, Halley Potter ’08— a senior fellow at the Century Foundation — provided context on school integration across Connecticut.
“Connecticut has some of the highest levels of racial and socioeconomic inequality in the country, but it has also been home to some of the most robust efforts to address segregation and integrate schools,” Potter said. “Greater Hartford’s inter-district magnet schools are an example, as well as Stamford Public Schools’ efforts to integrate their schools and classrooms.”
Potter said that the current form of the Racial Imbalance Law requires each school district to disclose the racial composition of the teaching staff and the percentage of minority students and students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. When a school’s minority enrollment is more than 25 percentage points above or below the district average for a specific grade level, the school is deemed “racially imbalanced.” The state then approves and monitors districts’ plans for addressing the imbalance.
Potter believes this state context provides a “good starting point for addressing segregation,” alongside “exciting work on school integration” that New Haven is doing across sectors.
Stefan Lallinger — a fellow at the Century Foundation and the director of the Bridges Collaborative — told the News in an email about TCF’s motivations.
“We launched the Bridges Collaborative to provide the infrastructure for collaboration as well as support to organizations from all across the country who are pursuing the timely and critical work of creating more integrated and inclusive classrooms, schools, and neighborhoods,” Lallinger said. “More than six decades after Brown, at a time when many schools and districts are as segregated as they were 60 years ago, practitioners need models of what works, access to best practices and research, and partners in the work.”
Lallinger told the News that New Haven public schools were selected to be a part of this initiative because they “have a long history of supporting magnet schools and choice options intended to promote diversity that have been a boon to integrated schooling options.” He also noted the schools’ commitment to finding solutions to the school segregation that results from “segregated housing patterns.” This commitment, in addition to their past efforts, he said, makes the city “an ideal partner.”
Because of the country’s “profound racial reckoning,” Lallinger said that the moment is opportune “to reignite a movement for integration” — with a focus on the “growing grassroots moment” — after progress has stalled in recent decades. To approach the issue from a “multi-sector lens,” the collaborative is also working with Elm City Communities and Elm City Montessori, as well as the neighboring Hamden school district.
At last week’s Board of Education meeting, board members were able to hear from DuBois-Walton and Redd-Hannans about the Bridges Collaborative. Many of the board members expressed their support and enthusiasm for initiative.
Board of Education member Larry Conway told the News that he will follow the initiative closely. He added that he hopes students of all grade levels and ages will benefit from the national project, including the many NHPS students who are living in public housing.
The Century Foundation was founded in 1919 as the Co-operative League.
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