Yale Daily News

Last Wednesday, Mayor Justin Elicker announced the appointment of OrLando Yarborough III GRD ’10 and Abie Quiñones-Benítez to the New Haven Board of Education to replace current board members Larry Conaway and Tamiko Jackson-McArthur. 

Some community members have criticized Elicker’s decision to not reappoint the two outgoing board members, citing concerns about the mayor using the appointments to silence dissenting voices on the board. There is also criticism over replacing the only Black woman currently serving on the Board of Education. 

“I’m also looking forward to serving with Dr. Yarborough and Dr. Quiñones-Benítez,” Elicker wrote in a statement to the News. “Each brings a unique perspective with them that will serve the board well.” 

He said that Yarborough, a scientist and chair of the Friends Center for Children board, will bring his knowledge of early childhood education and STEM education to the board. Quiñones-Benítez will bring a long history of service to New Haven Public Schools and her speciality in English as a Second Language curricula, Elicker added. 

Quiñones-Benítez started working at New Haven Adult Education in 1986. Later in her career, she served for two years as vice principal of Hill Regional Career High School and 11 years as Principal of Christopher Columbus Family Academy, now FAME — Family Academy of Multilingual Exploration. She also served as the Lancaster, Pennsylvania director of schools, according to Elicker’s office. 

“I’m honored and excited about the opportunity to serve on the New Haven Board of Education,” Quiñones-Benítez said. “I’ve seen firsthand not just the challenges our students face, but also the opportunities available to them.”

Yarborough has served as a pastor at the Black Church at Yale since 2015. He is also a school management coach and facilitator and runs his own company that offers “coaching and consulting services for STEM and other professionals.”

“As a leader and coach, I’ve spent most of my life investing in the success of people,” Yarborough said. “As a father and Board Chair at Friends Center for Children, the success of these kids is personal to me. I’m thankful for this appointment and looking forward to helping each child in New Haven maximize their potential.”

Elicker also thanked the two retiring board members for their service to the community and NHPS, saying that “their commitment to the success of our students is laudable.” BOE member Matthew Wilcox echoed Elicker’s sentiments. 

“I deeply respect the hard work and wisdom of Dr. Jackson-McArthur and Mr. Conaway and will miss serving with both of them,” Wilcox said.

While Elicker publicly thanked both of the retiring board members, some community members saw the appointments as a way of “eliminating” dissenting board members who were viewed by many in the New Haven Black community as “effective and well-experienced leaders.” Board member Darnell Goldson said that “there was no reason why either one of those people could not continue to serve on this board.” He added that the mayor’s decision sends a “sad statement.” 

Goldson heralded Conaway’s decades of service to NHPS including a three-year stint as principal of Riverside and New Light High School. He also praised Jackson-McArthur for attending New Haven public schools and placing her kids in NHPS instead of private school. 

Addys Castillo, director of the Citywide Youth Coalition, said that she was “disappointed” with the Mayor’s decision to not reappoint both members since they “brough fresh perspectives to the table.” 

Castillo pointed to a specific conflict over School Resource Officers, or SROs. Jackson-McArthur had been a vocal critic of the Mayor’s support for having SROs in New Haven schools. Castillo explained that the Mayor had previously seated a commission to look at the issue, but that Jackson-McArthur eventually left the commission because she thought it was filled with individuals who supported the Mayor’s view. 

Jackson-McArthur did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Community members have also pointed to this decision as another indication that Elicker is not listening to specific communities within New Haven. Reverend Dr. Boise Kimber, the president of the Greater New Haven Clergy Association, told the News that this decision showed how “Black people are being ignored by this administration.” 

Goldson, Castillo, Kimber and Conaway all shared concerns that Jackson-McArthur was the “only Black woman” serving on the Board of Education right now. 

Castillo said that New Haven “needs more Black women to be in there working on behalf of young people” and that while Quiñones-Benítez was a Latina woman, she “can’t speak to the experience of Black girls in the city.”

“By getting rid of Conaway and Jackson-McArthur and replacing them with a Hispanic woman and a Black man, we now have three Black men, two Hispanics and a white man,” Kimber said. “The message this sends to his [Elicker’s] constituents is that Black women in this city don’t matter.” 

Goldson added that there was a feeling within his community that there was a “backslide” to “15-20 years ago” with Elicker’s recent appointment decisions in both the BOE and the New Haven Police Department. Conaway added that he hoped in the future another Black woman would be appointed to the BOE. He added that it was “wrong” to not have a Black woman on the Board, adding that the Board needs “Black voices.” 

In 2019, there was controversy at the confirmation vote of Conaway in the Board of Alders over Latino representation on the Board of Education. 

In response to the criticisms leveled against the two picks, Elicker told the News that “Dr. Benitez and Yarborough are each strong leaders who will bring a diverse set of skills and experiences to the Board of Education. They were each chosen because of their respective skill sets and commitment to the success of young people.”

While Conaway acknowledged some of the controversy surrounding Elicker’s decision to appoint two new board members, he recognized that it was “his decision to make.” Conaway added that he “supported the choice” and understood that Elicker “didn’t think he was the right person for the job.” 

Conaway told the News that the decision was “bittersweet” but that he never expected to be reappointed since he had only been appointed by Mayor Toni Harp, Elicker’s predecessor, after the previous board member left his term midway through. 

“It is bittersweet. I felt that I was making a contribution to the city of New Haven,” Conaway said. “I support [Mayor Elicker], and I support the two new board members. It’s not easy work. You have to really do your homework, you have to have a philosophy and take a position and move on. I thank the citizens of New Haven for allowing me to serve, and I’m just going to move on gracefully.” 

The New Haven Board of Education has four members appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Board of Alders as well as two elected members with Mayor Elicker serving as an ex officio member of the Board. 

Yash Roy covers education & youth services in New Haven and is a P&D staffer. He is a first year in Timothy Dwight College and is from Princeton, NJ.