Yash Roy, Contributing Photographer

Mayoral candidate Tom Goldenberg’s opposition to the renomination of Matt Wilcox to the Board of Education fell flat at Tuesday’s Board of Alders meeting. 

The BOA confirmed current BOE vice president Wilcox, whose term expires in 2023, by a voice vote at Tuesday’s meeting. Goldenberg has called on the BOA to halt all nominations to the BOE until the BOE agrees to meet in person and presents “tangible plans” to improve test scores and attendance in the city. Moreover, Goldenberg has called on the New Haven Public Schools district to include parents and students in the ongoing superintendent search process. 

Before the meeting, Goldenberg hosted a rally outside of City Hall where he expanded on his education plan for the city, which New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker has called a “political charade.” 

We need to hold our elected officials accountable and remind them who puts them in office,” Goldenberg said at his rally. “That’s why I’m calling on the Board of Alders to not reappoint any Board of Education members until these demands are met. That’s why I’m calling on the Mayor to do his job. In-person meetings, now. Teachers and parents on the search committee, now. We cannot wait.”

Goldenberg said that during his time as a consultant for McKinsey he met with superintendents across Connecticut who frequently reflected on the “dysfunction” of New Haven’s Board of Education.

For him, the buck stops with the Mayor, who he alleges has failed to address the problems facing the district. 

“The Mayor is failing us on education,” Goldenberg wrote to the News. “It is not the governance structure to blame —  it is the lack of governing and leadership.” 

Goldenberg told the News that he felt compelled to speak out after the release of reading test scores where 84 percent of third graders were reported as not reading at the recommended level. 

He added that presentations from NHPS arguing that “everything is fine” and “this is because of COVID,” instead of more serious reflection on what changes should take place, had “made him mad.”

“What does that mean for the 19,000 students in NHPS, and their futures,” Goldenberg said. “As a parent of an NHPS student in kindergarten, and as someone who is proud of New Haven, this was concerning. But what happened next changed my concern into anger.” 

At Tuesday’s protest, Bethel A.M.E Church Pastor Steven Cousin Jr. also spoke out against the current trajectory of NHPS. 

Cousin saud that the BOE must commit to in-person meetings so that community members can meaningfully contribute to the governance of the school.

“We seem to be living under this moniker that good enough is good enough, being good enough is the enemy of being great,” Cousin said. “I’m calling on the Board of Alders to take a really serious look at who we appoint because this is not just about students today but also students in the future.”

Goldenberg also spoke out against the ongoing superintendent search process, which he says does not include “meaningful input” from parents and students. The current search process has involved community conversations with parents and students about the new superintendent; however, Goldenberg and other activists have argued that parents and students should be included in the committee that ultimately chooses the superintendent. Goldenberg added that he has asked the district and mayor to open the process multiple times without response. 

Elicker told the News that he believes the BOE has made progress on improving test scores and absenteeism, highlighting recent funding towards after-school programs. 

He added that “it was unfair” to “denigrate” NHPS teachers and administrators for the work they do. 

“I think it’s really interesting that Tom’s talking about education,” Elicker said. “I’ve been on the Board of Education for three years and I have not seen him at one meeting.”

During Tuesday’s Board of Alders meeting, Fair Haven’s Sarah Miller was the only alder who spoke in opposition to Wilcox’s nomination, citing concerns about the fact that not a single member of the BOE except the mayor has a child attending New Haven schools. 

She added that she was concerned by Wilcox’s lack of engagement with parents and broader community concerns, as well as his deference to the superintendent on a staffing issue where 53 teachers were allegedly transferred for “speaking out against the school system.” 

“We don’t know who will be appointed superintendent and what new dynamic that may bring,” Miller said. “But Mr. Wilcox, his record is clear. And I believe of the 19,000 plus students in the new home school, surely one of their parents, guardians or caregivers would be a better fit for this role.”

Alders Adam Marchand, Anna Festa and Eli Sabin ’22 all spoke in favor of the nomination. Each said that Wilcox had distinguished himself as a leader who was committed to developing NHPS. 

“Mr. Wilcox is hardworking and diligent,” Sabin said. “He does his job. He’s responsive. And I think at the end of the day, being a Board of Education is a bit of a thankless job. So I don’t think we should take that for granted that we have someone who wants to work hard and is making decisions in the best interest of our city.” 

However, Sabin added that he “did not want his vote to be a message” that the current trajectory of the board was acceptable. 

There are 30 members of the New Haven Board of Alders. 

Yash Roy covered City Hall and State Politics for the News. He also served as a Production & Design editor, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion chair for the News. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, he is a '25 in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.