Ariela Lopez, Contributing Photographer

The response to extreme heat in schools, expanded career pathway initiatives and postponed before-school and after-school programs took center stage at Monday night’s New Haven Board of Education meeting — the first of the school year.

The meeting was held in person at the Barack H. Obama Magnet University School on Farnham Avenue and broadcast through a Zoom webinar. Superintendent Madeline Negrón, Board of Education President Yesenia Rivera, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and John Carlos Serana Musser, a student representative on the board, attended the meeting in person, while several board members attended via Zoom.

Negrón, whose three-year superintendent contract began in June, delivered her superintendent’s report with Keisha Redd-Hannans, the assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment, and Dina Natalino, the supervisor of college and career pathways.

Extreme heat conditions highlight need for repairs to “aging” buildings

New Haven public schools closed two hours earlier than usual on Wednesday, Sept. 6 and Thursday, Sept. 7. due to extreme heat, Negrón explained at the meeting.

With strained air conditioner systems, Negrón predicted that building temperatures could have been reaching up to 80 degrees.

“[The early dismissal] was a function of the fact that we have 41 school buildings, and a substantial number of them were experiencing difficulties in keeping a comfortable temperature,” New Haven Public Schools spokesperson Justin Harmon told the News.

Harmon noted that several buildings needed repairs to their mechanical and HVAC control systems. The air conditioning system at the John C. Daniels School, a magnet middle school, failed on the afternoon of Sept. 6 because a small valve broke, forcing students, teachers and staff to relocate to Floyd Little Fieldhouse on Sherman Parkway for classes on the next day while the valve was replaced. All other schools stayed in their own buildings on Sept. 7.

Harmon said the repairs were not technically difficult to make but were beyond the district’s capacity. He said that a history of inadequate funding for technical repairs led to deferred maintenance.

The district has increased investment in facilities maintenance and repair in recent years, from $1.7 million during the 2020-2021 school year to $3.8 million during the 2022-2023 school year. 

Negrón emphasized that the district needs to complete and fund a preventative maintenance program alongside its ongoing repair efforts.

District doubles concurrent enrollment course offerings

At the meeting, Redd-Hannans and Natalino described the three types of dual credit opportunities available to New Haven Public Schools students, including Advanced Placement courses, dual enrollment courses offered on college campuses and “concurrent enrollment” courses offered on high school campuses with high school teachers who are certified as adjunct professors. These high school teachers work with university professors to design college-level syllabi.

Natalino explained that she hopes to increase opportunities for dual and concurrent enrollment courses because they allow students to receive college credit for classes in which students received a cumulative final grade of C or higher, unlike Advanced Placement courses whose offered credits hinge on a single test score.

“We are well above 50 percent of our students earning A’s in college courses and concurrent courses, and well over 80 percent of them earning C’s or higher,” she said. “Our AP exam scores — we see the complete opposite.”

Last year, 66 percent of AP test scores earned by New Haven Public Schools students were 1 or 2 out of 5, according to Natalino’s presentation, making these students ineligible for college credit.

This fall, the district is offering 15 concurrent courses across four high schools through Southern Connecticut State University, with seats available for 405 students. Throughout the entire 2022-2023 school year, only seven college courses were offered across three high schools for 185 students.

Natalino also spoke about the district’s ongoing and expanding industry certification programs, including the inaugural Yale New Haven Hospital EMT Program. The EMT program will allow 20 students from Wilbur L. Cross High School and 20 students from Hill Regional Career High School to complete EMT certification in one semester. The program, which began this fall, places students in job shadowing, internship and paramedic training opportunities after they receive certification.

Before- and after-school programs remain uncertain

Davis Academy Magnet School parents Jessica Utrup and Rachel Glover each addressed the Board of Education during the meeting’s public comments section.

Utrup and Glover expressed concern that Davis Academy’s before-school and after-school programs, which allow parents to drop their students off at school at 8 a.m. and pick them up at 5:15 p.m., were indefinitely put on hold.

Davis Academy’s school day begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. The school schedule is difficult for working families, said Utrup, whose nine-year-old daughter attends Davis Academy.

Glover, who has three children at Davis Academy, told the News that parents signed up for the programs during the school’s orientation in August. Participating families pay $20 each week for the programs, on top of a $10 registration fee.

While the programs typically begin a week and a half after the beginning of the school year, Davis Academy parents instead received word on Sept. 8 from the district that the programs were “on hold to ensure the programming is aligned to district policy,” Utrup shared with the News.

A Google form on Davis Academy’s website allows parents to put their names on a “waiting list” for the programs. The form states that the school does not have an anticipated start date for the programs.

When asked about the lack of before- and after-school programs, Harmon said that the district has had trouble finding staff who wanted to work early and late shifts at a couple of schools, but he was unsure of the specific circumstances at Davis. 

Although parents have received communication from the district about the delay, the programs are organized by each school’s principal and not by the district.

NHPS students in kindergarten through twelfth grade began the 2023-2024 school year on Aug. 31.

Ariela Lopez covers City Hall and City Politics. Originally from New York City, she is a first-year in Branford College.