Emily Khym, Contributing Photographer

New Haven Public Schools are focusing on literacy and career readiness in their upcoming five-year plan.

The five-year strategic operating plan was the focus of a meeting of the Education Committee of the Board of Alders on Wednesday. New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Madeline Negrón, Assistant Superintendent Keisha Redd-Hannans and Chief of Staff Michael Finley presented the committee with developments of their new  strategic operation plan, or SOP. The current plan expires on June 30. 

Finley emphasized the importance of a good SOP that has specific priorities and action plans.

“Having a million strategies and a million priorities and not doing any of them … you’re struggling from the start so being intentional is important,” Finley said. “We are being very intentional around what we are doing with our teams so that we have something that is solid that we can really execute, monitor and implement.”

Negrón intends to prioritize literacy and school culture. She is using the ThoughtExchange platform, which allows participants to rate thoughts of others on a scale of one to five, to leverage the New Haven community’s opinions on the school system. This platform — using artificial intelligence — has strong translation capabilities and is able to remove language barriers, a persistent issue in New Haven. The feedback from using this platform thus far has shown that there is a strong emphasis on academic achievement. Negrón and the school system’s executive team are working on a timeline of alternating between testing and feedback and design sprints to continue to create a better strategic operation plan. 

The team working on this SOP consists of 66 members. They are currently analyzing the data from ThoughtExchange. The three questions asked in the ThoughtExchange survey were: “What is working well in NHPS?” “What opportunities exist for improvement in NHPS?” and “What are the most important skills and experiences our students need to get from their education in order to prepare them for success in learning and life?” 

“Equitable opportunities create the foundation necessary for every child to succeed,” Negrón said when explaining the core beliefs behind the SOP. “High expectations and standards are necessary to prepare students for college and careers. Collaboration and partnerships with families and the New Haven community will enhance learning and achievement.”

The team has formed four sub-committees in response to the results: teaching and learning, operations efficiency, family engagement and culture and climate. 

Ward 14 Alder Sarah Miller ’03, a founder of NHPS Advocates, was primarily concerned with how the developing SOP would differ from previous strategic plans. Redd-Hannans said that the office of the superintendent will focus on messaging to get the public excited about new plans. Negrón added that there will be a focus on college and career to ensure that students feel confident in non-academic soft skills when leaving high school. 

“A city cannot thrive if we cannot produce graduates that will later help our city,” Miller said. 

Negrón continued to explain her action steps, saying that equitable school funding was of the highest concern. She specifically focused on summer learning opportunities, reevaluating, in order of decreasing importance, priorities of academic learning, social and emotional support and joy. Her goal is to increase student achievement with limited funds. 

Alder Sal Punzo, who worked in the New Haven public school system as a teacher and principal for 49 years, reiterated that the building leader, or principal, creates the culture inside of a school. His main concern was how this plan could be introduced to public school staff. 

The New Haven Public Schools executive team plans on using the DataWise project from Harvard, which provides online courses for instructors, to introduce and monitor networks of schools and principals. Negrón also stressed the importance of providing professional support to principals and school staff. 

The committee meeting closed with Finley emphasizing that the school system is evolving in the right direction with an emphasis on financial literacy and soft skills. The district is also using Naviance to set students up for career success. 

“We have over 90,000 lives in our hands and if we are not preparing them for when they leave high school with a plan we are not preparing them for them to fulfill that plan,” Negrón told the committee. “I believe to my core that this education allows us to change the future and address problems like poverty.”

The next Education Committee will meet on March 27 at 6 p.m. in City Hall.