Ten­sion rises in schools chief search

Stu­dents, teach­ers frus­trated with ‘cir­cus of po­lit­i­cal gib­ber­ish’

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Zahn

NEW HAVEN — One ma­jor road­block fac­ing the Board of Education through­out its year­long search for a new su­per­in­ten­dent of schools has been per­sis­tent charges that stu­dents and teach­ers have not been prop­erly con­sulted. On Mon­day, stu­dents and teach­ers said they’re tired of the holdup.

A group of about seven com­mu­nity groups com­pris­ing about 300 peo­ple en­dorsed a let­ter by a group called the New Haven Ed­u­ca­tors’ Col­lec­tive. Sev­eral mem­bers of the col­lec­tive read a let­ter to the board, call­ing for the board to ad­vance the search.

Stu­dent board mem­bers Ja­cob Spell and Makayla Dawkins said stu­dents also are look­ing to move the process for­ward.

“Stu­dents are ques­tion­ing how long we can go with­out a su­per­in­ten­dent,” Spell said.

He also read a state­ment from Dawkins, who was not present, say­ing the board is cor­rect that stu­dents are seek­ing to have more in­put in the process, but it would be once the fi­nal­ists have been se­lected.

“I also think it’s best to have less fo­cus groups or not to have any more fo­cus groups or fo­rums,” she wrote.

The Col­lec­tive out­lined five pri­or­i­ties for a new su­per­in­ten­dent: to en­sure di­verse and safe schools for all stu­dents, mean­ing the su­per­in­ten­dent would take action to en­sure a di­verse and cul­tur­ally com­pe­tent teach­ing staff and a dis­trict that re­fuses to co­op­er­ate with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties; whole child sup­port ser­vices, which in­cludes so­cial and emo­tional sup­ports and a ded­i­cated med­i­cal pres­ence in every school; as­sess­ments led by teach­ers in­stead of us­ing stan­dard­ized tests; a re­sistence to school pri­va­ti­za­tion ef­forts, with fund­ing al­lo­cated di­rectly to stu­dents and class­rooms where needed; and for teach­ers and stu­dents to have a voice in de­ci­sions.

Mem­bers of the pub­lic ex­pressed near-unan­i­mous dis­plea­sure with the night’s pro­ceed­ings, say­ing they sat for three hours of board ar­gu­ments laced with barbs.

“The su­per­in­ten­dent search is be­com­ing a to­tal fi­asco and a cir­cus of po­lit­i­cal gib­ber­ish and smoke and mir­rors,” said Spell’s mother, Mar­itza Baez.

The teacher from the Col­lec­tive who was to ex­plain why the group listed child sup­port ser­vices as one of their five de­sired pri­or­i­ties left the meet­ing early. Teacher Nataliya Bra­gin­sky said the teacher, Julia Miller, left to put her in­fant and five-year-old to sleep, but she re­layed that she was “em­bar­rassed and an­gry” by the board’s con­duct.

Com­mu­nity mem­ber Ken Joyner, who at­tended sev­eral fo­rums with the ex­ec­u­tive search firm, crit­i­cized board mem­ber Dar­nell Gold­son for his com­plaints about that firm, say­ing Haz­ard, Young, At­tea & As­so­ci­ates had fol­lowed their con­tract.

“Peo­ple are let­ting us know quite up­front that it’s a po­lit­i­cal game,” he said. “You’re throw­ing away my money and I don’t like it.”

Mem­bers of the school board have tra­versed mul­ti­ple bumps in the road since Fe­bru­ary, when Gold­son was first ap­pointed as chair­man of the search com­mit­tee — such as re­plac­ing its initial ex­ec­u­tive search firm, quo­rum-deny­ing board ab­senses, allegations that not enough com­mu­nity feed­back has been so­licited through­out the process and ques­tions over whether the hired search firm is within its rights to per­form its con­tracted du­ties.

With all six board mem­bers at­tend­ing, Gold­son pre­sented a time­line for the search that would lead to the se­lec­tion of a schools chief by Nov. 27; his cochair­men, Che Daw­son and Car­los Torre, who were added to the com­mit­tee in Au­gust by board Pres­i­dent Ed Joyner, had a dif­fer­ent vi­sion for a timetable, with a choice made on Nov. 13.

Gold­son made a mo­tion to ap­prove his timetable with only ally Mayor Toni Harp, swing vote Frank Re­dente and ad­ver­saries Joyner and Torre present. For min­utes, Torre and Joyner dis­cussed the mo­tion, ex­plain­ing how Gold­son was “essen­tially, un­der­min­ing your own com­mit­tee,” un­til Daw­son en­tered the room at Beecher School.

In Gold­son’s ver­sion of a timetable, there were more fo­rums for com­mu­nity feed­back and to whit­tle down the group of Con­necti­cut ap­pli­cants, added back to the pool of fi­nal­ists at the last meet­ing, into a new group of fi­nal­ists.

“I think peo­ple are tired of this non­sense and they want to see this process move for­ward,” Gold­son said. “Thank good­ness two weeks from now we’ll have an­other board mem­ber so we won’t have th­ese dead­locks any­more.”

In Au­gust, Gold­son missed mul­ti­ple meet­ings, and when asked by the Reg­is­ter whether he would con­sider a boy­cott un­til lead­er­ship changed, he said he would do so. He was present at the fol­low­ing school board meet­ing.

Torre ar­gued that, although some had reser­va­tions that fewer than 50 peo­ple par­tic­i­pated in fo­rums with the ex­ec­u­tive search firm, every time that firm so­licited more feed­back, it heard the same things.

“No mat­ter how much we add, it’s com­ing up the same,” he said.

Torre noted that Gold­son’s pro­posed sched­ule, end­ing the search on Nov. 27, be­fore en­gag­ing in a deep back­ground search with the se­lected candidate, meant the school board had a lot of work to do be­tween Thanks­giv­ing and the De­cem­ber hol­i­day sea­son.

“If any­thing hap­pens, we’re thrown for a loop,” Torre said.

Ad­di­tion­ally, he had a bone to pick with Gold­son.

“You sent a text and an email that clearly said Mr. Daw­son and I are lame ducks,” he said.

Gold­son said he was “sur­prised” that “lame duck” was be­ing con­strued neg­a­tively.

“The fact is there are two board mem­bers who are go­ing to be leav­ing this board on Dec. 31 and there’s a new su­per­in­ten­dent who is com­ing on who is go­ing to be su­per­vised by at least two other board mem­bers,” he said.

The board voted to se­lect a candidate by Nov. 20, and agreed to have Daw­son and Gold­son work on a fi­nal­ized sched­ule. After the meet­ing, Daw­son and Gold­son agreed to have that con­ver­sa­tion to­day.

The board be­gan to ar­gue over Gold­son’s mo­tion that more com­mu­nity voices be added to the search com­mit­tee: Jamell Cotto, who is Harp’s se­lec­tion to fill Daisy Gon­za­lez’s va­cant seat; a mem­ber of the Board of Alders; an­other par­ent to join Ci­ty­wide Par­ent Team Pres­i­dent Ni­jija-Ife Wa­ters; and Harp’s two choices to suc­ceed Daw­son and Torre when their terms ex­pire.

Harp said she did not dis­cuss the mo­tion with Gold­son, and re­quested that the cri­te­ria that two board mem­bers, who have not yet been rec­om­mended to the Board of Alders for ap­proval and would not have a vote un­til Jan. 1, 2018, be re­moved. Daw­son ques­tioned Gold­son on what com­mu­nity stake­hold­ers Harp could ap­point that were miss­ing from the cur­rent pic­ture. Gold­son said he did not know what Harp would de­cide.

Harp said there were not any med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als rep­re­sented in the search com­mit­tee, nor any ex­perts in so­cial-emo­tional learn­ing. Torre said both he and Joyner are ed­u­ca­tors with a back­ground in so­cial-emo­tional learn­ing.

Joyner raised ques­tions about why Harp would have the au­thor­ity to ap­point two peo­ple to a com­mit­tee out­side of her pow­ers as an elected of­fi­cial.

“We’re not equal,” Gold­son said of the board. He said the city’s vot­ers gave Harp more au­thor­ity to con­trol the city’s schools by elect­ing her as the top rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Joyner said he, too, is elected to serve by half the city. Gold­son is also elected to serve on the board.

After mul­ti­ple dead­locked votes dur­ing the night, Daw­son broke with Torre and Joyner to ap­prove Gold­son’s mo­tion to add more peo­ple to the search com­mit­tee, in­clud­ing two may­oral ap­pointees.

Brain Zahn / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Board of Education mem­ber Dar­nell Gold­son gets out of his seat to talk to Che Daw­son dur­ing a Board of Education meet­ing Tues­day in New Haven. Seated, from left, are Car­los Torre, Ja­cob Spell and In­terim Su­per­in­ten­dent of Schools Regi­nald Mayo.

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