Tension rises in schools chief search
Students, teachers frustrated with ‘circus of political gibberish’
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.
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.