by| Nov 18, 2019 7:56 am
Launch a parent empowerment campaign that trains public school moms and dads on how best to advocate for their children.
Forge “cooperative education” partnerships that give public school students hands on experience for future skilled trade jobs.
And make sure that teachers, administrators, and school board members reflect the diversity of the students in their classrooms.
Those were a sampling of the cornucopia of ideas, priorities, specific initiatives and wishful musings proposed by a group of 20 public school watchdogs charged with thinking aloud about what’s working well, and what needs fixing, in the New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) system.
That group represented one segment among over 200 people who filled the cafeteria of High School in the Community on Water Street Saturday morning for a two-and-a-half-hour public meeting hosted by Mayor-Elect Justin Elicker’s transition team.
The goal of the meeting, which was facilitated by Elizabeth Nearing and Kia Levey-Burden, was relatively simple … and audaciously democratic: To bring together as many city residents as possible, regardless of their background or education or professional expertise or political affiliation, and have them come up with policy priorities for the next mayoral administration.
“I hope that we can all listen to each other and really share honesty here today,” Levey-Burden said as she laid out some of the ground rules, and some of her hopes and expectations, for the meeting ahead.
“I hope that we can bring all of our love, all of our excitement, all of our commitment for New Haven, all of our power and energy, to this room here today.”
The meeting was the first that Elicker has held since he announced his diverse slate of two dozen transition team members after soundly defeating incumbent Mayor Toni Harp in this month’s general election.
He and the facilitators said that the transition team will now take the superabundance of ideas—on education, public safety, housing, arts and culture, the environment, and more—that were proposed and scrawled on multiple sheaves of oversized paper Saturday morning and developing specific policy initiatives for the incoming Elicker administration to pursue upon taking office in January.
“The spirit is inclusion,” Elicker said to the standing room-only crowd as he introduced the transition team meeting. “The spirit is giving people a voice in the way that the city is run. And I feel like today is an indication that we’re taking a really strong step in that direction.”
Nearing, a former community engagement staffer at Long Wharf Theatre with ample expertise leading thoughtful public conversations about large, challenging topics, warned the assembled attendees that they would inevitably not be able to cover every single issue they care about in Saturday morning’s meeting alone.
But, she said, amidst teaching people how best to hold a microphone to maximize audibility (like a candy bar, held parallel to your mouth, and not like an ice cream cone, held beneath your mouth), this meeting represented a prime opportunity for city residents passionate about the wellbeing of New Haven to hear one another out, put ideas to paper, and have a say in the direction of local government.
“There’s a lot of different ideas in this room,” she said, “and we want to be able to honor them all.”
And so, after a few brief get-to-know-your-neighbor exercises, followed by a room-wide brainstorming session about the biggest challenges facing the city today, Nearing and Levey-Burden asked the attendees to self-select into smaller groups focused on particular areas of interest.
People in each group then spent the next hour talking, debating, and brainstorming about what they see going on in the city today, and about how residents and City Hall might work together to make New Haven an even better place to live and study and work over the next few years to come.
“Money Is Not Going Where It’s Supposed To Be Going”
Nearly 40 people who showed up Saturday morning wanted to talk about what’s going right and what’s going wrong with public education in this city. So the school system—currently at a crossroads of leadership and demographics and funding —wound up being the focal point for two separate groups’ worth of discussions.
Columbus Family Academy teacher Irene Logan took the lead in moderating one of those groups, a passionate mix of teachers, parents, social workers, school staffers, and other residents all squeezed around a single table in the northwest corner of the room.
“Money is not going to where it’s supposed to be going,” said city public school teacher Julie Anastasio (pictured). She said that she’s spoken to quite a few colleagues in the district who have had to pay for pencils, paper, and other basic classroom supplies out of their own pockets.
The city summer school program she taught at this year never had enough books to hand out to kids for them to take home, she said. “Teachers have to provide a lot.”
Valerie Hardy (pictured, in the black hat), a social worker who has worked for the school system for 15 years, said that NHPS does an admirable job of trying to place at least one social worker in every city school.
Nevertheless, she said, the system has long struggled to hire enough school nurses, and has seen a recent winnowing of critical staff—including teachers, librarians, and counselors—because of budget shortfalls.
Persistent budget cuts and the racial, economic, and education segregation of this city has led to the development of radically unequal education environments within the same public school system, she said.
“You have a school like Hooker, which is like paradise,” she said, “and then you have Troup, which is like somewhere in Beirut.”
Every school must be equally desirable and effective regardless of neighborhood, she said. Teachers need better training in how to educate special needs students. “And we need to make the cutlures in our schools friendly and accessible” to parents, and to better encourage their involvement in their children’s education.
Local clinical therapist Kym Mckoy (pictured, in the red hat) said she has two children currently enrolled at Hillhouse High School—and that she is quite relieved that they are just a few years from graduating and putting the public school system behind them.
One of her biggest concerns with the school system today is the racial and cultural disconnect she sees between many of the white teachers and many of the African American and Latino students.
“A lot of the teachers who are not African American need to become culturally sensitive to the kids they’re working with,” she said.
She said a teacher recently told one of her sons that he “doesn’t deserve to be in high school.” She was irate when she found out a school teacher had spoken to her son that way, she said. “There needs to be more sensitivity training,” as well as more teachers who look like and can identify with the majority-minority public school student population.
Bill MacMullen (pictured at left), an architect and city Engineering Department staffer, said that, as someone who has spent his career in the building design and construction trade, he would love to see “cooperative education” partnerships and practical internships pushed for students who want to work, and not go to college, after graduating from high school.
In particular, he said, the city should pilot a partnership with adult education that would give students hands-on experience learning how to estimate, design, and construct buildings. They should be paired with contractors in a sort of school-sanctioned apprentice program that would give them the practical experience necessary to get a job in the trades after graduation.
Educational psychologist Christine Emmons (pictured, in the grey hat) agreed. She said the city should have not only a traditional technology and vocational school, but also a “school of innovation” where students would be encouraged to build robots and other out-of-the-box solutions to any social or economic problem they can think of.
“Just open the field wide,” she said. The school system should build its capacity to teach and train students who want to be plumbers, electricians, or even music producers, professions that don’t necessarily require a college education.
Retired Hillhouse history teacher and frequent Board of Education meeting attendee Robert Gibson (pictured, at left) offered one specific initiative that the city and the school board can launch relatively easily—and that would have an outsized impact bridging the divide between the classroom and students’ home lives.
“We should have a campaign for parent empowerment,” he said. “Parents need to understand that they have power, that they have influence” over how their children are being educated.
He said that those schools that have the best teachers, the best support staff, the best resources and the best quality of education tend to be the ones with the most engaged parents.
The city and school board should develop and promote a program that trains parents on how to be public education advocates, that encourages them to come to school board meetings, that shows them how staying in touch with teachers and principals can benefit their children’s education. ‘We need to keep our eyes and ears open,” he said.
Yari Ijeh and Larry Laconi (both pictured) were tapped to read five of the group’s suggestions to the larger audience as Nearing and Levey-Burden and a handful of volunteers sought to write down a handful of ideas that emerged from each group’s breakout discussion.
“Our conversations went everywhere from making sure that we have social workers, nurses, and librarians,” Ijeh said, “to making sure that there’s paper and materials and books for all of the classrooms.”
She stressed that the district needs to do more to recruit and retain teachers of color, and to offer racial justice and implicit bias training for teachers already in the system.
The city school system should establish more and deeper community partnerships for skilled trades education, she added.
“If we’re literally building our city,” she said, “can our students be a part of that building? Not all of our students are on the college track and would take advantage of the New Haven Promise [scholarship program]. So could the New Haven Promise offer other opportunities for them as well?”
Nearing, Levey-Burden, and Elicker ended the meeting by thanking everyone for their curiosity, for their passion, for coming out to a nearly three-hour meeting on a Saturday morning to discuss how to improve the quality of life in this city for all residents.
“You people have huge networks,” said, “so please, please, please go out into your networks and ask other people what they think the direction of the city should be. And bring that back.”
Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch the beginning of Saturday morning’s transition team public meeting.
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A superb turnout like this suggests exactly what Mayor-Elect Elicker’s huge victory suggested—that people in this city _hunger_ for new ways of doing things in city government, and will respond to a leader who demonstrates a commitment to finding ways to achieve this.
It’s early; this is just a start, of course, but it is very encouraging. I hope the commitment will continue, and last, through Justin’s tenure.
A suggestion for the NHI: after the next public brainstorming meeting on Dec. 8, please try to report on more than just the primary topic considered. If discussions, like yesterday’s, cover “public safety, housing, arts and culture, the environment, and more,” besides education, it would be fascinating to read about ideas in those other areas as well.
This was a fantastic event. It brought together a diverse group of people to grapple with the city’s many significant problems. It gives me hope for the future of New Haven. To me, this is what democracy looks like.
If you thought that was a diverse showing, you simply have no clue of the makeup of the city. That showing was shockingly white and old.
I applaud the incoming mayor and transition team for making these sessions happen!
May I suggest the transition team include a topic for “generating economic growth”? This will require big investments in transportation infrastructure, responsible incentive structures, cultural offerings, and perhaps targeted personal solicitations from our former foreign service officer / incoming mayor.
There is no way we can rely on a plantation economy from Yale (see NHRising) or a tax and spend model from homeowners (see Harp administration) to bring us beyond our city’s financial, political, and cultural challenges.
We must attract and nourish businesses to grow here, relocate here, stay here, and bring good jobs.
Citoyen, while it would have been great if the story had covered additional discussions, I don’t think Paul has figured out how to clone Tom Breen.
I would guesstimate that the room was a bit more than one-third POC. This is substantially more diverse than many public meetings discussing public policy. But it does not reflect the city’s demographics. And there were relatively few people under 30, the city’s median age.
I would estimate that the gathering was at least 75% white. And this group was making recommendations for a city that is no where near that. There is no way to be sure, but I would beat that the assets held by those in the room were several times that of the city average.
I don’t question the sincerity of people who showed up at 9 am on a Saturday morning, but many of the comments came from a thin perspective more in line with suburban thinking. Many of the views were patriarchal or colonialist. Some people took the mic and blabbed on about how much better they feel about the city now that Elicker will be mayor.
Why such an imbalance in the turn out? Perhaps time and place had something to do with it. Has the Elicker transition team considered doing such an event in a place that it more representative of the city at-large? Perhaps it was simply who the mayor elect made his strongest appeal to?
Clearly there is work to do if people want to stand on “inclusion.”
I don’t know where you were sitting but what I saw was an amazing group of energized people who came from all wards in the city and represented the demographics of the city very well in age, color, identity, and ethnicity. In this sad political time it was obvious that folks in New Haven are ready to move forward with open minds and open hearts and work together to make this City a place where all can be heard and where all belong.
To all the naysayers & complainers: If you are not part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.
The photo at the top of this page proves, intentionally or unintentionally, that you are wrong.
“There is no way we can rely on a plantation economy from Yale (see NHRising) or a tax and spend model from homeowners (see Harp administration) to bring us beyond our city’s financial, political, and cultural challenges.
We must attract and nourish businesses to grow here”
Allowing one or two more flights into Tweed must be the first order of business.
Wondering what the thoughts are surrounding crime. There’s been a four months long crime wave in New Haven going back to July. Crime is way up in ALL categories. Violent crime is up 42%. Other crime is up 19%, and Property Crime is up 10%. The problem has largely gone unreported by the media, and unaddressed by the Mayor’s office.
At the end of June 2019, crime was actually DOWN 10% year over year. Mayor Harp was highlighting the progress as she ran for re-election. But in the last 4 months the downward trend has reversed itself and there’s been a spoke in crime. What was once a 10% decrease year over year, has become a 10% increase.
See the details here ===>
LoveNH, economic development is one of the transition team’s focus areas. You may want to share your ideas with them.
Checking, the next session is on a Sunday afternoon, which presumably will be a better time for some people. Given that the demographics of the room did not match those of the city, what can the transition team do to bring more people into the process? As you note, a number of speakers gushed about Justin. To his credit, he said that this was not what the meeting was about and noted that some of the people in the room had backed Mayor Harp.
No, no way to clone Tom Breen! (But maybe send a second reporter next time, if necessary? It’ll be on a Sunday afternoon.)
Today’s Yale Daily News has an article that does touch on the other topics discussed Saturday, while noting that education was the main focus:
In order to reach more people in all the diverse neighborhoods in the city, it would be great if Mayor Elicker held a mayor’s night out in each of the city’s middle schools. Many people have transportation issues and childcare issues and work more than one job and take buses to get around which makes it difficult to get to a meeting, but most neighborhoods have one or more middle schools in or nearby their neighborhood, which makes it more likely that they could attend at least one of the meetings.
Also, if he’s holding a meeting in a neighborhood with a large number of residents who’s primary language is not English, he should have a translator available so that people can speak in their native language, and then can understand the entire conversation spoken in English.
@Checking: Really? Some of us see what we want to see. Others see what’s in front of us. Perhaps you stayed in a corner… did you circulate? And do you really expect a few photos most of which show the same focus group (hence the same folks over and over) to capture the entire audience in attendance? Most of us saw the diversity of this city well represented. Also note that translators were available to help those who required them.
You can try your best to convince people that it was diverse and reflected the city. It did not. Most of the people were 60+. Most of the people were white. Most of the people, like yourself, thought it was diverse.
“@Interested Resident—-The photo at the top of this page proves, intentionally or unintentionally, that you are wrong.”
Perhaps you should scroll down as every other photo depicts a wide diversity of color within the group. BTW: True diversity is not defined only by skin color!
Checking, the top photo covered about 40% of the room. The composition of the participants varied across the room, as illustrated by the photos of the group discussing education issues. That group was predominantly black and brown people.
You made an important point in your first post. The participants, white and POC, likely have more resources than the average New Havener. One of the hardest challenges for the transition team will be bringing folks with fewer resources into the process.
I don’t know why they did it, but the Independent posted an overabundance of black folks in the images. Using the close up logic of photos, you’d have to then believe that no Hispanic folks were there. If you look at the top photo, that resembled most of the room. At the very most, a quarter of the room were people of color.
Heather C., good idea. One of the challenges for the Elicker Administration will be reaching out to folks who speak neither English or Spanish. Finding Spanish translators is fairly straightforward. (The large group conversations on Saturday had simultaneous translation.) Finding Pashto or Swahili translators is harder.
Checking, I don’t think there was anything nefarious in the photo editing. Paul and Tom decided to focus the article on the education discussion. (Tom is an excellent reporter but he can only be one place at a time.) I think everyone believes that is education is one of the most significant issues facing the city. The participants in this discussion were predominantly black and brown.
There was such good energy at this event, and I think the majority of people present were excited to share their ideas! Not everyone agreed about everything, but in my group, people shared in a civil way. I hope that Justin can think of ways to continue to capture that energy and engage us as volunteers.
While there are definitely barriers to participation in an event like this, especially across class, which also manifests in participation across racial and ethnic groups as well, the transition team did make an effort to reach a lot of people. I appreciated that a call went out to NHPS parents (as always in English and Spanish). There will also be a survey to get additional input.
I’m interested in knowing where this meeting was announced. This article is the first that I heard of it.
NHPS had a Minority Teacher Recruiter who successfully recruited teachers of color to New Haven. What happened to that position?
@ Checking and Samuel T. Ross-Lee
Some critics will always obsess over a single cloud on a sunny day.
Over 200 New Haveners, black,white,brown, male, female, old, young, affluent, middle and working class, gathered together Saturday morning to discuss the city’s future.
Convened by Justin Elicker and his Transition Team,
people met in several different focus groups to discuss specific major issues and concerns, and make recommendations.
Those who were present know that the gathering was representative of this city.
Spanish translation was provided for non- English speakers.
There were black and white facilitators.
Rules of respect and decorum were set at the start of the meeting, and met. People freely expressed their views.
Although one or two attendees expressed their happiness about the coming Elicker administration, Elicker discouraged such expressions. He acknowledged that everyone present did not support his campaign. He wanted the focus to be on improving the city, not on him.
There were several focus groups. This article focused on the education group, which included several black educators.
There was no NHI conspiracy to highlight black people for whatever weird reason some might speculate. That education focus group was comprised of black, white and Hispanic individuals.
This was a great meeting which produced great ideas for Elicker and his Transition Team to consider.
It is time to leave behind the race baiting and racially divisive tactics of the recent Harp campaign.
People are moving forward to heal the divide and unite this community.
This was no secret meeting. It was announced and promoted in the media. Hundreds of people knew about it. Over 200 chose to attend the early morning meeting. A later time may have drawn a larger group.
The next meeting will be tis Sunday afternoon at 2pm at High School in the Community.
[Editor: When we cover wide/ranging events like this, we try to focus on one issue in particular. We decided to go to the breakout session on schools. That is why those photos show people who participated in that section.]
With all of those words, you failed to answer the very simple question. If answering the question is not something that you can do, maybe you should not address a commenter who did nothing but asked A QUESTION.
I didn’t say it was a conspiracy, but look back at the images and ask yourself why a lot of black folks are depicted two and three times each. Look for yourself.
We have a guy on here (McCarthy) who claims that more than a third of the people were people of color and then states the top photo (which shows less than 10% percent people of color) represents only 40% of the room. That would mean that more than half of the remaining 60% would need to be folks of color.
That was simply not anywhere near the case. If you can not accept the facts, then you ought to go back to fawning over Trump.
Checked, the participants at the Education table, which was not in the top photo, were about 60% people of color. But the more important issue is how the transition team can involve a population that is broadly representative of the city. Adding venues in additional neighborhoods would help. But when I have attended similar city events in Dwight, Dixwell, and the Hill, the participants have skewed older and whiter than the neighborhoods.
Even if I agreed with your assessment (which I don’t), are you content that a mayor “talk” of inclusion without really achieving it?
@Checking and Samuel T. Ross-Lee et al.
I provided the incorrect date for the next Elicker Transition Team Public Input Community Meeting.
It will be held on Sunday, December 8th, 2pm, at High School in the Community, NOT next Sunday.
None of the responses seem to satisfy you. I was there. It was a diverse group. Those who wanted to come came. No one can make people come to a public meeting, just like no one can make people vote. An open invitation was given to all residents. Justin Elicker excluded no group.
The idea of welcoming public input in his administration is a genuine expression and desire for inclusion and transparency.
If you would like more minority representation, you should attend the next meeting, and tell or bring several friends.
Donald Trump has nothing to do with this matter.
ALL of my words were not devoted to address your question. I did answer your question, maybe not to your satisfaction. Information announcing this meeting was disseminated through the Elicker website, email, social media, and a 11/8/19 article in the New Haven Independent titled, “TRANSITION BRINGS NEW HAVENS TOGETHER.”
You might want to check out that article.
I trust satisfactory information has been presented to answer your question this time.
On numerous occasions, you have responded to me and others with whom you may disagree in a rather negative, nasty, dismissive and condescending tone which is unbecoming of a member of the clergy who should be able to disagree with people in an agreeable manner as a gentleman and a Christian with grace, class, and kindness, instead of bitterness, resentment and condescension.