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Charter Administrator Joins School Board

by Melissa Bailey | Dec 13, 2012 9:08 am

(27) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Melissa Bailey Photo Mayor John DeStefano has tapped Che Dawson, a longtime youth worker now serving as an assistant principal at Amistad Academy Elementary School, to fill the latest vacancy on the city’s Board of Education.

Dawson (pictured) got sworn into a four-year term at the school board’s regular meeting this week at 54 Meadow St. He replaces Ferdinand Risco, Jr., whose term expired in September. Risco had been doubling as a member of the State Board of Education.

Dawson, who’s 38 and grew up in the Church Street South projects, has spent his career working with kids. He served as executive director of LEAP, a not-for-profit youth development organization, before joining the mayor’s office in 2007 as deputy chief of staff. He went on to create the city’s new youth department later that year. He has also worked for the Success Academy charter schools in Harlem. He has three kids: one too young for school and two who attend St. Thomas’ Day School, a small parochial school in East Rock.

In September, Dawson joined Achievement First, New Haven’s not-for-profit hometown charter school organization, as an assistant principal at the Amistad Academy Elementary School on Edgewood Avenue. His official title is “director of school operations.”

He said he doesn’t come to the school board with an agenda in mind. He plans to “use my experience growing up in New Haven,” and working with city kids, to guide his decisions on the board.

Rev. Boise Kimber, a critic of the plan to sell an empty Newhallville school to Achievement First, blasted Dawson’s appointment as representative of a disturbing growing influence of the charter organization on the Board of Ed.

Achievement First (AF) runs five public charter schools in New Haven. After years of bitter fights with charter proponents, Mayor DeStefano made peace with AF and even joined its board as he launched the city’s school reform drive. He brought onto the school board Alex Johnston, then-CEO of ConnCAN, an education watchdog group that has fought at the state level for funding for charter schools and changes in teacher certification. (Johnston has since left the group, which has no direct affiliation with Achievement First.)

Kimber noted that in addition to Dawson, board member Myra Jones-Taylor has an AF connection: Her husband, Matt Taylor, a former Amistad Academy principal, is AF’s point person in charge of a new residency program run jointly by the school board and the charter group. The program trains city teachers who aspire to be principals by embedding them for half a year each at charter and district schools.

Kimber said AF is too closely connected to the Board of Ed. He cited three examples of that “connection”: the future-principal training program; the shuttling of students back and forth between AF and city public schools; negotiations like the current proposed deal to see the MLK school.

Asked about that criticism Wednesday, Dawson downplayed his affiliation.

“I’ve been working with Achievement First for 5 months,” he said. “I’ve been working with New Haven kids for 20 years. If you ask people about Che Dawson, most of them” think about those 20 years, and don’t even know he now works for a charter school. Dawson started working for LEAP at age 19.

Dawson said “if there’s any conflicts, or anything that even appears as a conflict for me, I would raise it with our legal counsel and recuse myself from any of those types of decisions.”

“In terms of the mayor’s appointment,” he said, he feels he was chosen as a youth advocate, not as a charter proponent. “I don’t think that’s why I’m there. Nor do I feel that’s who I’m representing.”

“If there’s a legitimate question about my affiliation” with AF, he said, “I’m happy to address it.”

Paul Bass contributed reporting.

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posted by: Solsbury on December 13, 2012  9:49am

Gee, I thought that a charter school “assistant principal” had to follow the same rules as the public schools…
they have to be certified as both a teacher and administrator (is Mr. Dawson?)
and, they are not allowed to be on a Board of Ed that oversees them… (I know that the NHPS Bd of Ed doesn’t employ AF people, but they DO bear responsibility for transportation/special ed, etc… for those kids that are in town)

posted by: streever on December 13, 2012  10:02am

I agree with Dawson, who I have had occasion to meet, and been quite impressed by, that he should be first judged by his 20 years of service to New Haven kids.

I think it is important for the public to be aware of his employment, and am grateful for Bass covering the story with this angle, but like Johnston and Jones-Taylor, I think Dawson is a good person and a good appointment to the board.

As citizens, we need to be vigilant of ALL leaders, perhaps especially those who are good people, and we can do that by reading news coverage and seeing what impact they have on the ground. I think Kimber takes it a step too far by assuming that Dawson will do evil with no evidence of that to date.

I think the BOE needs to be moved to a hybrid model of elections and appointments, but I do believe that Dawson, Jones-Taylor, and Johnston are good appointments, and I am glad to see them on board.

(Just to name my own bias: I like my neighbor Jones-Taylor and her husband Matt very much as people and neighbors, and have been an enthusiastic supporter of Johnston’s presence on the Board from his initial appointment, although I do not know him socially.)

posted by: Threefifths on December 13, 2012  10:09am

This is why we need a elected school board.A elected school board represents the people, not politicians. Politically appointed boards often only represent the interests of the person who appoints members.As the BOE stands now it is nothing more then mayoral control like you have in New York with KING Bloomberg.Major cities Like New York Boston, Chicago,puppet school boards much like NEW Haven who take away democratic checks and balances, makes it much easier to push austerity and privatization.The people must rise up and demanding that thses judas goat non elected school boards be replaced with a elected school board.Look at Chicago.

November 11, 2012


Support for Elected School Board Growing in Chicago

Filed under: Mayoral control Chicago — millerlf @ 11:35 am

Aldermen push for city-wide referendum on elected school board

BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND ROSALIND ROSSI Staff Reporters November 8, 2012 Chicago Sun Times

Independent Chicago aldermen vowed Thursday to push for a citywide referendum on an elected school board opposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, emboldened by 86 percent support from voters in parts of 35 wards.
Despite a parliamentary maneuver by a mayoral ally that blocked referenda in 10 Chicago wards, education activists in 327 precincts went door-to-door to gather the signatures needed to put the elected school board question on the ballot. The results were overwhelming. By an 86.6 percent margin, 65,763 Chicagoans said they would prefer an elected school board to the current system of seven mayoral appointees confirmed by the City Council.
Chicago has the only school district in the state that does not have an elected school board.

Notice 65,763 Chicagoans said they would prefer an elected school board to the current system of seven mayoral appointees confirmed by the City Council.

http://millermps.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/support-for-elected-school-board-growing-in-chicago/

posted by: westville man on December 13, 2012  11:39am

Ok, Streever, let me get this straight:  You can endorse 3 people (w baggage) for appointment whom you like or are neighbors with, but others, like me, who supported Michael Smart’s appointment based upon my knowledge of, and relationship to, him are considered naive, unaware of what’s happening in NH and dont realize that good intentions, motives, etc aren’t enough?  Unbelievable….

posted by: streever on December 13, 2012  11:46am

WVM:
No, not at all. Sorry for any confusion in my presentation of my point of view. I didn’t have time to footnote it ;-).

I think that the appointments of those 3 are good—in and of themselves—but do not think that it is enough.

I also think that the board needs to become a hybrid model of elected and appointed.

I also was careful to not say that the 3 of them deserve no criticism. Instead, I said that we need to be vigilant citizens, and actively criticize and judge their actions, votes, and decisions, and that I appreciate Paul writing about them because it gives us the knowledge we need to judge their actions as members of the Board.

Your post about Smart was an enthusiastic approval—mine about these 3 is a cautious hedge. That is the difference. While I welcome their appointment, I believe it must be coupled with critical thought and careful consideration of each of their actions, and I appreciate Bass giving us insight into their employment and background.

I’m sorry that my opinion doesn’t fit into your constructed narrative of my viewpoints.

posted by: Bishop on December 13, 2012  11:46am

As someone who has lived in places with both elected and unelected school boards I can say on balance I come down in favor of unelected for two primary reasons:

1) An unelected school board de-politicizes the process.  For instance, in Texas where there are many elected school boards, whole cities, towns, and even the state are playing games with the state’s curriculum to remove things such as the teaching of evolution, sex-education, or the role of Texas as a slave state from the curriculum.  Apart from the whip-lash curriculum revision process this creates, the last thing I want is people playing games with the very information taught in our schools.
2) An elected school board is often ill-equiped to deal with the complex nature of education.  When you open up public elections for a school board, you end up with the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker making decisions about bussing, disciplinary policy, food service, and curriculum.  People with little to no knowledge about how children actually learn are placed in the position of having to make sweeping decisions about the futures of thousands of children without any of the proper experience.  While one could make a similar argument about unelected school boards, the likelihood of a mayor appointing people who know SOMETHING about schools when their political future is tied to their success is considerably greater (if not perfect).

posted by: Threefifths on December 13, 2012  11:50am

posted by: streever on December 13, 2012 9:02am
I think the BOE needs to be moved to a hybrid model of elections and appointments, but I do believe that Dawson, Jones-Taylor, and Johnston are good appointments, and I am glad to see them on board.

Johston was part of ConnCAN.Conncan was right wing and was againstteachers unions and for charter schools.Johston is against a elected school board ask hi m I did.As far as dawson and jonesthey may be good people.I to know dawson.But when you take the kings meat,You must do the kings biding.We will see.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 13, 2012  12:05pm

If the appointment of a sitting Assistant Principal of a school operating in this city over which the Board of Education is suppose to have authority is not proof that Charter Schools are NOT public schools I don’t know what is. 

If Charter Schools are public schools as the owners and the advocates of these schools have been claiming, tell me if it is even possible for an administrator of another PUBLIC school to be appointed to the Board of Education and then have the power to self-select the issues from which they will recuse themselves.

The lies and manipulations put forth by the Charter School movement in general and the Achievement First corporation in particular are astounding, to say the least.  Here is just the latest one.  The obvious hubris of the DeStefano Administration and the other Charter Schools Board members and supporters who cannot see or admit the extreme conflict of interest here, where the Mayor of this city sits on the Board of Achievement First and then appoints one of their employees to sit on his board, is sickening.

If Mr. Dawson’s 20 years as a youth worker were so important to his appointment, why did they have to wait until he was hired by the Achievement First to appoint him to the BOE? This is a blatant power grab by the Charter School movement and John DeStefano is complicit in that move. 

The Rev. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: westville man on December 13, 2012  1:10pm

Streever: no confusion, thanks for the “difference”.  Like I said, “Unbelievable”.

posted by: streever on December 13, 2012  1:52pm

WVM:
I’m surprised you see no difference between the (effective) statements of:

Me - While I think this is a move in the right direction, much more needs to be done, and I’m grateful to the press for putting a spotlight on this person so we can all be vigilant about them, although I personally like them.

You - This guy is THE BOMB and he is GREAT!

Knowing that you see no difference between those two positions helps me see why you are engaging me in debate on this, but doesn’t help me reach a resolution with you. If you refuse to accept that the two positions are incredibly different, I don’t know what else to say.

posted by: westville man on December 13, 2012  2:33pm

That would be a first!

posted by: darnell on December 13, 2012  2:57pm

So Streever likes all of the appointments who work for AF, have spouses who have worked for AF, have spouses now work for AF and the BOE.

Makes sense…?

posted by: streever on December 13, 2012  3:11pm

@support the neighbors
I do happen to like them!

I still think we need:
1. Increased transparency to ensure that good work is done
2. A hybrid BOE with elected and appointed members to ensure that no one group controls the BOE
3. Public oversight and vigilance of ALL appointees, as I said before, ESPECIALLY the ones that we like, because being good people does not insulate us from making bad decisions.

Good people make bad decisions every day.

In my experience, I’ve found Johnston, Taylor-Jones, and Dawson to be good people.

Despite that, they are not exempt from criticism, observation, nor vigilance: rather, we need to pay careful attention to their decisions and votes.

I’m not sure why this is so controversial? I believe that we need to pay careful attention to all of our representatives, appointed or elected, and extra attention to those who we are biased to like already.

As part of that, I admit my positive bias towards these three individuals.

Is this confusing or unclear? I am not sure what the controversy seems to be?

In the case of Dawson, I do not think it is fair to ignore his 20 years of work with New Haven kids, and that any judgement of him should include that experience as well as his current employment. That doesn’t mean it is wrong to criticize him! I just think we need to make sure we’re looking at the whole person.

I feel the same way about every elected and appointed official—including Elicker and Hausladen, both of whom I support and have disagreed with before in regards different issues.

posted by: darnell on December 13, 2012  3:20pm

I like Dawson also, and Johnston’s not a bad guy. I don’t know the lady. Despite the fact that they are likable, it seems odd that out of the 125,000 people in New Haven, the mayor can only find qualified residents to sit on the BOE who have some connection to AF. Many of us have 20 years of experience, I have over 29, yet, because of my political affiliations and independence, I would never be considered by this mayor.

posted by: Honest in New Haven on December 13, 2012  3:30pm

Another example of why we need an elected Board of Education.  Dawson is a nice guy, and well intentioned, but he will never stand up to the Mayor or make a decision DeStefano does not like.  That’s why he was appointed. And BTW, as Chief of Youth Services for the City, he never produced anything resembling a youth strategy.

posted by: streever on December 13, 2012  3:32pm

@support the neighbors
I think that is really valid criticism, especially to make of the Mayor: I think that if we move to a hybrid BOE, we could address the problem of the Mayor appointing people based on criteria that the rest of the city may not support.

posted by: darnell on December 13, 2012  4:45pm

@Honest in New Haven

I don’t see it as Dawson standing up to the mayor, which may or may not be true, I think the bigger issue is how we allow either a public school administrator (they go back and forth about whether or not Amistad Academy is a public school) or a major BOE contractor (AA). Is he going to stand up to his employer?

posted by: Threefifths on December 13, 2012  5:35pm

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 13, 2012 11:05am

The lies and manipulations put forth by the Charter School movement in general and the Achievement First corporation in particular are astounding, to say the least.  Here is just the latest one.  The obvious hubris of the DeStefano Administration and the other Charter Schools Board members and supporters who cannot see or admit the extreme conflict of interest here, where the Mayor of this city sits on the Board of Achievement First and then appoints one of their employees to sit on his board, is sickening

Keep it come Brother.Slam dunk.You mean to tell me that King John could not find any Retired Teachers to sit on this school board?

posted by: Threefifths on December 13, 2012  6:17pm

@Bishop.A elected school board represents the people, not politicians. Politically appointed boards often only represent the interests of the person who appoints members.As the BOE stands now it is nothing more then mayoral control like you have in New York with KING Bloomberg.Major cities Like New York Boston, Chicago,puppet school boards much like NEW Haven who take away democratic checks and balances, makes it much easier to push austerity and privatization.But the people are rising up and demanding that this judas goat non elected school boards be replaced with a elected school board.Look at Chicago.

November 11, 2012


Support for Elected School Board Growing in Chicago

Filed under: Mayoral control Chicago — millerlf @ 11:35 am

Aldermen push for city-wide referendum on elected school board

BY FRAN SPIELMAN AND ROSALIND ROSSI Staff Reporters November 8, 2012 Chicago Sun Times

Independent Chicago aldermen vowed Thursday to push for a citywide referendum on an elected school board opposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, emboldened by 86 percent support from voters in parts of 35 wards.
Despite a parliamentary maneuver by a mayoral ally that blocked referenda in 10 Chicago wards, education activists in 327 precincts went door-to-door to gather the signatures needed to put the elected school board question on the ballot. The results were overwhelming. By an 86.6 percent margin, 65,763 Chicagoans said they would prefer an elected school board to the current system of seven mayoral appointees confirmed by the City Council.
Chicago has the only school district in the state that does not have an elected school board.

Notice 65,763 Chicagoans said they would prefer an elected school board to the current system of seven mayoral appointees confirmed by the City Council.

http://millermps.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/support-for-elected-school-board-growing-in-chicago/

posted by: Honest in New Haven on December 13, 2012  7:31pm

@support thy neighbors

I agree that there is a conflict here in multiple ways.  I think we also agree that Board of Ed members need to act in the best interests of the children in the system, tempered by the fiscal realities of the city.  But knowing that the BOE is and has been for the past 20 years the last bastion of City Hall cronyism, the Mayor gets what he wants from that Board and dissent is stiffled. Budgets are approved with minimal review, the Mayor’s Office decides which contractors are selected to build schools, and he hires senior officials without BOE input.  Enough said.

posted by: JMS on December 14, 2012  11:47am

Casting aside for the moment any conspiracy theories regarding professional or political affiliations or what have you I would like to say for the record that I know Che Dawson to be a fantastic and tireless champion of youth issues in New Haven and I would support his appointment to any position that allows him to continue the good work that he has been doing for many years. Che is absolutely one of the good guys whose commitment and character cannot be overstated.

Now back to your regularly scheduled bickering.

JMS

posted by: Bishop on December 14, 2012  7:18pm

@Threefifths

Undoubtedly an elected board represents the people more directly - no one would debate that (as it’s obvious).  However, I think the problem is that because they’re so directly accountable they are considerably more inclined to make bad decisions based on popular whims.  No one in their right mind debates the fact that we should teach evolution as part of our science curriculum or the history of slavery from our history classes - but were it the “will of the people” to remove those things from our schools, that wouldn’t legitimize that nonsense any more.  That’s why you need an insulated board to protect the educational process from political tampering.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first person to defend the incompetence of New Haven Public Schools having worked at one and watched the wholesale incompetence of those in charge, but democratically elected boards are far worse and far more politicized and full of posturing and nonsense.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 14, 2012  9:41pm

All this talk about Dawson’s “niceness” is so highly irrelevant as to be laughable.  Policies and rules of conduct are in place to protect our public institutions from illicit and improper behavior despite the character or affability of appointees to them.

Dawson’s “niceness” has NOTHING to do with whether or not his appointment represents a conflict of interest for the Mayor, as Dawson is an administrator of a purported “public” school and the Mayor who appointed him sits on the Board that runs the private corporation that employs Dawson.

He’s a “good guy”? So what? There are a lot of good people who would not present the conflict of interest that is apparent in Dawson’s appointment.  But since the commenters here seem to think that Dawson’s being “nice” is so paramount, I’m led to believe that “nice” is some sort of code word for something else.  What is it?

Rev. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: JMS on December 15, 2012  4:33pm

Mr. Ross Lee,

I’m not entirely sure what you are implying. I don’t think I ever used the word “nice”. Did some one else say “nice”? My comments were meant to indicate that I know Mr. Dawson to be an extremely well qualified and competent person of great character who is well suited for this or any position in the field in question. He also happens to be a nice guy but as you mentioned this is not really a factor here. If you can’t see that he is extremely competent then you either (1) don’t know enough about him or (2) have been clouded by your political concerns.

JMS

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on December 15, 2012  6:41pm

@JMS

If you didn’t write anything about him being “nice”, then why do you feel the need to respond to what I wrote? 

As for what you did write, this question: When did “extremely competent” become the acceptable standard for conflict of interest violations?

Finally, as this is a political issue, my “political concerns” are VERY relevant here.

Rev. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: Threefifths on December 15, 2012  7:12pm

@Bishop

The current system we have now is load with political patronage.In fact check out the background of all of the BOE Members and you will find a link with the mayor.Across this country people are tired of Mayoral control of the school boards.Look at New York Under King Bloomberg.He has turn more schools over to the charter system then any mayor in the country.People in new haven better wake up,Because it will be happing here.The players are all ready here.Garth Harries comes from New York as STEFAN PRYOR Education Commissioner.Also with Politically appointed boards there are no effective mechanisms in place for input from the teachers, parents, and students.Also with Politically appointed boards the community remains shut out of the decision-making process, leaving no avenues for recommendations or feedback from the people who are directly impacted.We need a system in place that gives teachers, parents, and students a voice in forming important educational policies and that system is a elected school board.Let the voters vote on this.

posted by: JMS on December 16, 2012  1:23am

Mr. Ross Lee,

My apologies. Your previous comments followed mine directly and so I mistakenly assumed some of what you wrote was directed at me (in fairness understandable since I was after all commenting in support of Mr. Dawson). And as far as politics go you are certainly entitled to your concerns. I just don’t happen to share them in this case.

JMS

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