Two nights after the Board of Education voted to shut down three alternative high schools, city alders sought details on what comes next.
They sought those details at a Wednesday night hearing at City Hall of the Board of Alders Education Committee.
The hearing, already scheduled to discuss alternative schools, followed Monday night’s Board of Ed vote Monday night to close New Light High School and New Horizons School. Confronted with state budget cuts and the phase-out of a major federal grant, the Board of Education has been scrambling to close a $14.3 million projected deficit in the coming fiscal year’s budget. Plans close for consolidating New Light and New Horizons with the district’s largest alternative school, Riverside Academy, by summer.
Six alders, administrators from alternative schools, Board of Ed President Darnell Goldson and Director of Instruction Gilbert Traverso attended the meeting on Wednesday evening. On top of inviting members of the public to share their reactions to the decision, alders discussed the importance of transparency. To make sure that students, parents and teachers are involved in the process of closing and consolidating the schools, the alders asked fort a detailed timeline from the superintendent’s office and the Board of Ed.
“I am asking if we can request to make information on the process of consolidation available,” said Fair Haven Alder Kenneth Reveiz. “Could we have a detailed timeline of what’s going to come?”
While Goldson agreed to the importance of transparency, he also noted that some decisions must be “privately made” because the Board of Education is “dealing with both minors and personnel issues with students.”
Traverso said considering how the superintendent “has been very deliberate about communicating with all the stakeholders,” one can expect school officials to “continue to be transparent.” He added that the superintendent’s office will be reporting on the progress of devising a plan for consolidation to the Board of Education on June 24.
Riverside Academy Principal Larry Conaway, New Light Vice-Principal Paul Camarco and New Horizons Principal Maureen Bransfield all discussed at the hearing the positive impact alternative schools had in supporting students who do not fit into a traditional academic setting. Bransfield said that the three schools turned “programs that were once seen as a receptacle for failure into a conduit for success.”
“With the decision on Monday, we are now sailing the ship and building it at the same time,” said Conaway. “We are going through an emotional rollercoaster. “But we are looking to work with the superintendent’s office and the board of education to make this work.”
Five residents testified to the impact alternative schools had in the New Haven community.
“I want to express my concern that the multiple benefits of the alternative high school experience are being ignored as the board of education seeks to make budget cuts in these difficult times,” said Sarah Greenblatt of Wooster Square. “New Haven has a proud history of offering an array of learning settings that help disadvantaged high school students to make a positive transition to adulthood. We cannot abandon these students.”
In response to the concerns from the school administrators and district residents, Goldson said that “listening to people passionately advocate for alternative education” has been “not easy.” However, noting that budget cuts will continue and “it’s not going to get easier,” he added that members of the New Haven community “are all going to have to suffer through the pain of trying to right this.”
Traverso added that while he sympathizes with the “emotional loss” of the students and teachers, he trusts that the superintendent’s office will be able to come up with an “effective alternative plan” for alternative education.
“I second the aspect of emotional perspective in terms of the loss our students are going through,” Traverso said. “However, I’m also optimistic that we are going to be able to provide a plan that is more financially responsible but yet also meeting the emotional needs of the students.”
Goldson and Traverso said they did not yet have answers to some of the alders’ questions about the new consolidated school.
If the superintendent is unable to renegotiate a cheaper lease for the current space Riverside Academy has in the Hill, it risks the possibility of being relocated somewhere else in the city. When Wooster Square Alder and Education Committee Chair Aaron Greenberg asked if the Board Ed asked about the location of the new consolidated school, Goldson responded that he did “not yet have that information.” The superintendent will work with the alternative school principals to “figure out which space is better” based on the enrollment numbers and the needs of the students, Goldson said.
Greenberg asked what will replace New Light and New Horizon at their buildings. Goldson replied that he is “not quite sure what will happen yet.”
Promising that the process of consolidation will not “happen behind closed doors,” Goldson encouraged the alders and the members of the public to contact the superintendent’s office.