It’s Official: Board Votes To Close 3 Schools

Christopher Peak PhotoOne magnet high school and two alternative schools will permanently shutter next month as a result of a vote Monday night by the Board of Education, after more than 100 people showed up for one last rescue attempt.

Cortlandt V.R. Creed, an inter-district magnet school that has been stuck in temporary quarters in North Haven, plus two of the district’s three alternative schools, New Light and New Horizons, will all close after their last class of seniors graduates.

Riverside Academy, the largest alternative school, could be relocated elsewhere in the city if the superintendent is unable to renegotiate a cheaper lease for its current space in the Hill.

The Board of Education made those painful decisions at a meeting at Celentano School, where at least 150 people crowded into the cafeteria in a last-ditch effort to save their schools.

“This is a very difficult situation to be in. As someone who’s been an educator for at least 20 years now, I never signed up wanting to make these kinds of decisions. It’s hard looking at our 21,500 students, but we have a system right now that is facing tough fiscal constraints,” Superintendent Carol Birks said. “There’s no Superwoman coming this time.”

Birks estimated that the district will save up to $5 million by closing three schools and ending three leases. That will put a major dent in the coming year’s $14.35 million budget deficit, which could get even bigger if alders don’t approve the mayor’s request for a $5 million increase in school funding as part of the overall city budget.

At Creed, Birks said, the district expects to recoup $2.44 million by halving the staffing costs, ending the lease, making fewer bus trips to North Haven and eliminating sports teams. At the two alternative schools, Birks said, the district will save $1.33 million by reducing staff, consolidating administrators and combining custodians.

(Birks said a $460,000 savings figure referenced at a Finance & Operations Committee meeting last week had been misreported as the cost of closing Creed, when it was actually the estimate of phasing the school out in a different location.)

Many students along with some graduates turned up for Monday’s meeting in their Creed gear. The boys basketball team, wearing their white home-team jerseys, stood in one corner, while the girls team went to the other side of the room. A group of freshmen in blue polos sat together near the front and held each other as they cried.

Creed’s defenders were each allowed only three minutes to describe how they feel about the vote: an end to the intimacy of a smaller high school, a medicine-focused curriculum, and an outsized athletic program.

Jaelan Hicks, a basketball player who wiped her nose before stepping up to the podium, said she’d probably forget a lot about her high school experience, but she would always remember Monday’s board meeting, when her teammates “stood up here and tried to save something very special to us,” she said.

“The bonds we established will never be replaced, and the transition to another school and routine will be very difficult for us,” Hicks said. “We always have done more with less, and we will do whatever it takes to keep Creed open for the future. I look around the room and see the support Creed has and ask why you would break up something that is so united.”

They implored the school board to give Creed the permanent New Haven home it had long sought, from its founding in a Hamden parochial school in 1993 to its moves to a Long Wharf facility with a leaky roof in 2012 and current location in North Haven in 2013.

Many criticized the Board of Education for repeatedly threatening to close Creed, likely causing a hit to the school’s enrollment numbers, especially the white suburbanites the school needed to meet state benchmarks. Jacob Spell, one of the board’s two non-voting student representatives and a senior at Creed, said those earlier discussions should have been an opportunity to plan for the school’s future.

“The current situation that Creed is in can partly be blamed on past iterations of the board. However, that is not excuse for a lack of action on our part. Creed has never been treated fairly since I’ve been on the board in giving resources it needed to thrive, such as a building in New Haven,” Spell said. “Every time Creed has been brought up in meetings and it looked like the board would rectify its mistakes, nothing substantive ever emerged. I can’t say I’m surprised that the board is turning its back on Creed, but I can say that I’m disappointed.”

But the Board of Education decided it is done “kicking the can down the road,” as its president Darnell Goldson has said repeatedly during budget discussions. In a split 5-to-2 vote, members decided to close the school.

Joe Rodriguez and Ed Joyner both voted to table Creed’s closure for a future meeting until they had clearer details about where students would be placed next year. They said they felt uncomfortable voting on such a drastic plan without assurances that students would have their pick of the competitive magnet school spots.

The two were outnumbered by the board’s five other members, who said it would be unfair to delay an already difficult decision any longer.

The board also voted unanimously to close down New Horizons and New Light. Working with the toughest students who’ve been kicked out of other high schools, the two alternative schools have struggled with high absenteeism and low graduation rates, Birks said. She plans to combine the programs into one “opportunity school,” while adding more programming at traditional high schools.

It also unanimously agreed to end the leases at 80 Hamilton St., the early childhood education offices; 654 Ferry St., the curricular offices and storage warehouse; and 560 Ella T. Grasso Blvd., home of Riverside Academy and Adult Education. Altogether, the district could save up to $1.22 million on rent.

Sheff Concern

Before the vote, Birks said that Creed was growing, by adding more racial minorities who, from the state’s point of view, jeopardized its magnet-school status and accompanying boost in funds.

In October, when the state took its official count, Creed had 250 students, about 45 short of the projected enrollment. The freshman class had 80 students, twice as many as the 41 seniors, suggesting that, at current rates, the school could have filled up all its seats within two years.

But each new class at Creed also contained a larger number of African-American and Hispanic students. In October, 91.2 percent of the students said they were black or brown. That went far above the 75 percent cut-off for “racial isolation” established by Sheff v. O’Neill, the landmark desegregation case.

The State Department of Education recently took the court’s standard, which had applied only to Hartford area magnet schools, and required compliance statewide. That change put Creed, which became an inter-district magnet school, at risk of a $121,000 penalty this year for its non-compliance. Within two years, the high school could have lost all its magnet funding, the state warned, totaling around $738,000 of the school’s $3.32 million operating costs.

Mayor Toni Harp said that the vote symbolized a “failure of the magnet school system.” The extra state dollars — nearly $1.7 billion dollars — helped New Haven rebuild almost all of its schools, but the city hadn’t been able to adhere to the regulations that came with the money. “We’re going to have bigger problems next year, when the other schools don’t meet their numbers,” she warned. “It really is time to get the rules changed.”

To avoid an imminent loss of funding, Creed students will now be shuffled into the district’s other schools, reapplying through a dedicated placement process. Starting Wednesday, they will be able to submit their picks online, until the lottery closes the following Sunday, May 27.

Counselors will be available for one-on-one advising sessions, and high schools will hold open houses, Birks said. Students will find out their placement before June 1, after which they will have one week to accept.

Sherri Davis-Googe, the director of school choice, said she could not promise that Creed students will get their top choice. Even their third-choice alternative wasn’t guaranteed, she said when asked by Rodriguez.

Because other incoming applicants were already placed into their first-round picks on May 4, Creed students will be competing for expanded seats wherever schools can create them, Davis-Googe explained.

How Best To Transition

With the closures happening late in spring, parents said they worried that their children would be stuck in the district’s two comprehensive high schools, Wilbur Cross and Hillhouse, where they’d be swallowed up without individual attention. In fact, several parents said that had already happened to their kids before transferring to Creed.

Mai Bradley said her freshman daughter had been “aggressively bullied” and “assaulted twice” at Cross. “The only answer I could get from the administration after repeated visits to the school: Well, we have 1,600 students here, what do you expect us to do?” she said. Bradley’s daughter transferred to Creed last year, where her mom said that she’s thrived. “She’s on every girls sports team; she has friends,” Bradley said. “But most importantly, she feels safe to walk into school every day.”

Rodriguez asked for the vote to be delayed until June 25, when the superintendent will present more details on where students will end up next year.

He said he’d feel “uneasy” if his own daughter’s school was closed without a clearer plan. “I understand the financial limitations, but I would like to see a plan that ensures children at Creed go to whatever magnet school they feel they should go to,” he said. “I’m hearing discussions about a plan. I’m hearing that you’re working on it, but I feel uncomfortable not having that plan in front of me.” With the exception of Joyner, the other board members voted his motion down.

After a school closure, transitioning students into stronger schools is the most important factor in boosting academic outcomes, researchers at Stanford University found last year after analyzing 1,500 closures in 26 states.

According to the study, students who landed in better schools pushed ahead of peers in low-performing schools that stayed open, as if they’d had 10 to 40 extra days of class, while students who ended up in worse or similar schools fell behind by peers in the low-performing schools, as if they’d missed 20 to 80 days of class.

You can watch the entire meeting in the following Facebook Live video.

 

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posted by: Kids_First on May 15, 2018  9:11am

Though it saddens me to hear that New Haven is closing three schools, I have to agree with Jacob Spell.  There were a lot of mistakes made along the way in regards to Creed as a magnet high school in New Haven.  The lack of attention to the school by the BOE was evident.  Sustainability was never a focus (the constant movement of buildings was indicative of that).  I had doubts about a new superintendent but I must say that Dr. Birks is making tough “big picture” choices that must be acknowledged.  Making a decision to close any school is a hard one because in the moment you have to look beyond the initial impact and consider the larger outcome.  One thing I know about kids is that they are resilient with change and can conquer any obstacle with support and clear plans to do so.  I am hoping that New Haven does right by the students and allow them the opportunity to transition to places that accommodate their interests and goals.  It would be unfair to ask them to transition into comprehensive high schools with no comprehensive strategy to do so.  On another note, I am delighted at the poise and professionalism of the current BOE as it stands.  It appears that people are discovering their lanes and are staying in those lanes right now.  Some call it the “honeymoon” phase because of the new superintendent.  I hope that it becomes the norm.  Our kids need stability.  Teachers need to know they are considered.  The city needs a new reputation as it relates to the BOE.  Hopefully, the circus has permanently left town.

posted by: Fairhavener on May 15, 2018  9:29am

The district closes schools, but what are the alternatives? Where are the options for good schools?

posted by: concerned_neighbor on May 15, 2018  9:44am

New Haven took magnet money to build and run schools. Taking the money meant accepting certain rules, particularly regarding racial composition in enrollment. After spending millions (perhaps billions) of dollars this way and faced with withdrawal of said money because the schools do not meet the racial composition rules, the City and BOE clamor “change the rules!”

Regrettably, these circumstances are the result of a decade or more of incompetence, mismanagement, pork and patronage living the sort of field of dreams delusion - if we build it, high tests scores will come - and absence of any leadership.

Perhaps Birks can right the ship and steer the school system in a better direction. I wonder, however, when the tyranny of the minority will get to her.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on May 15, 2018  9:45am

It should be noted that the situations with which the new Superintendent has to confront in her first months on the job are the result of what the past Superintendents left her.  The condition of the School system here in New Haven is nothing for which she is culpable, but for which she is responsible now that she’s in the position.

These first months, and maybe an entire year (or more) should be a time of grace for Dr. Birks.  She did not create the problems that many gladly participated with, as long as they were getting a check, often a double-dipping check, and as long as the former Mayor had a cadre of working professionals who were loyal to him and his campaigns, because their jobs depended on their unbridled loyalty. 

A system of political patritism and personal greed must cumble at some point.  Well, this is the point in which maintaining that system is no longer tenable, and the system should be dismantled.  But, the blame should not be placed on the message, i.e., Dr. Birks, it should be placed where it belongs, on those who created and benefited from an improper system in the first place.

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on May 15, 2018  9:47am

Jaelan Hicks: “I look around the room and see the support Creed has and ask why you would break up something that is so united.”
ANSWER: it’s being shut because of high absenteeism and because New Haven’s Democrats-only govt lacks any “checks and balances” that other political parties automatically would provide. So ideology and cronyism, not economic reality, dictate virtually every New Haven—and State—expenditure.
“Mai Bradley said her freshman daughter had been ‘aggressively bullied’ and ‘assaulted twice’ at Cross.”
THEREFORE with a savings of $5Million, a small portion of that money could be used to hire extra security at Cross. If assaults are a regular occurrence which ultimately could generate expensive lawsuits, then extra security would save money, while allowing students to feel safer.
Mayor Toni Harp: “It really is time to get the rules changed.”
WRONG: that won’t fix the snowballing effect of unchecked one-Party governance at city and State level. And residents better be prepared to a rough ride, because the 1-Party end game is only going to get worse: Higher Taxes, more Service Cuts, more layoffs.
THE FIX: It really is time to get your GOVERNMENT changed by getting rid of every incumbent on Election Day. Then wait decades for new blood to stop the hemorrhage and create a more sustainable government.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 15, 2018  10:07am

Not Enough Notes:

1. This is a start. But it’s a shallow beginning to what needs to be deeper cuts and more consolidations.

2. The NHPS does not need another bulk, unaccountable $5 million check from taxpayers. We have one of the most expensive school districts in the country. Our teachers are among the very best paid and the administrators get huge six figure paychecks.

3. For years, the NHPS and the NH BOA have been warned to stop school construction; consolidate schools and focus on outcomes not outward facing buildings. And for just as long, the city’s leadership at the NHPS, the BOA and the mayor’s office including this mayor - have rejected and ignored that advice and taxpayer pleadings.

4. With state revenues faltering for many years now and despite multi-billion tax increases which this mayor supported along with the entire legislative group - the piper of delay and pray has ended at the state level.

5. But that hasn’t stopped Mayor Harp from proposing even more spending for the schools ($5 million) even as she proposes to keep her personal chauffeur and add to her growing staff by creating a new $75K (with benefits) personal social media queen - plus millions in new debt, a hinky finance plan to pay for pensions through borrowing, new programs, new spending.

6. The reality is another three schools at very least, need to be shuttered in addition to other unspecified cuts. This horror show has been going on for a long time. It has become a cesspool of employment and riches for the connected and a bane for taxpayers trying to hold their collective head above water.

posted by: LivingInNewHaven on May 15, 2018  10:15am

Sad chain of events. A few years back, Creed fought against being moved back into New Haven to be housed in the Hillhouse building. Had the administration of that school been honest with the parents and worked to make a home for Creed in that building, the school would most likely not have been closed last night.  I blame the school administrators who as one testified not long ago, “liked being in North Haven where it was quiet.” These kids should have priority when choosing where to attend next year.

posted by: Esbey on May 15, 2018  11:36am

I often disagree with Noteworthy, but in this case the notes above are worthy of careful consideration.

posted by: T-ski1417 on May 15, 2018  11:44am

Finally

posted by: Jeff Klaus on May 15, 2018  11:49am

Rev Ross-Lee - Loyalty, patronage, greed, dismantling the current system?  If I didn’t know any better, it sounds like that you are leading up to a call for charter schools!

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on May 15, 2018  12:27pm

Jeff Klaus,

But you do know better. The response to bad government is not the privatization of Government money and resources, as Charters have been allowed to do.

The response to bad government is better government, where money and resources remain in the public’s control, and all the behavior remains above board.

The sickness of your Charter businesses that you call schools is that you have been allowed to exploit lousy government, and in the process ruined the school system further.

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee, Pastor
The Immanuel Missionary Baptist Church
New Haven, CT

posted by: newhavenishome on May 15, 2018  1:04pm

I think this decision is sad but necessary. 

Dr. Birks keeps referencing other magnet schools at risk for losing their funding if they do not meet diversity benchmarks in the near future.  What schools are they?  Can we be proactive and try to avoid more closures?  I think there is room for consolidation and savings between schools. Not ideal, but a better alternative than outright closure.

It seems to me the issue is that we have too many inter-district magnet schools in New Haven. If we only had 2 or 3, then the non-New Haven students would be consolidated into fewer schools thereby giving us a chance to meet those state mandated benchmarks.

Ideally, New Haven needs to go back to quality neighborhood schools. Is it too late to right the ship?

posted by: wendy1 on May 15, 2018  1:56pm

Many of these kids are so damaged and traumatized, they require one on one teaching and therapy and small classes.  New Light High School was one of those progressive, compassionate, therapeutic schools for kids who had run out of options.  Am very sad to see it go.

posted by: repmd on May 15, 2018  2:15pm

Perhaps it is a good time to reconfigure the school make-up by decreasing the number of magnet schools. The loss of revenue from the state could be made up by the decrease in a need for transportation. Thus we could reduce the amount of money for buses now set at 25 million dollars. Some of the pre-k slots could be funded by school readiness dollars. The NHPS has become a complex organization with multiple funding streams and the BOE has to get a handle on all of the fiscal issues. And I do not think feeding the system more money will solve these problems. With a new superintendent we should have some new ideas.

posted by: 1644 on May 15, 2018  3:02pm

NewHavenishome:  Most of New Haven’s Magnet schools fail in their purpose of attracting white students.  NHI did an article a while back, and I believe two, Sound (58% white)  and ESUMS (33% white), met the goal, and two more were close, although the state is reporting Betsy Ross at over 25%.  The rest were far from the 25% white requirement.  You may look at individual schools throughout the state here: http://edsight.ct.gov/SASPortal/main.do
Non-magnets Hooker & Edgewood are also over 25% white.

posted by: Jeff Klaus on May 15, 2018  3:51pm

Rev - Perhaps you can provide us with a nearby example of a place with “better government”.  Bridgeport?  Hartford?  I’m especially interested in one where a large school district reaches the potential of most if not all of the children enrolled in its public schools.

Also, just curious if you reject the notion of privatization in other areas such as housing and healthcare.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on May 15, 2018  4:22pm

Klaus,

You just couldn’t need well enough alone, could you?  First of all, I don’t box myself in with the superficial restraints that you suggest.  Maybe you think you’re talking to one of the students/graduates of your “schools” who have been TRAINED to follow instructions, but not to think abstractly. 

My previous statement was about bad and better government. I was not about bad or better government in certain, limited spaces determined by you to consider. 

To respond to you question (for the last time) concerning the privatization of other aspects of society, my position is the same.  Anyone using government funds should have public oversight and transparency.  A bad idea is a bad idea.  It doesn’t matter where one applies that bad idea. N.B. I’m done with this and with you.

Rev. Ross-Lee

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on May 16, 2018  2:27pm

Klaus,

You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you?  First of all, I don’t box myself in with the superficial restraints that you suggest.  Maybe you think you’re talking to one of the students/graduates of your “schools” who have been TRAINED to follow instructions, but not to think abstractly.

My previous statement was about bad and better government. It was not about bad or better government, in particular, limited spaces determined by you to consider.

To respond to your question (for the last time), concerning the privatization of other aspects of society, my position is the same.  Anyone using government funds should have public oversight and transparency.  A bad idea is a bad idea.  It doesn’t matter where one applies that bad idea. N.B. I’m done with this and with you.

Rev. Ross-Lee

posted by: Maritza Baez on May 17, 2018  12:24am

Part 1
As a Creed parent who has been vocal about the BOE marginalizing our school which in turn became the cause of our low numbers, I will speak my peace. How could we attract students to a New Haven Sports Medicine Magnet School when:
1. We don’t have a proper school building for years and years
2. No gym
3. In North Haven
4. Constantly in the media with threats of closure
5. Never giving parents or community a truthful answer if the schools fate
6. Had a visit by Dr. Joyner and the Late Daisy Gonzalez who in turn announced how the BOE has neglected Hyde/Creed and that they needed to do right by them and bring them to New Haven giving false hope to the Creed community.
7. The BOE ignores the plea of parents to be included in the process for our new Superintendent… 1 forum ran by the City Wide Parent team which equaled three parents. Who with all due respect did not represent all parents.  a) I was never asked my opinion nor many parents I have asked.  b) the forum was put together quickly and sloppy not giving enough to get parent input. c) the New Haven Public School APPROVED City Wide Parent Team DOES NOT represent ALL of New Haven Parents.  d) We have awesome PTO’s in various (not all) schools that were and are never contacted for parent feed back.
8. At the Finance and Operations Meeting Creed, HSC, New Horizon, and New Light were presented for closure but the students of the alternative schools are being housed in one school Riverside. This was tabled due to the lack of information of what was going to happen to the Creed students. If there was a possibility for Creed to be housed in New Haven or if there was a plan for the students for the next school year and let’s not forget that NHPS allowed 8th graders to apply to Creed for the 2018 - 2019 school year now leaving these children without a magnet seat as well. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy “KIDS FIRST” I think not! How can you propose to close a school without a plan for the students?

posted by: Maritza Baez on May 17, 2018  12:32am

Part 2
9. On Wednesday, May 9th Creed staff had a meeting with individuals of NHPS and then parents received a call for a meeting the next day Thursday, May 10th. Yes, one day notice. Which was such short notice that not even the Superintendent could clear her schedule to attend so how were parents expected to attend.
10. Now Monday, 14th rolls around and the discussion about Creed was only about closure and the clear understanding that their school housed too many BROWN & BLACK STUDENTS not meeting the Magnet requirement. (Let me remind you I have been attending meetings for three years and this was the first time I heard this!) They were also informed that there was no guarantee of placement in a magnet school. Let’s not forget Creed is a magnet school
11. The meeting was full of Creed students, parents, alumni, and staff pouring their hearts out and the BOE did not even have the heart to table the motion until there was a true plan for our students
12. Closure was the decision leaving a room full of the Creed Community in tears and to add more salt to the wound they have security and POLICE enter the room as if there were criminals in the room instead of providing social and emotional support in standby the had Police Officers. How disrespectful to the community they just crushed. Shameful I tell you! This all brought me back to the night of the Superintendent vote. I approached Board Member Frank Redente who was sitting in his truck looking distraught and i asked him to please make the right decision for our kids. His response was and I quote him “It’s not about the kids, it’s never about the kids” This statement coming from a BOE member who’s position is to ensure our kids are put first just confirmed the politics that are on that board. Visit our FBook to see footage and pictures of the BOE meeting https://www.facebook.com/NHPSADVOCATES1/ Hyde/Creed have been marginalized and now abandoned by the majority of the BOE to save a budget they are not responsible 4

posted by: Sarah.Miller on May 17, 2018  9:53am

Full of respect and admiration for the Creed students, parents, teachers, and staff who stood up and spoke on behalf of their school on Monday night.

The inspiring spirit of community, the kids’ poise and confidence under pressure, and the many articulate statements at the podium all point to a school doing things that we must learn from.

So: what can we learn from Creed that can help us serve all kids better? To begin to earn our trust, the new NHPS administration needs to show as much interest in that question as in the question of whether we can afford to keep it open.