3 Alternative Schools Targeted To Close

Christopher Peak PhotoA small high school that can’t attract required white suburbanites and two alternative schools that can’t keep traumatized students in class should be shuttered this year, a school board committee suggested.

At a meeting Monday, the Board of Education’s Finance & Operations Committee made an initial recommendation to close Cortlandt V.R. Creed Health & Sports Sciences High School’s current location and consolidate the three alternative schools as part of an effort to close a projected budget deficit.

The conference room at the district’s central offices on Meadow Street was packed — an unusual sight at what’s normally a dry, numbers-heavy meeting for which even school administrators often don’t stay through the end.

Six school board members (everyone but Mayor Toni Harp) showed up to have their say on how to close a $6.58 million dollar deficit this year and an even bigger shortfall of at least $14.35 million next year. The board members talked for two and a half hours. More than 50 parents and staff —  many from Creed —  listened without a chance to weigh in on the imminent plans to close their school.

The Finance & Operations committee also asked the superintendent to take a look at a number of other expenses. They directed her to renegotiate several leases, including warehouse space on Ferry Street, early childhood education offices on Hamilton Street, and theater space for Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School. They also asked her to review who has permission to use district-owned vehicles.

The committee’s other cost-saving measure in recent months, sending the school-bus contract out to bid rather than taking a locked-in renewal rate as staff had recommended, backfired. Only one company sent in a bid — Students First, the existing transportation provider — at 8 percent higher than their current rate. Because the company is the only bidder, the district is trying to negotiate the rate down.

None of the decisions have been finalized, with board members leaving open the possibility of finding permanent homes for Creed and the alternative schools.

Superintendent Carol Birks is scheduled to provide an update about the budget at next week’s full board meeting. Darnell Goldson, the board’s president, plans to then call a special meeting mid-week to vote on a plan to close and consolidate schools.

“We’ve been talking about this for months. These issues were closures of schools, layoffs of some people, furloughs, whatever it took to get this budget in line. Because at the end of the day, this budget doesn’t help to educate our kids,” Goldson said. “We have to make tough decisions.”

Counting Enrollment Figures

At Monday’s meeting, Birks said she’d narrowed in on four smaller schools that weren’t meeting targets.

She said that Creed, an inter-district magnet high school that had 250 students at the start of the year located in temporary quarters in North Haven, had missed enrollment projections and failed to attract enough racial diversity to justify its state funding.

The school, which is 92.8 percent non-white, is at risk of losing $121,000 next year, said Sherri Davis-Googe, director of school choice enrollment. That’s because, starting this year, inter-district magnet schools formed after 2005 can’t be more than 75 percent African-American or Hispanic — the standard for racial isolation that came out of the landmark Sheff v. O’Neill case, which the Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE) later implemented statewide.

Magnet schools created earlier have until 2020 to catch up. Hyde Leadership Academy, as Creed was once known, would have fit in that category, but it was reconstituted during the move to North Haven in 2013, putting it on deadline.

New Haven’s school administrators have argued that the demographic targets that the state has set are unreasonable for an urban school district surrounded by increasingly diverse suburbs. Never a party to the Sheff lawsuit, which only affected schools in greater Hartford, the district has asked for different criteria to be used, such as measuring socio-economic diversity alongside race.

But the SDE gets to set the regulations. And with a budget crisis that’s slashed magnet school funding, they’ve decided that Creed is out of compliance. They said it could lose funds next year and, without signs of progress, potentially be demagnetized within two years.

Beyond the penalties the district could incur, Birks said that closing down Creed would save $560,000 a year in rent and transportation.

Birks added that the district’s three alternative schools — New Horizons, Riverside Academy and New Light — which together have 211 students who were kicked out of traditional high schools, had such low attendance and graduation rates that they should be reimagined.

The majority of the alternative school kids have been marked chronically absent, meaning they missed 10 percent of class. Last year, the chronic absenteeism rates were 63.3 percent at Riverside, 81.3 percent at New Light, and 90.4 percent at New Horizons.

Each day, only about one-third of the desks are full, Birks said she heard from principals. Goldson said he stopped by one school at 12:30 p.m. last week and found no students there.

“I looked at our data, and I guess I asked the question, ‘Is this the best way to serve that population of students?’” Birks said. “If they’re not coming to school, if we’re not graduating them at a high rate, is this the best way to run a school? We need to look at that, and it’s going to take more than a day or week.”

Birks proposed introducing specialized programs to the bigger high schools and then consolidating other students at a compound that the district rents on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, where Riverside is currently located. Next to adult education classes, the location could allow for more vocational training, perhaps run by Jobs for the Future or Big Picture Learning, plus summer school, she explained.

But that sent up red flags for several board members. Why would they continue to pay $590,000 in rent on the Boulevard, when two district-owned buildings would be vacated? “Closing other facilities and leasing that facility, for me, is problematic,” Goldson said.

Ed Joyner, the one remaining board member who voted against hiring Birks, made a surprise turn when he argued that his colleagues should all take a step back and allow the superintendent to develop her own plan.

“We should give the opportunity to allow the superintendent to use her expertise as an educator for how to do it or not do it,” he said. ‘We are part-time policymakers, and we are really headed down a slippery slope if we give specific orders about how to do her job.”

Next Moves Crucial

While research on the impact of school closures is mixed, several studies suggests that the most important factor in academic outcomes is where students are redirected after their school is shuttered.

In one major study last year, researchers at the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University analyzed more than 1,500 school closures in 26 states over a seven-year period.

They found that students who ended up in better schools showed greater academic gains than peers at low-performing schools that stayed open, getting ahead by 10 to 40 days of learning. On the other hand, they found that students who landed in equivalent or worse schools tended to fell behind their peers at low-performing schools that stayed open, losing 20 to 80 days of learning.

The researchers noted that the effects were particularly pronounced for poor black and brown children at shuttered traditional public schools.

“It is crucial to assign affected students to higher-performing schools,” the authors wrote.  “However, we cannot pin all our hopes on currently higher-performing schools if there are many students to place. Not even half of the displaced students in our analysis were able to land in better schools.”

Compared to the district’s other high schools, Creed scored near the middle of the pack on state assessments. In total points, it ranked behind almost all every other magnet schools, except High School in the Community, but it still outperformed the district’s two comprehensive high schools, Wilbur Cross and Hillhouse.

Praying For A Good Outcome

The plans have riled Creed’s close-knit community, which one parent speculated has grown even tighter under the constant threat of closure.

Maritza Baez, an outspoken parent whose two children are at Creed, said the board is rushing through a number of important questions that need to be answered before such an important decision.

“Where will these students go to have a comparable academic experience without sacrificing the credits that they have already accumulated? Have you considered the possibility of consolidating Creed with another school in town, to preserve the community that we have built? What criteria were applied to make this decision and will these criteria be applied to other schools? Is Creed being unfairly sacrificed?  How do you plan on working with Creed families and staff?” she asked in a letter to the superintendent. “The closing of a school brings many obstacles in the lives of students and families, which must be fully considered before a decision is made.”

Kayla Yulo, a junior at Creed who attended Monday’s meeting with her mother, said afterwards that it was “crazy” she might spend her final year adjusting to another high school. An aspiring pediatric nurse, she said she’d benefited from the school’s offerings, like an emergency medical technician training and laboratory work.

Her mom, Debbie Sampson, said she didn’t want to think about what they would do if Creed closed. “Let’s pray for a good outcome,” she said.

Board member Tamiko Jackson-McArthur said the whole discussion of closures made her stomach turn. “I don’t want you to think that we’re just doing this because we want to cut a fast dollar,” she said, during a tense moment about when to schedule a vote on the closures. “That’s not why I accepted the position on the board: it’s to support all the students and our families.”

Just before discussing school closures, the committee recommended approving 18 contracts and change orders, including a $35.6 million outlay to start construction at Strong School, for which the state will reimburse 79 percent of the costs.

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posted by: Bubbe on May 8, 2018  9:09am

I’m old so my facts may not be accurate BUT I think I remember that Hyde was offered space in Hillhouse when both were under enrolled. I think I also remember that Hyde wanted its own building. Maybe Creed will reconsider if that option is still on the table!

posted by: robn on May 8, 2018  9:13am

90% absenteeism?!?
Holy $#!&
Why are we even pausing to have this conversation? These schools are useless as is.

posted by: Fairhavener on May 8, 2018  9:22am

Hyde / Creed has had amazing off the charts success with students because of the amazing teacher base there—I hope NHV can reassign those teachers within district.

posted by: Debsam on May 8, 2018  9:50am

Lets do everything we can to save Creed

posted by: citizenintraining on May 8, 2018  10:19am

I remember several facts differently. Please confirm or clarify:
1) 235 students at Creed not 250. This was a clarification made during the meeting and exact enrollment numbers are at the heart of this discussion. 2) I thought the $103K that would be lost would be a sanction against the district not a loss of funding. 3) I heard the Finance committee ask the superintendent and her team to consider 3 options and report back: not just possibly closing the school but moving the school and/or alternatively funding the school. Creed is surely at great risk at the moment but it may not be accurate, fair or helpful to state that the board “recommends” closing the school. Several members of the committee spoke about suggestions for keeping it open including savings through furlough days neither of which was not reported in your article at all.

[Chris: 1. The state takes all their official enrollment counts in October, when Creed had 250 students. I used that figure because there’s not up-to-date racial demographics otherwise, by which we can measure racial isolation, or enrollment figures for any of the other schools. 2. The $130,000 sanction mentioned yesterday, which an administrator just corrected for me is actually $121,000, would be deducted from the district’s lump sum for magnet schools. The state currently gives Creed roughly $700,000 for its inter-district magnet students, and the penalty would deduct from that sum next year. 3. As I wrote, nothing’s been decided yet. I left out furlough days because Birks said they were a non-starter until next school year, but you’re right, that those could be an option if the unions will reopen their contracts.]

posted by: 1644 on May 8, 2018  10:39am

The last paragraph says it all.  New Haven cannot afford the schools it has, yet spends millions on one more.  Yes, the politicians have to keep those kickbacks (campaign contributions) coming from the contractors and construction unions, both on the local and state levels.

posted by: dd on May 8, 2018  10:46am

Isn’t an 8% increase of the current transportation contract ($25 million) equal to $27 million? The school board opened the bidding and now we have to pay for an additional $2 million for the same buses! Wow.

posted by: 1644 on May 8, 2018  10:57am

Robn:  The article says 90% of the students were absent more than 10% of the time.  The actual absenteeism rate is not mention, other than the principals’ statement that roughly 67% of their students were absent.

posted by: 1644 on May 8, 2018  11:02am

dd:  That outcome is what Clark predicted, yet the BoE thought they knew better than the professional.  I wonder if Joyner then made a statement similar to the one he made on school closings:  leave the details to the professionals.

posted by: FOYI on May 8, 2018  12:22pm

1644, its not the contractors anymore.  Their work is publicly bid.  Low bid contractor with bonding capacity is awarded the work.  The construction managers, architects, engineers, specialty consultants different procurement of contracts.

posted by: Malik on May 8, 2018  12:49pm

I think the idea is terrible. I myself came from an alternative school and it saved my life. I picked up my GPA, changed my attitude, and graduated on time with my class. I’ll also be attending Keystone College in the next couple of months. 90% absenteeism is a major key. but you never know what that 10% of kids who actually come and work hard everyday could do in the near future. They just needed that alternative, small environment to focus like myself.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 8, 2018  3:38pm

This is why I said this back in 2013.Hybrid School Board Makes The Ballot

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 6, 2013 1:03pm
Again the people have been sold out by the Judas Goat leaders.Hybrid School Boards are not good.the mayor is still in control.

All the people got was two voices on the Hybrid School Board.Two voice on the school Board means nothing.The people Should had did like they did in .Ocean Hill-Brownsville.Hybrid School Board .Full control of the school Board.

https://vimeo.com/29063912

posted by: kidsfirstteacher on May 8, 2018  4:26pm

@1644: THANK YOU, I am so happy someone says this. I am unsure why when we can’t afford our current schools we are still putting 35 million into a brand new school that we DO NOT need. How does this make sense? Cutting back on the students and the schools to make room for this when this project doesn’t need to be in the budget. Yes the state will pay 75% of it.. but that other 25% is coming from the budget and impacting our students now… It’s like buying a couch because it is on sale, not because you need one. PRIORITIES need to be our students and our CURRENT schools.

posted by: darnell on May 8, 2018  4:51pm

The new Strong School is being build to replace a school, not adding to the school stock. The current elementary school is home to a high concentration of low income students, many who have autism. It has environmental as well as structural problems that cannot be solved with minor repairs.

I guess some folks may be statistics with leaving those children in that environment, or stuffing them into overcrowded classes where both they and the other students would suffer. NH BOE members are not satisfied with that situation.

I’m not sure what the avergae life of a building is, but this building has clearly outlived its usefulness.

We are making tough cuts, but we might as well take that building deal before it is no longer available. It’s not like New Haven’s student population is getting any smaller.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 8, 2018  6:45pm

There needs to be three more schools closed, at least - these first three are not enough. It is heartening that it is finally happening. This should have happened long ago and we’d not be in this situation.

posted by: FacChec on May 8, 2018  7:09pm

Birks: “I looked at our data, and I guess I asked the question, ‘Is this the best way to serve that population of students?’” Birks said. “If they’re not coming to school, if we’re not graduating them at a high rate, is this the best way to run a school?  We need to look at that….

Goldson: “Goldson said he stopped by one school at 12:30 p.m. last week and found no students there.

“I looked at our data, and I guess I asked the question, ‘Is this the best way to serve that population of students?’”
......

Answer:
Notes,Unless otherwise noted, all data are for 2015-16 and
include all grades offered by the district.

http://edsight.ct.gov/Output/District/HighSchool/0930011_201516.pdf

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on May 9, 2018  8:35am

FOYI, only the contracts for the physical stuff.  I believe very few contracts for educational or support services get bids, maybe some of the tech.

posted by: NEW HAVEN PARENT1 on May 9, 2018  10:22am

The lack of understanding of contracts, the bidding process, and general business understanding with this board continues to be painfully obvious.  Their attitude that they are the “experts” or they “know better”  on just about every topic raised - has delivered a significant negative financial situation that now needs to be RENEGOTIATED - It is evident their poor judgement regarding the transportation contract was driven by ego instead of partnership. The lack of partnership and willingness to fall back when this type of negotiation/situation is not within their core competencies & support the team of experts that understands this process to do their job and work on behalf of the city is egregious - they drove hard to make their point AND now the transportation contract could have held at the current rate now has an increase of 8% -  There needs to be board members that have a practical understanding of business and are able to balance emotions and take a pragmatic approach to resolving the issues the district is facing. Education experts are certainly needed on the BOE -  However, this group is making significant financial decisions that requires a diversity of expertise to facilitate solid outcomes now and in the future - This board just doesn’t have it .... Closing Schools, not closing schools the issues are bigger than that with a board that does not have the skills to help make the strategic calls

posted by: 1644 on May 9, 2018  11:09am

NewHavenParent:  Your call for renegotiation itself shows a lack of business sense.  First Student, knowing no one else wants the work, has zero business incentive to give a lower price.  Moreover, the BoE’s bad-mouthing of First Student, insinuating that it was above market, means there is little if any goodwill between First Student and the BoE.  The new pricing is driven by labor and fuel costs, both of which should have been obvious, except to the BoE.  Lots of towns throughout the state are finding greatly increased pricing as contracts entered into shortly after the 2008 crash expire.The BoE has been “hoist on its own petard”.

posted by: NEW HAVEN PARENT1 on May 9, 2018  12:45pm

1644 I think you misunderstood my comments - The contract was going to be renewed and held at the same cost - the board demanded it go out to bid and now there is an 8% increase-  The point is, had the board taken the guidance and simply renewed the contract at the time they would not be in a position to now have to go back and try to negotiate with the transportation provider as to not be faced with an 8% increase - I am not calling for renegotiation the board either takes an 8% increase when they could have avoided it all together by listening and respecting the opinion of the team that has experience - the increase they are now facing with the 8% increase is a significant sum of money - further straining the district finances

First Student is not th cause of this by any means - the lack of business acume with the board is responsible

posted by: repmd on May 9, 2018  2:10pm

The discussion concerning the student transportation contract and cost completely misses the point. There is no educational value in putting a child on a bus. Students do not learn on a bus. A poor Black or Hispanic child from the Hill neighborhood will not benefit from sitting next to a poor Black or Hispanic child from Fairhaven or vice versa. I really wish that the conversation could be focused on how to decrease the number of children who require bussing. This would free up dollars that could be invested in teachers and teacher aides in the classroom, programs that enhanced the educational experience, and guidance councilors. Why are we so invested in giving 25 to 27 million dollars to a private company?

posted by: joshmoejo on May 13, 2018  6:36pm

Alternative schools are programs set out to serve a population of students that other schools have failed.  You might say they failed, but let’s be honest, if we, the adults, were meeting the needs of these students, we wouldn’t need an alternative path.  For these students (and I would like to hear more about the needs of the students and how we are going to do all we can to provide for them a path to their rightful place in our community, not about how much they cost, because we all know the costs are greater if we continue to push them aside), small schools are harm reduction.  There are people at the school that know what hurdles they deal with just to arrive at school, how for many of these children, life has handed them a raw deal, one that stacks up again as judgments are made for them without taking the time to listen to how these schools are meeting their needs.  Showing up once, on a half day, when the kids have already been dismissed, does not show me that you care enough about them to hear what they have to say about the school, and what it means to them to be seen and heard, even when they are challenging.  These teachers show up for them and do their jobs every day, and I don’t see that throwing this out, without their voice in the room is a wise decision either.  A greater investment should be made in the alternative schools, not less.  It is for the whole community that we meet the needs of these kids, support their families, and create spaces where they lift out, even if it takes more time, of the challenges they never would have asked for.  How we love these kids has impact. Ask the alumni, they will tell you.  Ask the students.  Keep their voices in the room.

posted by: TimeforChangeInNewHaven on May 14, 2018  4:56am

Remove alternative schools and create alternative programs! The goal is to integrate our society not shun them out. The students deserve to be supported with social emotional resources to meet the expectations the world has for them. Why remove them if this part of learning has yet to be developed? Aren’t we responsible for education of the whole student??? New Haven let’s get innovative and eliminate these horrible practices! By the way Creed is a sacrifice for the greater good… it’s also out of compliance so it can’t continue to drain the district