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Parents Fight Last-Minute Classroom Shuffle

by Melissa Bailey | Sep 11, 2012 8:04 am

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

Posted to: Schools, Westville

Melissa Bailey Photo After the school system abruptly transferred a “gentle,” “fantastic” paraprofessional to an overflow K-2 program, 90 parents called on the schools to bring back extra help to classrooms across the city.

Parents at Edgewood School issued the call in a petition delivered to the school board at its meeting Monday at 54 Meadow St.

In response, Superintendent Reggie Mayo said he agrees with the importance of having paraprofessionals in K-2 classrooms; he championed the move to do so over a decade ago. He said the district has had to cut back for budget reasons.

The issue is a perennial one in New Haven schools, which sometimes rely on paraprofessionals in lower grades to keep order when one or a handful of students may require special attention.

Outrage began to ripple through Edgewood school last Tuesday, when parents found out Tony Langley, a beloved assistant teacher in Edgewood’s kindergarten, had been transferred without warning to the Quinnipiac Elementary School, a new school set up this fall to accommodate an overflow in the city’s K-2 population.

“Pulling a para out the second week of school is disastrous in the mind of a child,” said Edgewood mom Kim Davies (pictured above picking up her daughter Julia from school). Davies was one of a half-dozen Edgewood parents who showed up Monday to the school board.

Davies said her daughter, who’s now in the 3rd grade, had Langley in her classroom when she was younger. Langley was “kind,” “gentle,” and great at calming kids down when they were upset, she said.

“He’s an incredible para,” she said. “A lot of parents are upset” to see him go.

Langley was one of eight paraprofessionals yanked out of city classrooms over the past week to staff the new Quinnipiac Elementary. The others came from: Fair Haven School, Truman, Celentano, Hill Central Music Academy, Barnard, Zigler Head Start, and Strong School, the other overflow K-2 school. 

In response to the move, Edgewood shifted a 1st-grade paraprofessional into the kindergarten class, leaving two classes of 26 1st-graders to share one assistant teacher.

Parent Tim Holahan (at left in photo with Edgewood mom Chrissy Gardner) blasted the move on several fronts.

“This poorly-timed personnel change was caused by what seems to me, and to many parents, a serious lack of planning and preparation for increased citywide demand for K-2 slots,” Holahan stated in an email.

He and other parents presented Superintendent Mayo with a petition Monday. It calls for the district to “return Tony Langley as quickly as possible” to Edgewood’s kindergarten; maintain one full-time paraprofessional in all grades K and 1 at Edgewood and across the district; “avoid foreseeable staffing crises in the future”; and “hold timely, well-noticed, and accessible meetings with the public and parents about how to meet budget shortfalls.”

Holahan and fellow Edgewood dad Matt Higbee aired their concerns at the podium before the board Monday.

Higbee, who has children in kindergarten and 2nd grade at Edgewood, called Langley “the best para in our school.” He urged Mayo to restore behavioral supports in the early grades, because without them, “you lose the children you may never get back.”

Mayo gave a public response at Monday’s meeting.

“I understand the importance” of having assistant teachers in early childhood classrooms, Mayo assured parents.

“I’m the guy who recommended” the district staff all K-2 classrooms with paraprofessionals over a decade ago, Mayo said. But “due to budget cuts, we had to cut back.”

He said amid tight budget times, he was staring this year at 30 paraprofessional positions that needed to be filled. The number of paraprofessionals required by special needs students rose by 19, he said. And the flood of K-2 kids required another 11 at the Quinnipiac school, he said. Mayo decided the district could not fill all of those positions.

“I didn’t think we could afford it,” he said.

Instead, he asked staff “if we can squeeze in a bit,” because of the budget.

Mayo told parents he would give them an answer in October, when the city finds out how it will be able to use the extra $3.8 million in Education Cost Sharing money from the state. That money was given to “priority school districts.” It will have strings attached. Mayor John DeStefano noted Monday the money can be used only for new programming. That may mean New Haven can’t use it to hire more paraprofessionals.

After the meeting, Mayo was asked about parents’ charge that the school district should have better planned for the rise in K-2 kids.

“I didn’t know I had 300 kids over” last year, Mayo said. “They just kept coming.” A spike in special education needs added to the crunch, he said.

Mayo said over the years, New Haven cut back from fully staffing each K-2 classroom with a teacher and a paraprofessional. Now all kindergartens and about half of 1st grades are staffed with paras; 2nd grades are not, Mayo said.

He said despite the cutbacks, he believes New Haven still looks good by comparison: When it comes to the number of paraprofessionals in classrooms, he said, “most school districts don’t have as many.”

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posted by: Curious on September 11, 2012  9:33am

Maybe if the education system in New Haven wasn’t bloated with highly-paid administrators, they could actually afford to hire some teachers.

How does the superintendent have no grasp on how many kids are coming into the city schools or not?

That job should be put out to bid.  Reggie Mayo can apply for it like anyone else, but it should be opened up to all comers.

posted by: anonymous on September 11, 2012  10:44am

Doesn’t the BOA realize that the population of young kids in New Haven is exploding?  All of their projections are way off. 

We have hundreds more young Latino families than even the Census Bureau expected, and also, middle-class families with young kids aren’t buying $300,000 houses in the suburbs like they were 5 years ago.

posted by: JohnTulin on September 11, 2012  10:45am

With all due respect to the concerns of the Edgewood parents, paras are pulled from one school and put in another based on where there is a need for them based on numbers - not based on how gentle they are, or if certain parents love the para or not.  It is a shame that Mayo can’t get his act together and run this district like any professional should be able to (that is why he makes 250K right?) and get the ratios of adult/children to meet the number REQUIRED BY THE STATE.  You would think that that would be the bare minimum to ‘doing your job’.  Reg, if you ‘didn’t know’ and can’t figure it out - time to move on!

The poor teachers at Davis and other schools have pre-K and K classes with one or NO paras at times.  Imagine how the Edgewoood parents would react to that?!?

posted by: Brutus2011 on September 11, 2012  10:48am

Dr. Mayo has stated that “I didn’t think we could afford it,” when asked about paraprofessionals in this school district.

I submit that it is not that the money is not there, it is that the money is being spent on layers above the classroom and not on the classroom.

In other words, public education funds are being wasted on patronage and crony administrative jobs that pay six figures with incredible pensions and other goodies for public school education managers.

Example? Did you know that retiring administrators contractually are entitled to a 10K bonus if they file retirement by a certain time? It doesn’t take a genius to understand that that money could be better spent on more paraprofessionals.

How can Dr. Mayo claim to be for our kids? If you believe that then have another oreo cookie.

Dr. Mayo is part of a system that has done things for a long time and will not substantively change until we citizens show him and his appointees the door.

After we pay him a cool 10K, of course.

You can’t make this stuff up.

posted by: NH06515 on September 11, 2012  2:40pm

Of course, everyone wants more staff in the classroom (especially paras) but there are financial constraints on what the BOE can do. We are not in a world with unlimited funding.  Maybe its bad management, maybe its tough times, but the loudest complainers shouldn’t get their way every time (see, e.g. we want input on who our next principal will be, unlike every other school in the district; and you got a seat at the table). I think Edgewood will survive with or without Mr. Langley.

What is absolutely inappropriate is for parents to float their petitions in the hallways of the school, playground, etc. By doing so you place other parents in a position where there is almost an obligation to sign the petition. Its shameful.

posted by: Teachergal on September 11, 2012  3:07pm

Really?  Edgewood parents need to give it up. They have one of the nicest schools, in one of the nicest neighborhoods, with some of the highest test scores, great teachers and now a great, new principal. Let this para be moved to where he is really needed and move on. Your kids may love him BUT they will get over it. For once I agree with Mayo which is certainly a rarity!

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on September 11, 2012  3:36pm

Dr. Mayo earns what, about $275,000 per year? First year principal RaeAnee Reynolds will earn $125,000. Administration salaries cannot be 5-10 times the median income of the city without their being an implosion of budget. If mayo and the entire BOE is serious about fixing these problems, they should volunteer salary cuts for themselves, like Jeffrey Kerekes suggested the mayor do (and he was willing to do if elected). It is true that there are more K-2 students than ever before, but I have a hard time believing that the BOE, and even the City of New Haven, doesn’t know how many young children live in its city. Between DSS, DCF, and the most recent census, those numbers are readily available.

[Note: Superintendent Mayo receives a $226,921 salary, not counting benefits.]

posted by: Tim Holahan on September 12, 2012  2:14pm

I don’t think it’s fair to characterize this as Edgewood parents stamping their feet because they can’t get what they want. This is a citywide issue, and we presented it as such.

Paras were pulled from seven schools with almost no warning, after the school year had started. At each of those seven schools, first graders are now seeing a para half as often as they were before.

The Board knew the overflow schools needed teachers at least as early as August 6, when they announced the Quinnipiac School, yet they failed to hire the necessary staff. Worse, they used this avoidable crisis as a way to lower the standard of service provided to all students in the city. As I understand it, no school in the city has full-time paras in first-grade classrooms, whereas all should. It’s an excellent investment, which was the point of our comments about the para removed from Edgewood. We’ve seen the value ourselves, and we think every kid in the city should benefit from it.

To be clear, there was no budget cut. When our student enrollment goes up, state funding increases as well. The necessary resources to provide paras for these students should be available.

I don’t know why parents at Truman, Celentano, Hill Central, and the other schools haven’t spoken up. I’d be happy to hear from them, and work with them on the issue. When vital educational resources are removed from the classroom, parents across the city have a right to make their voices heard.

It’s unfortunate if some parents felt pressured to sign the petition, but since the school year has just started, our only way of reaching the new parents in the classrooms was through the school. I wasn’t always present when signatures were collected, but I know who was doing it, and I don’t believe that any pressure was applied, beyond asking a question in a friendly manner. If anyone knows otherwise, please contact me personally.

posted by: Ali on September 12, 2012  3:05pm

“maintain one full-time paraprofessional in all grades K and 1 at Edgewood AND across the district; “avoid foreseeable staffing crises in the future”; and “hold timely, well-noticed, and accessible meetings with the public and parents about how to meet budget shortfalls.”

Note the “across the district” part. Fixing this issue would help all the schools, not just Edgewood. 

How about focusing on the fact that the parents complained about a problem that is district-wide rather than the fact that Edgewood has a nice building, a new principal etc.  How about more complaining about how much more money should be going to teachers and to para-pros rather than administrators?

If MORE people complained maybe more things would improve!

posted by: Teachergal on September 12, 2012  7:21pm

Well, as a career teacher in New Haven, I have seen many situations like this. Unfair yes. But don’t think you are getting anywhere with our current superintendent. He does what he wants, the end.

I once had the opportunity to meet with him about a school concern and he treated my colleagues and myself like we were 10 year olds and should learn to follow his directives and get back to work. It was demeaning and obnoxious to say the least. 

If you are new to dealing with Doc then you will find out for yourself that he does not care to hear about what you feel needs to be done. I bet your principal won’t go to bat to get your para back. And yes, you are right, all K’s and Gr. 1 students need paras but believe me there are many schools that do not have that luxury.

Good Luck!

posted by: Jacques Strap on September 13, 2012  6:51am

Paras are absolutely essential to early childhood education, especially with the advent of the rigorous new common core standards, which demand more of students.  There is enough money in the school district, but as brutus cited, it is being spent largely at the top, on supervisors and assistant supervisors who don’t even work in a school. Therein lies part of the problem in New Haven: too many queen bees and not nearly enough worker bees.  PS—Edgewood parents have every right to complain.  Tim Holahan is spot on.  They are advocating for their children.  More parents in New Haven must do so.

posted by: r2d2 on September 18, 2012  6:19pm

If anyone has worked closely with paras then you know that some are worth their weight in gold while others cannot even speak properly while they scream in children’s faces.

Give the kids access to educational software and boot the paras.

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