A To-Do List For The Next Schools Chief

The following was submitted by Nataliya Braginsky, teacher at Metropolitan Business Academy, on behalf of the New Haven Educators’ Collective regarding the search for a new superintendent for NHPS.

Open Letter to the New Haven Mayor, New Haven Board of Education, and Superintendent Hiring Committee from the New Haven Educators’ Collective:

As teachers, students, families, and community members invested in New Haven’s public schools, we write this open letter at a critical time for our city. Nationwide, public education, and other pillars of democracy, are under attack. Students of color, immigrant, refugee, and LGBTQ students are especially vulnerable in the current political climate. These groups of students represent the majority of those that attend NHPS. Therefore, our future superintendent must commit to a platform of social, racial, and economic justice for students, teachers, families, and the wider New Haven Community.

The following priorities: diverse and safe schools for all students, whole child support services, authentic and meaningful assessment, the protection of public schools, and the centering of teacher and student voices - are outlined below for the New Haven Board of Education in the evaluation of any Superintendent candidate. In the best interest of our students and schools, we will hold the future superintendent accountable to meeting the following priorities and corresponding metrics for success.

Diverse and Safe Schools for All Students

• Establish a paid caucus, comprised of teachers of color, to create a 5-year plan and 10-year plan to diversify the teaching staff in NHPS. The purpose of this caucus is to cultivate a district of teachers whose racial, ethnic, and cultural identities more closely reflect the demographic of students attending New Haven schools.

• Mandate and provide high-quality cultural competency training for all NHPS staff. These cultural competency trainings must meaningfully address topics of white privilege, systemic racism, the impact of poverty on students and families, the validity of linguistic and cultural differences, gender & sexuality literacies, as well as culturally relevant pedagogy.

• Create sanctuary schools by refusing to cooperate with ICE on any level. Provide multiple ‘Know Your Rights’ trainings for school staff, students, and families in multiple languages. Ensure that these trainings are well publicized, accessible, and provide childcare.

• Create safer spaces for LGBTQ students. As a district, ensure that students are allowed to use bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. Mandate at least one gender-neutral bathroom in each school.

Whole Child Support Services

• Hire at least one full-time social worker for every school in the district. Prioritize high quality candidates whose racial and ethnic identity represent the dominant student demographic.

• Hire sufficient guidance counselors in order to meet the recommendation of the American School Counselor Association, which is one full-time counselor for every 250 students.

• Hold schools accountable for authentic Restorative Justice Practices (RJP). Provide at least one full-time staff member to each school who facilitates RJP with integrity, and provides trainings for staff, students, and family members within the school community.

• Hire at least one full-time nurse for every school.

• Hire at least one full-time trauma clinician for every school. The role of the trauma clinician is to conduct screenings for toxic stress, tend to the psychological and emotional needs of traumatized students, and initiate wrap-around services for students and families in need. Trauma clinicians should also provide staff-wide training in de-escalation strategies, stress reduction techniques, and other trauma-informed practices.

Authentic and Meaningful Assessment

• Use teacher-created assessments and performance-based assessments, rather than standardized assessments created by outside entities. Prioritize assessments that measure students’ strengths and areas of growth, as opposed to students’ deficits.

• Guarantee professional development time for teachers to create and evaluate authentic assessments. Assessments should be culturally relevant to students’ lived experiences and background knowledge; racial and cultural biases should be eliminated from all forms of testing.

• Limit the number of hours spent on standardized testing, or in preparation for standardized testing, to less than 2% of instructional time in a school year.

• Inform all students and families in every school in the district, in writing, of their legal right to opt-out of standardized tests.

Protection of Public Schools Against Privatization

• Conduct an open budget process that includes evaluative feedback from a paid caucus of teachers of color, NHFT, Citywide PTO, Citywide Youth Coalition, and other community organizations. Implement the recommendations of this group, and make their recommendations available to the public.

• Direct funds to students and those who have direct contact with students. Classrooms must be fully-funded, first, in order to maximize the academic, social, and emotional success of youth in our city.

• Provide transparency in decision making at the school and district level. Open the decision-making processes on all levels (from the Board of Education down to school based decisions) which includes teachers, parents, students, families, and community members.

• Follow the NAACP guidelines of a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.

• Create a public review process for all services contracted outside of the district. Utilize experts and
services within the district, and whenever possible within the city of New Haven, rather than directing district funds to private entities outside of the community.

Teacher and Student Voice

• Ensure the incoming superintendent has a degree in education as well as substantial teaching experience in public schools.

• Hire and retain highly qualified teachers, with in-depth content knowledge, who have successfully completed a credentialed teacher training program. Hire and retain teachers who prioritize continuing their careers in New Haven Public Schools.

• Remain committed to the omission of any standardized test scores in teacher evaluations, as is considered best practice by the Connecticut State Department of Education.

• Put professional development and curriculum in the hands of teachers; as they best understand pedagogy, content, and the needs of their students.

• Seek meaningful and ongoing input from a diverse group of teachers and students regarding district decisions, and implement these teacher and student recommendations.

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posted by: GroveStreet on June 15, 2017  4:58pm

There should be one over-arching priority of a new superintendent — Put New Haven First!

This district serves residents last and the culturally incompetency of many of the suburban teachers means that they make a bigger effort to focus on suburban students.

Frankly, if a teacher doesn’t care enough to live in the city, they should have a diminished voice. Suburban teachers set a negative tone in New Haven, frequently blaming resident parents for the failure of these ‘in-a-bubble’ teachers. They often fail to engage students in a meaningful way and have a habit of talking down to the students.

I’ve become weay of suburbanites who suck up city resources and complain about the city while failing to support it.

posted by: NewHavenRyan on June 15, 2017  8:10pm

Lots of solid, specific policies worth considering here! However, I can’t agree with dictating the makeup of committees be reserved according to race, especially given the goal is to foster diversity. Even if there were evidence that having the racial makeups of policy makers match their constituents (students) improved outcomes, we should not accept the use “color” in this way.

posted by: wendy1 on June 16, 2017  10:36am

I support the above statement ( requests ).  Teachers, students, and their parents must guide our local schools’ policies and needs list.  I dont have children but if I did I would homeschool them or get involved in the school they attended.  Parenting is a demanding, longtime career that I take seriously.