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Parents Get Hours To “Weigh In” On Harries

by Melissa Bailey | Feb 7, 2014 11:26 am

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

Posted to: Schools, School Reform

Melissa Bailey Photo New Haven parents got 19 hours to have a say in who runs the school system for the next three years.

It was the school board’s latest effort in “parent engagement.” Like previous attempts, it didn’t go over well.

The effort took place Thursday evening at the monthly meeting of the Citywide Parent Leadership Team at Wilbur Cross High School.

School board President Carlos Torre showed up to invite parents to fill out surveys evaluating how Garth Harries has done since he took over as schools superintendent on July 22. (Members of the public can fill out surveys here.)

The surveys are due on Friday at noon, Torre announced—drawing heat from parents about another lackluster effort to incorporate public input in a superintendent’s hiring process.

That was the latest development in a last-minute scramble concerning Harries’ reappointment. After just five months on the job, Harries faces a swift evaluation of his performance. That’s because the city charter limits new superintendents’ contracts to one year. And when Harries got the job last summer, he convinced the board to include in his contract a March 1 deadline by which the school board must decide whether to keep him on.

Harries got a scare last week when Mayor Toni Harp, citing concerns with the schools budget, threatened not to support renewing his contract by March 1 because he hadn’t had enough time to prove himself yet. She reversed her position hours later.

Torre (pictured) announced Thursday that the school board plans to gather surveys from the public, then present a formal evaluation at Monday’s school board meeting. He told parents to distribute the surveys to fellow parents—and to get them in by noon the following day.

Parents balked at the quick turnaround.

“You say you want feedback,” said Wilbur Cross mom Kathy Hagerty. Why didn’t the school board distribute the surveys “weeks ago” “as opposed to this last-minute” effort?

“It seems like a half-well-meaning gesture,” she said.

“At what point did you know that parents would need to fill out a form?” asked parent Megan Ifill of the advocacy group Teach Our Children. “It doesn’t feel as if parents’ time is valued,” she said, “because it seemed like we needed to be ready on-demand” to fill out the surveys at a moment’s notice.

Ifill, who found out about the surveys on Thursday, said the board could at least have given parents a heads-up at report card night so they would be ready.

Her critique echoed similar feedback last year, when the school board failed to get many people to show up to public hearings about the superintendent search.

Torre replied that the school board could not create the survey until it received Harries’ self-evaluation, which was due on Jan. 31. The board created its own survey form based on Harries’ self-evaluation, he said.

“Remember,” he told the five dozen parents, school staff and teachers gathered Thursday night, “this is the first time we’re evaluating a brand new superintendent in 21 years.”

He said if members of the public need some extra time, they can send in the surveys Friday or even Saturday afternoon. “Your voice will be heard,” he pledged.

Schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith said the district posted the survey on its website Monday and sent home an automated phonecall to parents Monday evening, in English and Spanish, informing them of the survey. The district emailed principals Tuesday and asked them to share the survey with parents, she added. She said Thursday’s invitation was a supplement to that outreach.

The one-page survey the board produced lists 15 priorities—such as “transparency,” “budget management” and “parent engagement”—that the school board set for its superintendent as part of the superintendent’s search last year. It asks members of the public to give written responses evaluating Harries in these 15 areas, and to offer any other feedback as desired.

In his own self-evaluation, Harries (pictured) rated himself “effective,” “strong” or “exemplary” in those areas. He said it’s too soon to judge the impact of his leadership on student achievement, but he noted some early positive signs, including a decrease in the number of high-schoolers receiving a D or an F in a class.

Click here to read his self-evaluation, which is dated December 2013.

Ifill, the mother of two high school students, said she feels “so many good things happening in the school system” under Harries’ watch. The school board’s handling of parent feedback in his evaluation is unfortunate, she said, because it detracts from those positive developments, such as communicating well with parents and empowering students.

“It seems like our time isn’t valued,” she said, “or it seems like they don’t really want our opinion, because they gave us only 24 hours” to fill out the surveys. “For something this important,” a survey could be “a way to create new goodwill with new families. I think it’s a missed opportunity to show parents that they are valued.”

In a subsequent interview, Torre was asked why the public surveys could not have been created before this week. He said a subcommittee of the school board had to meet with Harries to agree on the terms of the evaluation first, including whether he would be graded on a numerical scale. He said he has worked with the administrators and teachers union presidents to distribute the surveys to their members. And school staff emailed the surveys Tuesday to parent leaders.

He said the board plans to compile the surveys into an evaluation, which it will present at Monday’s school board meeting.

“Presuming that it’s positive,” he said, “we’ll say these are our conclusions,” and offer to sign a new, three-year contract with Harries. The board would then negotiate with Harries over the terms of the contract, he said.

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posted by: Threefifths on February 7, 2014  12:02pm

Wake up Parents and People.The BOE is again selling snake oil.The deal is cut.The contract is sign already.

Read this.Like I said.

Excuse Me, Your Privilege Is Showing (White Privilege in Ed Reform)


http://thejosevilson.com/excuse-privilege-showing-white-privilege-education-reform/#sthash.JLmqhteD.bJhurPQM.dpbs

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on February 7, 2014  12:12pm

I don’t think this was the big news to come out of this meeting.  The real shocker was when Harries announced plans to decrease elementary class sizes by increasing middle and high school class sizes.  In a tight budget, the money for more elementary teachers has to come from somewhere, right?  Not from administration or bureaucracy . . .

posted by: JohnTulin on February 7, 2014  12:19pm

Wow, you only had 24 hours to fill out a survey that takes 24 minutes. The horror!  These TOC parents are too much.

posted by: ELMCITYPROF on February 7, 2014  12:58pm

JohnTulin:
I don’t think the concern is about how long it would take the survey. Rather if parental input was truly valued the Board should’ve given more advance notice. This seems akin to the rushed “public forum” with the candidates last Spring. The simple fact is that most parents in NHPS work and need adequate notice to make a meeting. Especially when childcare is involved.

On another note, why does it seem that grades 6-8 has become the great throwaway in New Haven schools? All of the emphasis on specialized high school programs and increasing access to early childhood education but no mention of the critical developmental challenges many students face during “middle school”? New Haven would do well to consider consolidating some schools in order to create true middle schools that have administrators, counselors, teachers, etc who are specially trained for that age group.

Lastly, when does Torre’s term end??

posted by: concernedcitizenNewHaven on February 7, 2014  5:21pm

The main problem here is that this is something that should be given some thought…which takes some time…which has not be afforded to not only the citizens of New Haven, but the citizens of New Haven county…Aren’t some of our schools magnet schools pulling in from the entire county?

Couldn’t these questions be added to the school climate surveys?

posted by: robn on February 7, 2014  6:49pm

I dig the way that Carlos Torres is sticking to his fashion guns and continuing to channel Jack Nicholson circa “Five Easy Pieces”.
“I’ll have school turnaround and a chicken salad sandwich, hold the chicken.”

posted by: Channel 1 on February 7, 2014  8:07pm

“In a subsequent interview, Torre was asked why the public surveys could not have been created before this week. He said a subcommittee of the school board had to meet with Harries to agree on the terms of the evaluation first, including whether he would be graded on a numerical scale. He said he has worked with the administrators and teachers union presidents to distribute the surveys to their members. And school staff emailed the surveys Tuesday to parent leaders.”

I don’t comment publicly on school reform in New Haven but this attempt by school board President Carlos Torre and Harries seems very suspicious and sorta shady. I am very curious to know how aware Mayor Harp was of the timeline of parent notification and the BOE’s obvious attempt to limit public feedback on such an important matter. Was Mayor Harp part of this “BOE subcommittee” and if not why? Also why couldn’t the school board delay the public evaluation submission due to the disruption of the normal school week by the storm?

Now in regards to this:
“The one-page survey the board produced lists 15 priorities—such as “transparency,” “budget management” and “parent engagement”—that the school board set for its superintendent as part of the superintendent’s search last year. It asks members of the public to give written responses evaluating Harries in these 15 areas, and to offer any other feedback as desired.”

If you go to the actual public survey link on the NHPS website I count 4 of 5 questions that could be left to some creative interpretation by the school board. When our kids get their quarterly report cards it’s pretty easy to interpret how their doing with the numerical system of grading. So why would the BOE not use the same system for this evaluation? I think if you were anticipating a large response the numerical system would minimize processing time and produce clear cut results free from any creative interpretation. An additional section for written comments could’ve been added after.

posted by: NewHavenPublic on February 7, 2014  9:24pm

@Jill_the_pill - great point.  Garth Harries is on an executive hiring bonanza!  He’s bringing in many brand new six figure positions.  Why does he need a “Budget director”?  “Talent Director”?  “School Choice Director”? 

The answer: tearing down our public schools is a lot of work.  You must hire the very best demolition experts.

Get ready for more “painful decisions” for our children.

Come on, B.O.E.!  You have the power to stop this madness in New Haven!  We must protect our New Haven schools from the failed policies of the corporate reformers.

posted by: Honest in New Haven on February 8, 2014  9:10am

I think it is fair to say we have had enough of Carlos Torre’s “leadership” at the BOE.  Almost 20 years! This hiring and evaluation process is absurd.  The Board gets put in a corner where it has to make a decision on a new Supt five whole months into his tenure.  This is absurd.

posted by: michaelnogelo on February 8, 2014  9:57am

The headline and first several paragraphs and all the comments from parents quoted in this story indicate that Thursday’s meeting was the first and only attempt to notify parents about the survey.  Why is the information from Abbe Smith about previous notifications buried in the middle of the story and not addressed by anyone quoted?  I got the robocall on Monday and an email from my son’s school on Tuesday, and a link to the survey has been on the NHPS home page all week.  And the survey consisted of about 3 open-ended questions.  I don’t think NHPS dropped the ball on this one.  The story and the complaints from the parents quoted do not accurately reflect how this was really handled, in my opinion.

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on February 8, 2014  11:08am

For what it’s worth, I got an email from the CPLT mailing list with directions on how to take the survey on Feb. 4, several days ahead of the due date.  I was already aware of it from the link in an NHI article a day or so before that.  So, it’s not like it was a guarded secret.  This is carelessness, not conspiracy, and it’s a distraction from real issues.

posted by: NewHaven06513 on February 8, 2014  11:13am

I applaud Ms. Ifill and our parents for seeing through the Boards nonsense! Garth is doing a wonderful job, he is working with parents, teachers and our kids! God help us if we allow Harp to hand off another job to a Cronie… The cost will be devestating for our kids and city!

posted by: Hall2012 on February 8, 2014  5:00pm

Parents -

Let’s be clear, you are the first person accountable for your child’s progress or lack thereof.

Every week there are countless comments, complaints, and dissertations about “the bad New Haven School central office & their employees”

Wake up and take responsibility for your children, you are accountable first.

Do you check homework? Powerschool regularly? Meeting with your child’s teachers? understand how YOU can better support them versus pointing fingers?

My son is a junior, minority student (must put that because then I will hear this person must be white) ranked in the top of the class, AP student, active in school and community, looking at top tier colleges - he sits in the same classes and the same building as many of the never ending complaining parents that continuously post here -  there really are no excuses in the equation to success.

It is personal accountability, evert day, every week, every marking period.

The relentless attack on teachers and administrators is exhausting and quite frankly you need to take a look at your actions, and how you are approaching school engagement.

posted by: ohnonotagain on February 8, 2014  8:17pm

The survey or any other issue is not really a concern right now to me. What is haunting me is the BOE/school board itself. It needs to be turned over and bring in fresh people.

posted by: outspoken on February 10, 2014  8:32am

All notifications should be made during school sponsored sports events, that is where you have the best attendance.
    I agree with the proposal for dedicating more attention and resources to middle school children, if for no other reason then to keep their influence off the buses carrying the very young. Cultural reform is needed more then education reform.

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