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Harp Joins Charter School Board

by Melissa Bailey | Jan 29, 2014 11:59 am

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

Posted to: Schools

Melissa Bailey Photo Mayor Toni Harp pledged to be a conduit between charter advocates and New Haven’s public school district, as she takes a seat on not just New Haven’s school board, but on the board of one of the city’s charter schools.

Harp (pictured) has accepted an invitation to join the board of directors of the charter that oversees Amistad Academy, the flagship school in the Achievement First (AF) network of charter schools.

The 16-person board oversees the state-sanctioned charter that governs Amistad Academy Elementary, Amistad Academy Middle, and part of Amistad High. (In a complicated organizational setup, Amistad High is governed by three charters, each corresponding to one feeder middle school.) The schools accept public school kids from New Haven via lottery; they are operated by an independent, not-for-profit agency through state permission and state funding.

Harp replaces former Mayor John DeStefano, who joined the Amistad board in a new chapter of collaboration that followed years of bitter fighting between the public school district and Achievement First. (As of July 2012, state law requires charter schools to include a designee of the local school board on the governance board of the charter school. DeStefano and Harp fill that requirement because in New Haven, the mayor sits on the school board.)

Harp comes to the post with a record of supporting charter schools. Harp has praised Dacia Toll and Stefan Pryor —who 15 years ago founded Amistad Academy—for defying the popularly held notion that poor and black kids could not be educated. As state senator, Harp was instrumental in passing legislation to enable Achievement First to open Elm City College Prep in 2004 under a second charter. Harp later helped the school expand the maximum student enrollment, which is controlled by the state.

News of Harp’s appointment drew applause at the charter management organization’s board meeting last week. She will begin her duties at the board’s next meeting on March 26, according to board Chair Melinda Hamilton.

Harp, who took office on Jan. 1, attended her second New Haven school district board meeting Monday at Hill Regional Career High School. She remained an active participant: At one point, she said she is “troubled” by the school board’s practice of holding “committee” meetings with only one board member.

Harp said she plans to regularly attend both the Amistad and the district school board meetings.

Harp said her role on the Amistad board will be to “learn,” “observe”—and serve as a conduit between the two boards.

“If there’s anything I can bring back” from AF to the public school district, she pledged to “bring it back.” And “vice versa.” 

She was asked if she supports Achievement First’s expansion in New Haven. The organization last week unveiled a plan to hire a high-powered design firm to redesign its K-8 school model. AF plans to apply for state permission to open two futuristic schools in 2015 in New Haven or Bridgeport, according to AF CEO Dacia Toll.

Harp said she has committed to support the creation of one new charter school, Booker T. Washington, which Rev. Eldren Morrison, pastor of Varick Memorial AME Zion Church, is seeking state permission to open this fall.

She declined to comment on AF’s potential expansion in New Haven; she said she has not seen any proposals for any new AF schools.

“I’ll learn about it when I get on that board,” she said.

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posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 29, 2014  12:19pm

A complete capitulation to a provenly failed system that is putting public money into private hands at the expense of the poor to the benefit of the wealthy and the well-heeled.

Where is the Bill de Blasio of New HAVEN?

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

posted by: robn on January 29, 2014  1:05pm

Just checked AF’s last three 990s submitted to the IRS and contrary to what this article states, John DeStefano served in no official capacity on the AF Board of Directors.

Isn’t it conflict of interest for a Mayor to sit on the Board of Directors of a private organization receiving money from the city? Surely she can sit in on meetings, but ON the BOD?

posted by: ohnonotagain on January 29, 2014  1:41pm

Yes Robn I believe you are right regarding the conflict of interest. Thank you for pointing that out, hadn’t even thought of it.  And as far as the Mayor D. once serving on that board, never ever remember reading about such a thing and usually those type of matters go public! Where is this reporter getting her information from NHI? Please clarify?

posted by: webblog on January 29, 2014  1:50pm

@Robn: John DeStefano is listed on the Achievement First web site as a Director.
See that here:
http://www.achievementfirst.org/schools/connecticut-schools/amistad-academy-middle-school/board-of-directors/

Harp said her role on the Amistad board will be to “learn,” “observe”—and serve as a conduit between the two boards.

I find that objective worthy of her cause.

Also, Mayor Harp was invited to join as a board member; she did not seek them out.
It would otherwise appear unsupportive of education in New Haven if she declined the offer.

@ Rev Ross-Lee:

I disagree; the AF charters in New Haven and Bridgeport are turning out high achieving minority students in which 90% or better are performing above proficiency, that cannot be said of the public schools.
In addition, no state supported public school monies is being diverted from public education to the charters at “the expense of the poor to the benefit of the wealthy and the well-heeled”.

If you really believe that to be true you should file a law suit.

posted by: robn on January 29, 2014  2:02pm

WEBLOG,

Either AF’s website designer is lying to the public or AF is lying to the Internal Revenue Service. In any event, given the unique nature of AF as a supposedly results-based private education vendor, I find it problematic that the Mayor sit’s on their BOD. Should the mayor be present at BO meetings and vocal… yes I agree with that. But how can AF be held accountable by their employer (the mayor) with that mayor sitting on their Board? It puts AF’s liability partially back upon the city.

posted by: Melissa Bailey on January 29, 2014  2:11pm

Hi folks,
DeStefano did serve on the Amistad Academy board. He’s listed on the Amistad Academy 990:
http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2012/061/546/2012-061546695-09868a34-9.pdf

posted by: mstratton on January 29, 2014  2:12pm

Charter schools are not the solution, they are one part of the solution. They work in my view not because they aren’t “public” but because they are “small schools”. Smaller more intimate schools allow real relationships and care to develop between community. Thats the missing piece in the large public schools like Wilbur, Hillhouse. They divided Roosevely High in the Bronx into 6 schools from one massive 4000 kid school. They used same building just divided it up. The result—4% grad rate is now at 60 or 70%.

As for costs, charter schools are much cheaper, They actually save New Haven money and allow more for public schools. New Haven has close to zero cost as it relates to charter and 3500 a kid for public. So its not siphoning any money from taxpayers. I am very very supportive of Mayor Harp on this—this shows a very open, progressive and curious mind when it comes to creatively restructuring our schools so they are the best possible schools—based not on patronage but based on best practices around country.  If you want to be inspired or think Harp is wrong go to an open house at the Edgewood Acheievement First, attend a common ground open house. these folks are making a huge difference in kids lives.

BUT no solution is right for all—we need what the people now call (although I hate the word) a “portfolio of educational options”

posted by: robn on January 29, 2014  2:21pm

MELISSA,

I looked it up on Guidestar also. The 2011 990 I found doesn’t list Mayor D. Weird.

http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2012/651/203/2012-651203744-097cccf6-9.pdf

posted by: robn on January 29, 2014  2:24pm

Sorry Melissa,

I just realized that Amistad Academy seems to file separate 990s from the parent AF. JD was listed on AA’s 990.
I’m surprised that they’re separate entities in the eyes of the IRS.
Anyway my conflict of interest point stands.

posted by: Threefifths on January 29, 2014  3:18pm

Shades of Bloomberg.Charter schools are a low-risk, fast buck dream, tailor-made for corporate exploitation and political manipulation.RIch foundations have banded together to amass a mountain of money to ensure that charter schools have sources of funds that most public schools lack, plus a steady income from the taxpayers.Wall Street finds charters especially attractive, since bankers and hedge funds can exercise extraordinary influence on the schools while the public pays most of the tab. And profiteers have found numerous ways to turn charter schools into cash cows, where taxpayers finance private contracts over which the public has no control. Hedge funds and bankers have become the Sugar Daddies of charter schools, using their clout with big city Democrats to give charters every advantage over conventional public schools.


posted by: webblog on January 29, 2014 1:50pm

@ Rev Ross-Lee:

I disagree; the AF charters in New Haven and Bridgeport are turning out high achieving minority students in which 90% or better are performing above proficiency, that cannot be said of the public schools.

Not true.Charter schools kick out behavioral problems, They kick out low-performing students just before the standardized tests, causing Those test scores to count towards the public school who are forced to take that child in.As far as special education students,charter schools just kick out 80% of them.

Charter schools pawn off flunking students, says public school principal

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/education/charter-schools-pawn-flunking-students-public-school-principal-article-1.427745

My bad.How many ELL students do Charter schools have.did you know abut this.

Charter Suspension Rate Prompts Call To Action;

http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/alarming_charter_suspensions_prompt_call_to_action/

posted by: webblog on January 29, 2014  3:20pm

@ Robn:

You said “I just realized that Amistad Academy seems to file separate 990s from the parent AF. JD was listed on AA’s 990”.
I’m surprised that they’re separate entities in the eyes of the IRS.
Anyway my conflict of interest point stands”.


A more careful examination of the Guidestar.org link you offered reveals a 990 IRS report for a School in Brooklyn NY.  There is not a separate 990 from the parent AF; therefore, no wonder the name of John DeStefano does not appear.

As to your point of conflict of interest; because the Mayor serves on the NH BOE and now the AF board, this does not present a conflict of interest. Neither the NH BOE, nor, the AF board is accountable to the Mayor. The State of CT. provides 152M ECS grant to the BOE via the city; the city provides a matching fund of some 40M to the BOE. The 40M is reportable to the city; however, the BOA falsely believes they have no power over the BOE and the cities 40M. AF, on the other hand, receives their grant directly from the state of CT together with other grantees; the city and the Mayor have no authority over these monies.

There is no obvious conflict of interest prevalent.

Nevertheless, your comments continue to be thought provoking and worthy of response.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on January 29, 2014  3:30pm

This is an example as to why New Haven needs a true Ethics Commission to advise public officials before they commit to a course of action.
Our current Ethics law is vague, weak and lacks enforcement.
Why wait for a “gotcha” moment when we could actually help people in public service?
Charter Revision needs to be ongoing and not something akin to sunspots.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 29, 2014  3:48pm

@weblog,

I’m sure you know that AF-style Charter schools cherry pick their students by dismissing those whom they find too problematic to teach or otherwise to fit into their cookie-cutter pedagogical policies, hence presenting an image that is highly inflated of their actual “success”, and even then they are not doing better than the Public Schools.  But, I thought I’d repeat that for those who DON’T know.  If YOU didn’t know that, now you do.

Finally, suggesting that a private citizen needs to “file a lawsuit” to right a moral and ethical wrong that has been accepted by the government as legal is disingenuous indeed. Is this the “new” tactic to divert or otherwise shutdown criticism of these charlatan organizations?

The money made by people like Dacia Toll off of the backs of mostly poor minorities who FEEL that the are getting a better deal at these militaristic-style Charter schools is EXACTLY what I said it is: ” putting public money into private hands at the expense of the poor to the benefit of the wealthy and the well-heeled.”

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: robn on January 29, 2014  3:57pm

WEBLOG,

My understanding is that AF can’t operate schools in New Haven without the consent of its leaders and it is therefore accountable to them.

As I wrote, I agree with the intent of having our mayor at their BOD meetings but I think its problematic to have her there as a member. Its not a matter of compensation because there is none for Directors…its a matter of a maintaining a liability firewall.


PS. I’m pretty sure my link is to the AF parent organization which shares a mailbox with one of their schools.

posted by: Threefifths on January 29, 2014  4:03pm

Read this report.

Why People of Color Must Reject Market- oriented Education Reforms: A Compilation of the Evidence.

Market-oriented education reform is corporate driven reform that includes policies that are motivated largely by the amount of monetary profit and political or economic control that can be gained by the individuals, organizations, and corporations whose “behind-the-scenes” efforts created the policies in the first place.The reformers have used two false narratives to push their reform measures. They sold the idea that public education is failing its children, particularly its “minority children.” And, they convinced many that with the use of charter schools, vouchers, national standards, and high-stakes testing.

http://unitedoptout.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Minority-opt-out-online-version-revised-2.pdf

posted by: webblog on January 29, 2014  4:36pm

@ Rev Ross Lee:

I am aware that AF selects students, as does New Haven public schools, such as Davis Street, Edgewood Ave. and Worthington Hooker. The fact that AF removes students who cannot maintain the academic challenge and exhibit self control, is necessary for the benefit of the majority. The parents of these recalcitrant students were made aware months prior to their removal, they did not make the adjustment, most parents agreed. Unfortunately, the students are placed back into the public system where their success is in jeopardy.

You maintain your position that in spite of the fact that public schools cherry pick and release poor performers similar to AF, that this is somehow taking from the poor and giving to the rich. I don’t agree.

However, Reverend, from your vantage point in society your view may be completely plausible. Who am I to try to knock knowledge into a head that won’t take it?

Thank you for your response.

posted by: CreatingUrgency on January 29, 2014  5:58pm

“Harp has praised Dacia Toll and Stefan Pryor —who 15 years ago founded Amistad Academy—for defying the popularly held notion that poor and black kids could not be educated.”

Popularly held notion? WHO THE HELL HOLDS THIS NOTION? Seriously. When was the last time you were in a conversation with someone and they said, “You know what, poor people can’t learn.”

THIS IS FALLACIOUS!

I challenge the mayor to find many instances of this idea being stated (since she says that it is a “popularly” held notion.) Or is it something that she herself believed, but doesn’t NOW believe because Achievement First showed her the light?

AF said several days ago that they got it WRONG! And now, the mayor is saying we need MORE? MORE WRONG????

Our children are NOT GUINEA PIGS! They are human beings.

posted by: CreatingUrgency on January 29, 2014  6:04pm

@webblog AF would disagree with you. http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/achievement_first_plans_disruptive_change/

In making the announcement, Toll acknowledged that the charter schools have focused too much on teaching to low-rigor standardized tests and are ready for a “disruptive” change in model.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on January 29, 2014  6:13pm

Okay, I really hope that I’m not missing something from the comments below.  But it appears that people are upset that the CEO of the City would also serve on a board of an organization that is their minds controlled or responsible to the City.  With that being the case, Ursula Burns - CEO of Xerox - sits on its board and AmEx’s, Exon’s, and others.  Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were both on Microsoft’s board of director; indeed, Bill is the chairman of the board.  Mark Zuckerberg sits on Facebook’s board of directors and is its chairman.  And I presume Mike Stratton is a principal and board member for his corporation as well as the Stratton/Faxon races.  Perhaps not and I’m too lazy to look that up tonight.

The argument cannot be that a CEO can’t sit on the board of a company that is responsible to the CEO or an entity it represents.  Do you all actually hear the arguments you’re writing and then compare them to real life scenarios?  Or do you just say, hey, this sounds good?  Maybe I’m missing something.

Or is the argument that the BOE and AF, two non-profit organizations, are competitors and that she will share trade secrets?  If that’s the case, a formal waiver from both entities could easily be obtained.  Moreover, that argument would be foolish in as much as education is not a zero sum game.  Really, you all should be elated to have a mayor who is trying to improve the lives of New Haven’s youth.

posted by: ohnonotagain on January 29, 2014  7:49pm

Thank you Melissa for the clarification.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 29, 2014  8:00pm

@webblog

So the NEW tactic is to simply tell NEW LIES. 

I get it. LoL

posted by: William Kurtz on January 30, 2014  7:26am

Webblog wrote:

The fact that AF removes students who cannot maintain the academic challenge and exhibit self control, is necessary for the benefit of the majority. The parents of these recalcitrant students were made aware months prior to their removal, they did not make the adjustment, most parents agreed. Unfortunately, the students are placed back into the public system where their success is in jeopardy.[emphasis mine]

Of course you understand that this is the very essence of cherry-picking.
People like to pretend that it’s not so, that the public education system is ‘broken’ and private schools and charter schools are the answer but they’re playing a high-stakes game of hot potato with the lowest-performing students.

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on January 30, 2014  1:50pm

Quick question: does the mayor plan on being on all the boards of every entity in NH so that she will know those plans?  One shouldn’t have to join a board to know plans. Or is AF so clandestine that they refuse to reveal plans to the people of NH unless they too are on the board?

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on January 30, 2014  2:54pm

@Creating Urgency, please see:
http://dropoutnation.net/2012/05/24/best-of-dropout-nation-harvard-ed-school-profs-to-poor-and-minority-kids-you-dont-deserve-college-prep-education/

“When Thomas B. Fordham Institute education czar Mike Petrilli once again trotted out a defense of ability-tracking, the racialist-driven form of rationing education that essentially declares that poor and minority kids are incapable of comprehensive college-preparatory learning, he made the mind-boggling declaration that teachers need to be freed from “ideological” opposition to teaching methods that in his mind may work.”

“Let’s give Ronald Ferguson, Robert Schwartz and the other scholars behind the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s defense of damning poor and minority kids with low expectations some credit: The report does have colorful graphics. But that is all it is. The 52-page report along wrongfully perpetuates a century-old philosophy — that poor and minority kids aren’t capable of high-quality, college-level education — that is condemning far too many young men and women to poverty and prison.”

Ahem, yes, I know that one report does not a popular opinion create - however, she has a point.  Many educated people believe that blacks and minorities are incapable of achieving education.  And that by itself is a problem.

posted by: Melissa Bailey on January 30, 2014  4:37pm

Additional note:
As of July 2012, state statute requires charter schools to include a designee of the local school board on the charter governance board. That designee used to be DeStefano; now it’s Harp.

posted by: Achievement First on January 31, 2014  1:37pm

Achievement First is proud to continue to partner with city and community leaders to help improve education for all New Haven students. All of our New Haven public charter schools—Amistad Academy, Elm City College Prep and Achievement First Amistad High—offer New Haven public school parents another quality choice for their children’s education. We have a strong partnership with the New Haven Public School district, and we regularly share instructional resources and best practices. Achievement First is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization, and our funding goes entirely toward educating Connecticut’s most in-need students.

posted by: Achievement First on January 31, 2014  1:40pm

Furthermore, our students’ academic success cannot be attributed to “cherry picking.” Our students are admitted by blind lottery, there are no admission tests or fees, and our schools do not encourage struggling students to leave. From the first day a student—any student—arrives at one of our schools, we are 100 percent committed to retaining and educating that student. We embrace students who have a wide range of academic abilities and backgrounds. Through our individualized approach, extended school day and year, small-group instruction, tutoring programs, and analysis of achievement data, we work hard to ensure all students stay on track and don’t fall through the cracks.

Critics argue that charter schools are successful because they (knowingly or not) select the highest performing, least “at-risk” students. A Mathematica Policy Research study proved this is not the case. The study found that students who enter an Achievement First school academically outperform their demographically similar peers in traditional school districts. The study controlled for previous academic performance and demographic risk factors, such as low-income status. The study found that after three years at an Achievement First or Uncommon Schools middle school, students performed nearly a full grade level ahead of demographically similar peers in traditional district schools who began at the same academic “starting line.” Achievement First students excel because of the quality of our schools.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 31, 2014  5:40pm

Each time Achievement First gets challenged on their STUFF in this forum, they come back with different “facts” about who they are and what they do. 

They argued vehemently in their initial outing that they are a NON-profit Public School.  When those two lies were exposed, they begin to call themselves a Not-For Profit “organization”.  But old habits die hard I see.

So, they are still saying that they don’t “encourage struggling students to leave”, which means that the parents, teachers, and administrators to whom I’ve spoken personally are all individually and independently coming up with the SAME lie about their experiences with this Not-for-Profit profit making “organization”.  Guess what Achievement First: They are NOT lying. You Cherry-Pick your students. 

You bring students in the front door by way of a lottery, and you push them out of the back door when they threatened what are still the mediocre results you produce.

Now check out this line from their above statement: “Critics argue that charter schools are successful….” Hold up, SCREECHING HALT right there. 

WHAT critics have argued that charter schools are “successful”? And is AF trying to include itself, surreptitiously, in that backhanded compliment?

You’re NOT successful, even using the tactics that you do.  Your scores are no better than those from schools that don’t cherry-pick, AND YOU DO CHERRY-PICK.

Finally, as I have no access to the “study” cited and know nothing of its independence from the group that it seems to favor, I have no comment on it or confidence in it. 

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

P.S. Next time why not post comments as a PERSON and not as an “organization”, unless you, like others who use institutions to take advantage of the vulnerable, believe the two are the same.  That is all…For Now.

posted by: NewHavenPublic on February 1, 2014  10:57pm

@Achievement First – You do have a “strong partnership” with NHPS.  Garth Harries arranged to have New Haven Public Schools to pay you to run the principal training program.  As far as sharing ” instructional resources and best practices” how do you figure this is true in light of the admission by your CEO Dacia Toll that your teaching to the test is not best practice?  What is it you would be sharing, if you were in fact sharing?

You do not get to hide behind a “501(c)3 organization” “nonprofit” label when you are hardwired to hedge fund managers, underground lobbyists, and other privateers intent on undermining our public schools.  Nice try, but no.  Money drives your organization.

How do you explain your 51-59% high school attrition rate?  I do not doubt you are committed to obedient students.  I do know you have extensive expectations for family participation, evening and weekend work.  This is part of the “AF Deal”, and if for some reason your students or their families cannot meet your requirements, they are counseled out. 

We know. 

After they are counseled out of AF, they tell us how you get them to agree that they are not a “good fit” for your school.  It is not OK to do that to a child who thinks they are at a public school. 

Saying “Achievement First students excel because of the quality of our schools” is an incomplete, misleading statement.  The luster is off your private charter schools.  You have a sky-high suspension rate for kindergarten and first grade students.  You will get compliance, or else. 

We know how you give the appearance of excellence for anyone who wins your lottery, while actually delivering for a much smaller portion of our children. http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/amistad_signing_ceremony/

When your schools play by the rules of public schools, we will call you public schools.

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