Parents stormed the school board to protest a newly revived plan to move Hyde School from a costly swing space to a new home inside Hillhouse High School.
Superintendent Garth Harries announced at Monday’s school board meeting that he is considering moving Hyde School of Health Sciences and Sports Medicine, a 200-student magnet high school in the New Haven public school system, from its swing space in North Haven into an under-used wing of Hillhouse High at 480 Sherman Parkway.
Hyde would exist as a separate school sharing space with Hillhouse, Harries said. Hillhouse has extra room: It was built to serve 1,400 students and has only 950, according to Harries.
Harries said he has not made a final decision on the move.
The announcement marked the latest effort to save money during a budget crisis, and the latest effort to find a home for a nomadic school community. Hyde has been bouncing around between swing spaces in recent years. Former Superintendent Reggie Mayo tried to move Hyde to Hillhouse two years ago, but abandoned the idea amid opposition from parents and neighbors.
Hyde parents learned of the potential move in a meeting with Harries last week. Citing concerns about safety and losing the school’s identity and cozy environment, a group of parents mobilized to speak out against the proposal at Monday’s board meeting at Career High. No Hillhouse parents spoke for or against the idea.
Melvin Wells (pictured at the top of this story), who coaches football and track at Hyde and also has a son who attends the school, was one of nine parents who spoke against the move. He warned that kids from Hillhouse High might beef with Hyde students who come into the school from outside the neighborhood. Hillhouse is the comprehensive high school for kids in half of the city; many students hail from nearby Newhallville and Dixwell. As a magnet school, Hyde draws students from across New Haven as well as surrounding towns.
“To put all of our kids in one neighborhood—that’s not putting kids first,” Wells said.
“If you do it, it’s a travesty. You’re going to have difficulty.”
“Our fear is that Hyde will become another academy inside of Hillhouse High,” said Rev. D’Hati Burgess (pictured), who has two children at Hyde and hopes to send another one there in the fall.
“I don’t want my children in Hillhouse, close to Hillhouse,” he said.
Burgess said Hyde is already split among many locations: Its sports teams borrow spaces at Fair Haven School, Truman School and Wilbur Cross High.
“It’s not fair,” Burgess said. “We just want a place to call home.”
Hyde has occupied three buildings in the past three years: In 2012, Hyde left its home of 19 years, a former parochial elementary school in Hamden, because that space was costly, cramped, and lacked key infrastructure, such as science labs. Hyde moved to the abandoned Gateway Community College campus on Long Wharf, but was forced out after one year due to leaky roofs. Last fall, Hyde moved to a second abandoned Gateway campus—this time in North Haven.
The space costs the district $1 million per year in rent, facility and transportation costs, Harries said. Harries has been under pressure to get a handle on a $3.5 million structural deficit he inherited when he took over the school system in July. He announced Monday he has identified a way to close the budget gap this fiscal year. But the budget Mayor Toni Harp proposed leaves the school system with a $3.8 million hole for the next budget year, which begins July 1. Harries said the school system is under pressure to reduce its expenditures on leased spaces.
Harries said he is not closing Hyde: “I will fight like hell” for Hyde’s “continued existence,” he said. The school “generates significant demand” in the magnet lottery, he added. He said the long-term plan is to grow the school from 200 to 300 students, to allow the school to offer a broader array of courses.
In public comments, parents said they fear the school will be swallowed up by Hillhouse.
“We cannot incorporate Hyde into another school,” argued Jennifer Cary, of Shelton, one of several suburban parents who spoke against the move. “To merge it with another school would be essentially to close it.”
“You take away Hyde’s campus, and you take away the very identity of Hyde,” she warned.
“I’m not feeling good about this situation,” said Hyde sophomore Javon Eldridge, of West Haven. He said Harries consulted parents and staff but did not consult students about the move: “you never came to us to talk about how we feel.”
“I had a really fun two years at this school,” Javon said. “Just to see it up and move, or become part of Hillhouse, doesn’t make me feel comfortable.”
Other parents said they worry that the magnet lottery deadline has already passed, so it’s too late for them to make contingency plans for their kids if they don’t want to be at the relocated Hyde next year. They said they are not asking for a new building, just a standalone building dedicated to Hyde.
Board member Che Dawson asked Harries why Hyde has never had a permanent home. Harries replied that former Mayor John DeStefano’s $1.6 billion school rebuilding initiative originally aimed to rebuild or renovate every city school. Hyde was slated for a new building but got cut from the list.
Now that initiative has wound down. Harries said there is no space inside any other school district buildings for Hyde.
“We don’t have right now a low-cost, free-standing facility” to house the school, he said.
New “Academies” Planned At Hillhouse
Harries gave one reason that Hyde may be able to exist within Hillhouse and retain its identity: Plans are under way to create new “autonomous academies” within Hillhouse High next year, where a group of students learn from the same group of teachers. So the school may transform from a large, comprehensive high school into a set of more intimate environments, of which Hyde would be one.
Hillhouse already has four “small learning communities,” including one set aside for freshman and one for sophomores. Harries proposes to leverage state money to “redesign” Hillhouse to “make those four academies much deeper and more personalized.”
The goal, he said, is “that Hillhouse becomes a place where students proactively choose to go,” more so than they do now.
Incoming freshmen, and all sophomores, would get a choice next fall between two “autonomous academies”: One focused on “invention, design and entrepreneurship,” and a second one focused on public safety, according to plans under development. Hillhouse is already home to a public safety academy, which trains aspiring cops and firefighters.
Harries said he is “deciding whether we could implement this quickly enough” to launch the new academies in the fall.
Mayor Harp expressed support for the new academies because they would “prepare students for adulthood.” Too few city cops and firefighters hail from New Haven, she added.
Harries expressed confidence that the two schools could coexist well. From his time working in New York City, he said, he saw evidence that different schools could maintain their identities while operating side-by-side.
Harries said in New York, he also saw schools get bounced around without a permanent location. Too much moving “starts to damage the school,” he said.
In response to concerns about Hyde students’ safety at Hillhouse, Harries said all students deserve to go to school in a safe environment.
“We need to be wise to the neighborhood dynamics,” he said, but “it shouldn’t be the case that any of our kids are relegated” to an environment that parents would consider unsafe. Hyde parents’ desire to keep the cozy, family feeling of their school “highlights some of what we need to accomplish more broadly at all of our schools,” he said.
Hyde is small by any standard. The cost of it is not. The facility costs pale by comparison to staff, benefits, materials etc. Do we really need Hyde? NEED not WANT? Why should it be kept open? If the school enrollment grows, will there not be pressure to build yet another new school at a time when we can’t pay for the schools we have without ever rising tax increases?
I wouldn’t want my child at Hillhouse either. It’s a zoo. The Hyde students would have a tough time transitioning over to Hillhouse. The Hillhouse students would make it very difficult for Hyde. If my child were forced into that hell hole? I would quit my job & homeschool him.
posted by: Truly4u on March 25, 2014 10:18am
This is an injustice to the Hyde students. As a former Hyde student myself, HYDE changed my life mainly due to the small classes. Please don’t allow this to happen.
Mrs. Johnsky is in charge of the “move decision” so lets band together and OVERWHELM her with emails and calls.
posted by: robn on March 25, 2014 10:29am
Student security at Hillhouse is an exclusive problem that should be dealt with anyway for the security of existing Hillhouse students.
If Hillhouse has a wing with capacity for 450 more students, there is no good reason why 200 student school shouldn’t be moved there and allowed to retain its independence. I’m appalled that this wasn’t done sooner. To not do so is just internecine apartheid.
Could Hyde move into a wing of the Armory building on Goffee Street, or would that require extensive renovations?
If Hillhouse is being broken down into separate academies already, I don’t see why Hyde couldn’t effectively remain autonomous while also sharing a building with other schools.
Hyde gets a more permanent home. The Hillhouse building gets used to capacity. Hillhouse’s plan to separate into different academies is reinforced. Hyde becomes centrally located in the city with access to state-of-the-art athletic facilities and a somewhat recently renovated academic building.
posted by: connecticutcontrarian on March 25, 2014 11:21am
I can appreciate students’ concerns about being absorbed into Hillhouse. However, it seems incredibly inefficient and selfish to allocate a million dollars to running a building for only 200 students. NHPS really needs to consider consolidating schools and/or restructuring its programs. It’s ludicrous to allocate precious tax dollars toward subsidizing Hyde as essentially a private school of 200 students in another town no less. I get the safety concerns of bringing kids together from various neighborhoods but why should Hyde be treated differently from any other school that draws students from various areas.
posted by: JohnTulin on March 25, 2014 1:58pm
I get that these kids, parents, teachers don’t want to be apart of Hillhouse - but to suggest that the kids will attack one another is a pretty sad testament to the adults in these kids’ lives, in school and out! Can no parent reach them, are the adults at Hillhouse incapable of running a safe school? Only in New Haven would this excuse be offered and taken seriously! (Same could be said about sick uncles and other stuff)
posted by: PlacidoX on March 25, 2014 1:58pm
Hyde is a magnet school that has as its theme “Science and Sports Medicine”. Yale is one of the best science and medical schools in the world. This world-class university really could do more for New Haven in an obvious and positive way. Yale is always touting that it has a great relationship with New Haven. President Salovey just recently was advocating this very situation. Why not develop a real partnership/joint ownership between New Haven and Yale for Hyde? Yale must have an under-used or not used building somewhere in NH. Don’t know the details and intricacies involved - but just think of the fantastic possibilities.
posted by: Razzie on March 25, 2014 2:05pm
Didn’t we just sell 2 school buildings to Achievement First (Dwight and the bldg on Dixwell)? I find it difficult to believe we did not project our space needs for an additional building to house Hyde when those decisions to downsize our facilities were made. And due to that lack of foresight we must now relegate the Hyde community to permanently inadequate space arrangements.
And why are Hyde parents so fearful of HH? Perhaps that’s another avenue that needs exploring.
posted by: heightster70 on March 25, 2014 4:07pm
Suck it up. Send them to Hillhouse what makes them so special? How about whats in the best interest of the taxpayers. And if Hillhouse is so bad get rid of Kerm Carolina.
posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on March 25, 2014 5:12pm
The people of New Haven have been hoodwinked and bamboozled by the Board of Education.
We have at least 10 high schools in New Haven, several with 200–300 students or less. Each suggestion for a specialized educational focus – marine science, arts, sports medicine, careers, engineering, etc. – has resulted in the creation of a new school with its own building and administrative and teaching staff.
Hillhouse was once the first and largest magnet high school in the region. The reason why it now has 940 students is because the city’s student population has been so scattered by the number of alternative we support. We have more schools, school buildings and staffs to run than we can afford.
From the beginning, New Haven should have created these special “schools” within existing schools to save tax payers millions. Consolidation of these schools should be seriously considered.
Hyde, however, is unlike any other alternative school. It has its own partnership with a parent foundation in Maine, and a unique “character first” philosophy and focus. Hyde has a longer school day, its classes are very small, and its teachers are paid more than other New Haven public school teachers.
Annexing Hyde to Hillhouse won’t work. The two schools are incompatible because of their unique differences, not because of some of the unfortunate, inaccurate and untrue things which have been said or implied about Hillhouse students.
The objective of the New Haven Board of Education should be to provide every New Haven student equal access to a quality education in each and every New Haven school. However, this is not a reality today. The educational inequities among our schools would appall every citizen if they were aware of what is unfortunately going on in our schools.
posted by: Don in New Haven on March 25, 2014 5:33pm
Why not combine the present Hillhouse furniture, equipment, administration, staff, teachers and students with Wilbur Cross at the Cross facilities; then move to the newly vacated Hillhouse facilities all academies that are looking for homes?
Paying one million dollars to rent a building to serve as a school for 200 kids for 180 days is more than my pea brain can handle.
I truly understand the concerns, desires and wishes of all sides in this discussion and I believe the best answer is as I presented above: Move present Hillhouse to Cross and house homeless Academies at Hillhouse. We may call it The Academy Center…for example.
The resulting positive synergy for all groups would be impressive.
posted by: Theodora on March 25, 2014 5:40pm
If efficiency is the big issue, why not build one big school and stuff 5,000 students in it?
Why wouldn’t we do that? Because it does not promote learning.
The question I have is why are all the NHPS schools with big numbers of white suburban kids so untouchable, when the kids in the city get warehoused in schools with less engaging teachers and failed administrators?
We even have one school that is segregated by floor and the achievement gap from the second to third floor is appalling.
The folks at the district should be embarrassed by what they try to do and I hope a lot more parents come out to take ownership of the path the public schools takes. #kidsrise is a joke.
posted by: Snoopy on March 26, 2014 6:24am
Yet again the Independent has missed the mark, no where in this article does it mention that more than 50% of Hyde students are out of district and each town is paying the NH BOE 10,000-12,000 dollars a School year, also Hyde has a Federal and State grant for its Sports Science/Medicine curriculum. Hyde also has partnership with QU and Hyde of Maine and lets not forget that Hyde is second Sports Science/Medicine High School in the state the other is located in Hartford. Do the math this school brings in over a 1-million dollars to the NH BOE this is the reason why the BOE does not want close school but house it in another school that has some serious issues that they are just beginning to address. If you were at the recent BOE meeting you would have heard that Hillhouse is on the verge of being labeled a Tier-3 school based on its low performance. NH BOE needs not just money that Hyde brings in put all monies that there choice / magnet schools bring in to help pay for the outside consultants and infrastructure updates needed in their Tier-3(turn-a-round) schools. To all parents that have children in a New Haven Magnet/Choice school your school might be next, get involved and show your support because this fight is coming to you next.
posted by: Don in New Haven on March 26, 2014 7:03am
If you have difficulty accepting one million dollar rent in North Haven for 200 Hyde School students, have you read Mark Zaretsky’s article in this morning’s New Haven Register announcing the West Haven Planning & Zoning Commission delay of approval for NH BOE request to construct an $85.5 million school for regional Engineering and Science University Magnet School, or ESUMS, near University of New Haven?
According to NH BOE, ESUMS is for Grade Levels: 6- 8 and the School Population is approximately 240.
This project should be cancelled now
ESUMS also could be housed in Hillhouse High School.
posted by: Don in New Haven on March 26, 2014 8:57am
Positive, Thank you for correcting my ignorant comments about school population and grades, which came from information I gathered at the NHPS website. Perhaps you should mention this to our BOE, also.
I think robn was pointing out to Snoopy that if Hyde generates $1 Million in “revenue” from the suburbs and their current building costs $1 Million to rent, then there is nothing leftover to pay for teachers, administrators, materials, etc. which means that it isn’t cost effective as Snoopy implies.
posted by: Don in New Haven on March 26, 2014 2:11pm
Thank you for you explanation, but I cannot understand how these huge amounts of money can be committed without a referendum of the taxpayers. Public hearings are not the same as referendums.
The current methods cannot satisfy the most fundamental requirements of a democracy. No matter how you slice it, the money to North Haven is gone and NH has nothing to show for it.
If the $1 million to North Haven and the $85.5 million to West Haven had been approved by the taxpayers then spent on renovating the former Gateway facilities, the results would have been superior to sending money to North Haven or West Haven with no return on our investment.
All of the Academies and Magnet schools could be housed at the former Gateway facility on Sargent Drive.
posted by: robn on March 26, 2014 3:01pm
My point is that any imagined $1M profit from out-of-district students is blown on $1M of rented facilities. If we used empty space in an existing building owned by the city of New Haven, the $1M rent check goes directly back into education.
posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on March 26, 2014 6:25pm
The Board of Education wastes the taxpayers’ money with regularity without sufficient scrutiny and with impunity. Most people would be shocked at the various number of costly educational theories,philosophies strategies and programs tried and abandoned over the past 20 years. The BOE has hired overpaid consultants and private educational firms guide our school system and even run some of our public schools, when we pay our highly degreed professionals top dollar to do this job! We have not been getting what we have been paying for! No dramatic improvement in graduation rates, test scores, attendance, discipline. It appears that the BOE is grasping at any straws they can hold on to in their attempts to improve our schools without impressive results. The Board and the Teachers Union leadership can talk about New Haven as a national model of educational reform, but the teachers know what is going on. Don’t believe the hype! Talk to the teachers! That is a novel idea that the BOE should have done regularly, instead of sending down directives to the REAL professional educators to do things that won’t work. The New Haven taxpayers should demand that the BOE be more accountable and sensitive to the needs and wants of the people. We are paying millions of dollars to lease buildings in other towns to house schools and bus our students to those schools. This is insane! This is wasteful! This is foolish! Hamden is almost half the size of New Haven. They have one high school to meet most of the diverse educational needs of their students. We support 10 high schools!
posted by: 14yearsinNHandgone on March 27, 2014 6:22am
I love ho the New Haven parents who were lucky enough to get their kids into Hyde are strenuously opposing that Hyde operate out of New Haven.