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Hyde On Hold; Mayo Rebuked On Parents

by Melissa Bailey | Apr 24, 2012 8:02 am

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

Posted to: Schools, School Reform

Melissa Bailey Photo After parents objected they were kept in the dark about a “disappointing” plan to move Hyde magnet school to Hillhouse High, schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo agreed to reconsider.

Dawn Gibson-Brehon (at left in photo), a “football mom” at Hyde magnet school, raised several concerns about the proposed move at Monday night’s regular school board meeting at 54 Meadow St.

The exchange was one of two times Superintendent Mayo came under criticism Monday for the way he deals with parents.

The rebukes came at a time when Mayo and other officials have declared an intention to involve parents more in school reform.

Gibson-Brehon, an active and effective parent leader, appeared at the board meeting Monday with fellow parent Antoine Jackson (pictured above). They both have kids at Hyde School of Health Sciences and Sports Medicine, a small interdistrict magnet school camped out in a Hamden swing space.

Gibson-Brehon objected that the first time she heard of the district’s new plans for Hyde was in this March 19 Independent story. The story reported the district is applying for city and state funds to build a 20,000 square-foot addition to Hillhouse High to house the Hyde magnet school. The $41 million project, $17 million of which would be paid for by city bonds, also includes renovating Bowen Field at Hillhouse and installing new turf at the Wilbur Cross High School athletic field.

Beaver Hills neighbors said “hell no” to the proposal at a public meeting on April 20 of the aldermanic Finance Committee. They cited concerns about traffic, the loss of green space, Dumpsters, and gang rivalries.

In the public comments section of Monday’s school board meeting, Gibson-Brehon added to that list. (Click here to see the letter she read to the board.)

She said moving next to Hillhouse would result in a “loss of identity” for Hyde, which just received a magnet grant in 2010 to focus on sports medicine and health sciences. She recalled that the district’s old plan was to give Hyde a permanent home on the site of the former Martin Luther King School on Dixwell Avenue. Kids would have had their own building, walking distance from Bowen Field.

Gibson-Brehon said parents are “disappointed” in the proposal to annex Hyde to another school.

“We feel this new plan would jeopardize Hyde’s ability to build its own identity,” she said.

She also took issue with the district’s move to take away money allocated toward the Hyde building and put it towards renovating athletic fields at Cross and Hillhouse. She said the school needs more support for its new magnet theme. The school “doesn’t have enough space, science equipment or supplies for next year,” even as the district expects the school to add science classes and boost enrollment.

Finally, she took aim at the district’s omission of parental involvement. There were no neighborhood or parent meetings regarding the proposed move, which would take place in 2016. Gibson-Brehon said unlike other schools her other kids attend, Hyde does not have a building committee comprised of architects, administrators, teachers and parents to advise the school construction project.

She called that fact “extremely problematic.”

She questioned the district’s claim on its website that its $1.5 billion school construction project has a “high degree of community involvement” when parents were left out of the loop.

“Where is the transparency?” she asked.

“We don’t believe that reading about the school’s construction plans in the the New Haven Independent first before receiving any information from the district is the best way to build parent confidence or support.”

The Independent story was based on a proposal submitted to the Board of Aldermen as part of the budget process. It was approved by the citywide school rebuilding committee, whose meetings few members of the public typically attend.

Gibson-Brehon called on Superintendent Mayo to work with parents to come up with a new solution. She suggested the campus of Southern Connecticut State University as a potential building site. And she asked that the school move forward with creating a building committee.

Superintendent Mayo (pictured) listened and agreed to reconsider the plan.

“We’ll go back to the drawing board,” he said.

Mayo said he was out of town during last week’s meeting when public outrage emerged. He said he has since followed up with Beaver Hills Alderwoman Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, who rallied neighbors to show up to that meeting and speak up about the plan.

Mayo said the original plan to build a new home for Hyde would have cost $60 million. As the district looked at saving money, officials noticed that Hillhouse High is under-enrolled by 300 students, he said, so the possibility arose that Hyde could become “a school within a school” at Hillhouse.

Mayo said the principals of Hillhouse and Hyde were consulted on the move. He said the district was not able to inform parents or hold public meetings about the proposal because it was under a time constraint to get the request in to the Board of Aldermen and the state. He called the move a proposal, not a decision already made.

He said he would set up a meeting within the week with aldermen and others concerned about the move. He didn’t say the district would abandon the proposal, but “we will be sitting down and going to the drawing board” in search of a new solution.

“We’ll work out something for Hyde,” he pledged.

Heated Back-And-Forth

Earlier in the evening, a board member rebuked Mayo for how he dealt with an angry parent at another school.

The board member, Alex Johnston, intervened in an ugly back-and-forth Mayo had with a pre-K parent. Johnston urged Mayo not to get so personal in his remarks toward parents who come before the board.

Maurice Holness (pictured with fellow parent Danielle Hamrick) addressed the board to air “concerns about day-to-day operations” of Head Start and “the quality of parental engagement” in the program. He said parents on the Head Start Policy Council are not given enough input on matters like the budget or school food.

“The higher-ups in Head Start really monopolize the decision-making,” he said. Holness urged the school board to intervene. “This is our last resort.”

Mayo responded by publicly airing Holness’s personal history with the district. He said staff has made great efforts to meet with him, answer questions about how Head Start is run, and make special food accommodations for Holness’ son because of a religious diet. Mayo said he has spent “literally hours” with Holness. Mayo began to recount how Holness’ son was isolated from his peers at lunchtime at his father’s request.

“I think this is getting a little personal,” Holness objected.

Johnston stepped in to mediate after Holness got into a heated exchange with board member Susan Samuels, both of them interrupting each other.

“I am really troubled by this whole exchange,” Johnston said.

“Dr. Mayo, I’ve heard what you have to say,” Johnston said. But he said Mayo should not have brought up the context surrounding Holness’ kid. The parent “expressed concern in a general way” about Head Start, and then “the conversation took another turn.”

Mayo sits with the board during meetings and often answers public comments, though he is not a member. Mayor John DeStefano, who is a member of the board, was absent from the meeting.

Johnston said he hopes other parents in the room won’t be dissuaded from bringing up concerns to the board because of the way Holness was treated. “I don’t want to get into a situation of challenging people” in front of the board.

Holness ended on a bitter note: “Thank you for giving me the opportunity for Dr. Mayo to attack me and my child.”

“The board has asked me not to respond,” though “I would love to,” Mayo said.

Earlier, Mayo said the parent had “humiliated” school staff, despite all efforts to help him.

Mayo ended the exchange by turning to Johnston.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

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Comments

posted by: XT on April 24, 2012  10:47am

For all the money that the city has poured into its schools (mostly just the buildings), things won’t change for the better until Mayo leaves.  This article highlights how Mayo is unprofessional, unresponsive to community needs, and out of touch.

posted by: anonymous on April 24, 2012  10:49am

The Aldermen can bond $17,000,000 for another school building, but then can’t bond $30,000 as a match to get hundreds of millions of dollars in State and Federal funding for an improved bus/transit system? 

Where do our Aldermen expect the high school graduates to work?  The “jobs pipeline”?  Look at what jobs actually exist.  Yale employs a few thousand people, out of about 300,000 jobs in our area.  Well over two thirds of the graduates in New Haven who are lucky enough to find a job these days end up having to work in jobs located outside the city.  Not everyone can work for Yale, City Hall, or the Labor Unions.

posted by: Noteworthy on April 24, 2012  11:01am

Anonymous:

We don’t NEED a new bus/transit system. And frankly, there ought to be questions about whether we need a new Hyde School at all. We have more schools than anybody; more debt to go with it and not enough money to maintain what we have already built. There should be some discussion around consolidating schools and ending new construction all together.

posted by: ParentsRImportant on April 24, 2012  12:01pm

It is clear this NHPS education system believes it is exempt from engaging parents/students (the consumers of education) in a meaningful way that promotes students success from Pre-K - 12. It is clear they are an ADULTS ONLY education system with minimal to nonexistent State and Federal over site.

If Parents /Community work together the NHPS education system cannot continue to Bully Parents!

Here are some questions to be asked of the NHPS Board by New Haven Head start PARENTS, and Tax payers

1.  Why does the NH Head Start Program have to “recomplete” for Federal dollars? Does it have to do with the new federal accountability plan rolled out by President Obama Under existing rules, said Mr. Obama, “there just wasn’t enough accountability.” Under the administration’s new rule, Head Start programs will be evaluated on a regular basis “against a set of clear high standards.” But for those programs that don’t provide children the support and educational preparations they need, other organizations will be able to compete for the federal funding. “We’re not just gonna put money into programs that don’t work,” said the president. “We will take money and put them into organizations that do.” He said this is the “first time in history,” that Head Start programs will be truly held accountable for performance in the classroom.” (source: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57320714-503544/obama-announces-new-head-start-accountability-standards/)

2.    Has the current Head Start staff, including its LEADERSHIP that makes over $100,000 a year in salaries, been trained in the NEW Head Start Parent, Family and Community Engagement Framework? If so when did these professional development training days occur?  And Which entity enforces compliance?

3.  What State and/or federal Agency monitors NHPS contracts related to education i.e. Head Start? Is this process transparent? if Not why? 

4.  Has the New Haven Head Start program ever engaged in discrimination or retaliation practices against a child and their family because of a parent’s Religious belief or advocacy efforts on behalf of children? http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/hyde_move_heads_back_to_the_drawing_board/#e_auth

5.  What is the current Grievance process for NH parents if they have an educational concern? Clearly it cannot be the NH board because parents will be “belittled and publically humiliated.

6.  Since the state department of education has ruled that NHPS have to implement State law School Governance Councils that engage parents, teachers, and community members, have they been implemented and who is monitoring that process? See attached link http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/school_governance_councils/
Parents and families if YOU do not protect your children who will?

posted by: ParentsRImportant on April 24, 2012  2:19pm

The behavior and business practices of the NHPS Board leadership should be investigated by the Commissioner of the State Department of Education, The CT Head Start State office and the Federal Head Start Administrative office because if parents are being humiliated at public meetings(in front of their children in some cases)and their religious beliefs questioned, the questions become what legal protections are afforded parents against questionable civil right violations i.e religious comments and possible exclusions related to a Head Start federal program activities, FERPA(Family Educational Rights Privacy Act) and an even bigger question, what are they doing to OUR kids in the classroom?  One has to wonder and be concerned and afraid!  No more sidelines Parents get in the education arena and fight for your children’s future!  It is your child!  Also register to vote and VOTE in the upcoming elections because Parents/Families/Community are the game changers!

posted by: Brutus2011 on April 25, 2012  1:56pm

I have refrained from commenting after first reading this article as I wanted to let a day or so temper my response.

Many of us have been aware of Dr. Mayo’s failings, amply on display as reported here, for some time.

I hope that Dr. Mayo looks within and begins to truly see that he commands a very powerful position that can effect great good or great harm to those around him.

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