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Mayo Decries Parent “Ambush”

by Melissa Bailey | Nov 27, 2012 4:48 pm

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

Posted to: Schools, School Reform

Melissa Bailey Photo Contributed Photo A Thanksgiving card showed up at Superintendent Reggie Mayo’s door. Inside, he found a photo of a blackened piece of pizza from a school cafeteria.

The card was delivered by a parent group called Teach Our Children (TOC), which has teamed up with the student group Youth UnleashED, in a new joint campaign focused on improving city schools.

“Dr. Mayo, Happy Thanksgiving! May your meal be healthier and more appealing than New Haven’s school food,” the card read.

“May your transportation to your destination be safe unlike the school buses. We need you to work with us!” it continued.

Subsequently, at Monday night’s school board meeting, Mayo denounced TOC’s approach. The group was active a few years ago, known for frequent public actions and visits to the school board, many of which devolved into confrontations. Mayo accused TOC of not working in good faith with school officials; they in turn accused Mayo of ignoring their concerns and in one case walking out of a meeting. The bitter, public dispute came to an end with the help of community mediators. The group had been quiet for the past three years.

Now, Mayo announced to the school board, “they are back.”

And he wasn’t cheering the news.

“It appears they have not moved on from their former tactics of communication by ambush,” Mayo said.

Contributed Photo In a meeting Tuesday, TOC parent leader Renee Wells (at right in photo) said she joined a small group of parents and one student delivering the Thanksgiving card to Mayo, and a similar one to Mayor John DeStefano, last week. She said the card came only after Mayo and DeStefano failed to respond to requests to set up a meeting.

Wells said the group aims to meet with the top decision-makers to come up with solutions to problems parents are facing with school bus safety and school food. Included in the card were two photos students took at Hillhouse High School depicting unappetizing food—a piece of chicken and a dark piece of pizza.

Wells and her group also included parent testimony recounting problems on school buses. For example, Wells said her 8th-grade student, who attends Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School, has been bullied and teased on the bus. Parents issued a list of demands, including: aides on all school buses, “functioning cameras” and anti-bullying signs on school buses, and better communication about when buses are running late.

On Nov. 8, Wells and Mark Ifill-Haney (pictured), a student leader at Youth UnleashED, wrote a letter to Mayo requesting a meeting with him and the mayor to discuss these issues, as well as others surrounding school food and sanitation. They gave Mayo a Nov. 14 deadline to respond to them, and requested to set up a meeting before Dec. 1, when they plan to hold a public meeting on the topic. When they didn’t hear back, they followed up with emails on Nov. 19.

In a Nov. 19 email, Sean Matteson, the mayor’s chief of staff, replied that the mayor “is away this week and is unable to respond to your email regarding your letter.” That was the only response the group got, Wells said. So TOC and Youth UnleashED decided to take it to the next level with the Thanksgiving cards, she said.

After the Thanksgiving delivery, Mayo responded to parents with an email. He offered to meet them on Thursday at his office at 6 p.m.

However, Mayo reported to the school board Monday, TOC turned down that offer.

“They insist we meet at their office,” not the Board of Ed, Mayo reported. He interpreted that as an unwillingness to cooperate. “Everything has to be their way.”

Wells later explained that her group isn’t trying to be difficult—TOC just wanted to meet Mayo in a location that has childcare and enough parking. She said she made that clear in her email, which she said aimed to mimic the language Mayo had used, in a professional and polite way.

Mayo, meanwhile, Monday night distributed copies of Youth UnleashED’s flyers advertising their meetings.

“School lunches making you sick? Bathrooms grossing you out?” one flyer asks.

Mayo called their language “inflammatory” and “sarcastic.” He said in the last few years since TOC became inactive, the school system has made great strides in engaging parents. He cited a newly revived Citywide PTO, volunteer canvasses knocking on parents’ doors, New Haven Promise offering college scholarships, and a Parent University that brought 250 parents to Gateway Community College for workshops. 

He said he doesn’t want to see the district’s relationships with parents regress.

School board members agreed.

“I’m just sad to see this group is still operating in this manner,” Susan Samuels said. “I feel for Superintendent Mayo and Mayor DeStefano. I just am glad I am not in their shoes.”

Board President Carlos Torre, who met with TOC years ago, said, “at one point I thought it was difficult” to meet with the group. “Then I thought it was not very useful at all.”

He welcomed them to be “straightforward” and operate “without the ambush.”

“This group doesn’t seem interested in dealing with issues,” Torre said. They’re more interested, he said, in “throwing bombs.”

“I wouldn’t say don’t engage them,” suggested DeStefano. He said the district needs to ask for specific examples of problems in the schools, then set up working groups to address them.

Mayo replied that in his response to TOC, he did ask for specific examples of their broad complaints.

“I don’t think they’re coming in good faith,” Mayo said, but he would meet with them.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Wells was still negotiating with Mayo’s office over the meeting details. She said Mayo tried to meet with her one on one, but she refused because she’s representing a group.

Meeting or not, TOC and Youth UnleashED plan to hold a public meeting on Saturday, Dec. 1 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Center Church on the Green Parish Hall at 311 Temple St.

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posted by: Threefifths on November 27, 2012  6:20pm

How do we know the pizza was not take out of the garbage can?Do the person try to get another pizza.

posted by: TOC Mom on November 27, 2012  6:44pm

As a parent in Teach Our Children, my main focus is to try to solve the issues we have brought to the table.  We are looking forward to our meeting with Superintendent Mayo so we may collaboratively focus on some of the specific issues we have already given him.  I believe we have a shared goal of providing the best schools for all New Haven students.  Our focus is on the Safety and Health of our students.  The longer it takes to discuss our goals the more students are being bullied, eating poor quality food and lacking intervention for their safety and health.  We would like to be able to announce on Saturday that our meeting with Mayo was profitable and solutions are being put in place.  It is our desire to have a working and strengthened relationship so we may all support our future leaders of tomorrow.

posted by: gogogordon on November 27, 2012  7:19pm

I hate to sympathize with Dr. Mayo but TOC does that to me.  As a parent interacting with the group, I found TOC volunteers to be very standoffish even when they were recruiting.  They presented their arguments with the gusto of the righteous but when questioned (even if only to ask for clarification of a point) the volunteers seemed to take personal offense that the listener did not automatically agree that the TOC way was the One True Way.  I think parent’s groups should absolutely advocate for all the children of New Haven but TOC seemed to regard the BOE, Superintendent, etc. as the enemy rather than as entities to collaborate with.  Their adversarial world view turned this parent off and while the issues they highlighted with this stunt are worthy of discussion, a dialogue requires talking but perhaps more importantly listening - something I found TOC had difficulty doing.

posted by: robn on November 27, 2012  7:21pm

I love burnt pizza. Also cold pizza.
Pretty much, there has to be some sort of visible mold growth for me to shy away from New Haven pizza.

posted by: Brutus2011 on November 27, 2012  7:23pm

Mayor DeStefano, President Torre, and Superintendent Mayo are reaping the bitter fruits of their power play tactics.

The time is coming, perhaps after the mayoral election next year, when these people will be dispatched to the annals of history.

Then, and only then, will New Haven have a real chance to revitalize our public school system.

You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

posted by: CedarHillAve158 on November 27, 2012  7:53pm

The children and familes in New Haven deserve to be treated in a dignified manner as taxpayers that contribute to the Board of Ed budget.
Low income does not equal no income;  taxes are still paid.

Public assistance recipients have extended families that pay taxes and may provide child care for working family members.

posted by: Threefifths on November 27, 2012  9:40pm

I wouldn’t say don’t engage them,” suggested DeStefano. He said the district needs to ask for specific examples of problems in the schools, then set up working groups to address them.

Mayo replied that in his response to TOC, he did ask for specific examples of their broad complaints

How about a elected school board with term limits for all board members.

posted by: RCguy on November 28, 2012  12:25am

Well hey, someone’s gotta do SOMETHING to get through to Mayo and Destefano, right?

I especially like the 6 day notice on the initial letter. On the one hand, it’s not nearly enough time for such distinguished and busy gentlemen to get back to the TOC.

But on the other hand, we ALL know that this secretive and snippy duo are capable of putting things off for 6, 60, 600… and even 6,000 days if they are not barged in upon in a vocal manner. Good for TOC. Keep it up.

posted by: Edward_H on November 28, 2012  3:01am

Ambush? It was a card and a photo for God’s sake not an IED and a group of Taliban!

posted by: trainspotter on November 28, 2012  3:25am

For a man in his position, Dr. Mayo is awfully sensitive when it comes to parents in the district. He frequently perceives acts of “disrespect” when they stand up on an issue. He uses words like “ambush” and “attack” as a way to excuse his refusal to engage on a level playing field. This group may very well be over the top in the tactics that they use, but his response has been the same with other groups as well. There is an extreme arrogance at the central office and the district really does not value parental or student input of any kind. That is the unfortunate reality. Oh, and the school food IS disgusting.

posted by: NewNewHaven on November 28, 2012  9:42am

While not a big fan of Mayo and Co., I am even a less of a fan of TOC.  They are rude, self righteous, and have no idea what they are talking about.  Just look at their name and the other proposals they’ve offered in the past! 

They are really just a front for disingenuous ‘ed reformers’ in the city, they were created and put out there by people associated w AF and other righteous groups in New Haven like All Our Kin.  Used by these groups, now they are using the kids.  Be honest and professional, Thanksgiving cards, really?

posted by: SaveOurCity on November 28, 2012  3:27pm

Good news - the list of folks who wish for an end to the DeStefano/Mayo regime appears to be growing.  Excited for next year’s election

posted by: TOC Mom on November 28, 2012  6:14pm

My children have had many good and bad experiences on the school bus.  Last year was one of the worst experiences for my daughter.  She was in the 7th grade and was being teased/bullied on the bus often.  Kids were calling her a lesbian, she was pushed hitting her head on the window of the bus, and was constantly coming home in tears.  Anything she said would only make it worse and she felt like all she got was repercussion when she told a teacher or principal.  The bus driver did not take action to these ongoing trials.  My daughter also had a frightening experience in fourth grade on the school bus to come home.  Her bus was always rowdy and she was teased then also.  On the way home from school an older boy was upset with the bus driver and when the bus slowed down he opened the back emergency door and jumped out of the bus.  The bus pulled over and chaos took over.  Not knowing the situation and my daughter being very late I began to panic.  When I finally found out what was going on and that the bus was waiting on police I got the location of the bus and went to pick up my daughter from there.  When I arrived many younger students were crying and no parents had been called yet.  I was told I could not take my daughter, who was also crying, off the bus.  She was screaming out the window of the bus for me and finally I told them I was taking my daughter an taking her home.  To this day, four years later, she still remembers that day like it was yesterday.

We are asking for bus monitors to be placed on all buses and better communication with the bus company.  We need Dr. Mayo and the New Haven Public Schools to work with us.

posted by: self-righteous parent on November 28, 2012  6:57pm

Teach Our Children has been active in the last 3 years.Here is NHI articles from 2011.

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

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

posted by: EPICERYN on November 29, 2012  9:33am

Kids deserve a happy, safe and fun time at school. Parents don’t deserve to be worried all the time when they send their children to school.

posted by: East Rockette on November 29, 2012  5:27pm

It’s been a year. I miss New Haven. I miss New Haven pizza. I miss New Haven’s awesome, tireless activists, who persist and prevail in the face of official disdain.

Also, I really, really miss robn’s hilarious comments on NHI.

I do not miss those school lunches.

posted by: GMhaven on November 30, 2012  9:20am

Busing and lunch issues have been a staple of the New Haven school system.  There needs to be adult supervision on busses. My child was bullied on the bus.  The driver can not be expected to watch the roads and the students and maintain the safety standards Expected of them.
Students that afford to may bring their own lunches, but others may have to choose not to eat, or take a chance playing lunch roulette.

posted by: Jacques Strap on December 3, 2012  9:31pm

Gee, this what some of Mayo’s administrators and department heads do to teachers they don’t like, so what’s the problem here?

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