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Reformer Moves Inside

by Melissa Bailey | Oct 15, 2009 12:30 pm

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

Posted to: Schools

IMG_0750.JPGAs he moves forward with sweeping reform plans, the mayor has tapped a former critic and education watchdog to join the school board.

Alex Johnston (pictured), founder and CEO of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), was appointed Thursday to fill one of three vacant seats on the eight-person school board. Selase Williams, provost at Southern Connecticut State University, was also named to the board.

The appointments come as the city is poised to make national waves with a sweeping school reform drive that aims to close the achievement gap by 2015, cut the dropout rate in half and ensure that every student can go to college, Mayor John DeStefano said. The city hit a milestone toward that goal Tuesday, when teachers overwhelmingly ratified a new labor contract that gives the district flexibility to dramatically change the way schools are run.

Johnston’s statewide school reform advocacy group has in the past been at loggerheads with the mayor. The group has fought at the state level for funding for charter schools and changes in teacher certification. It has been an outspoken critic of Connecticut’s racial and economic achievement gap. The group touted the successes of charter schools like Amistad Academy and called on New Haven to accept, not reject, those emerging models. The mayor long clashed with charter school proponents, but recently joined the Achievement First board and in the past year enlisted them as partners in his evolving school reform plan.

To read about the past tensions, click here and here.

Now there’s an emerging “alignment” in priorities among ConnCAN, the district, and the Obama administration, Johnston said in an interview Thursday.

“I think that with the ratification of the teacher’s contract and all of the recent developments, New Haven is really poised to have a nationally significant reform effort,” Johnston said. “The mayor and superintendent are extremely committed to getting results as rapidly as possible.”

Johnston said he looks forward to bringing a reform advocate’s perspective to the table. The school board “has a significant role to play in shaping the reform and ensuring that it’s enacted with fidelity” and “that there’s a way to measure the success,” he said.

Before starting ConnCAN in 2005, Johnston served as director of operations at the city housing authority.

williams.jpgWilliams (pictured) is the second highest-ranking administrator at SCSU. Prior to this job, he served for 11 years as dean at California State University at Dominquez Hills. At that post, he raised over $2 million in gifts for the university and oversaw partnerships with local public schools, according to a city press release.

Both new board members will set to work Saturday morning, when the school board convenes for a strategy session about the role the board will play in guiding the reforms.

“As we really start to gear up this reform work, I am thrilled to have two such respected and committed partners to help us create the type of district we know is possible,” said schools chief Reggie Mayo in a press statement.


Some previous stories about New Haven’s school reform drive:

After Teacher Vote, Mayo Seeks “Grand Slam”
Will Teacher Contract Bring D.C. Reward?
What About The Parents?
Teachers, City Reach Tentative Pact
Philanthropists Join School Reform Drive
Wanted: Great Teachers
“Class of 2026” Gets Started
Principal Keeps School On The Move
With National Push, Reform Talks Advance
Nice New School! Now Do Your Homework
Mayo Unveils Discipline Plan
Mayor Launches “School Change” Campaign
Reform Drive Snags “New Teacher” Team
Can He Work School Reform Magic?
Some Parental Non-Involvement Is OK, Too
Mayor: Close Failing Schools
Union Chief: Don’t Blame The Teachers
3-Tiered School Reform Comes Into Focus
At NAACP, Mayo Outlines School Reform
Post Created To Bring In School Reform
Board of Ed Assembles Legal Team

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posted by: Cross Teacher on October 15, 2009  1:03pm

An excellent addition!

posted by: jeffreykerekes on October 15, 2009  3:06pm

I have met both of these individuals and I think this is good news.  I am particularly excited about Alex Johnston being part of the school reform process.  He is a needed voice!!!  Good news!

posted by: End the Waste on October 15, 2009  3:09pm

Great choice.  Alex did a great job at the Housing Authority.

posted by: streever on October 15, 2009  3:36pm

I’m really glad to see the Mayor reacing out to a former adversary.

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on October 15, 2009  4:32pm

“...WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE.”

I hope this endorsement doesn’t hurt them, but these are FANTASTIC appointments.

Alex knows more about successful systems of school accountability than anyone.  And Selase has been a key player in helping Cheryl Norton transform SCSU into a more competitive university with additional pathways and opportunity for its students.

The fact that the old BOE is melting away before our very eyes, and that DeStefano has chosen two independent experts in the field of education, and who are most certainly not historic political allies, should tell you a lot about the mayor’s sincerity around the reform effort.

posted by: Vidar Simpson on October 15, 2009  4:47pm

Talk about letting the fox in the henhouse! Why not just cede control of the district to Achievement First right now and save everyone the agony of incremental changes….

posted by: Bob Solomon on October 15, 2009  5:16pm

Having worked with Alex in the past, I know he will serve with the same dedication and intelligence with which he tackles every task.  My real comment, however, is to Vidar Simpson.  The basic crux of your comment is that strong-willed people with different views cannot work together in a productive manner.  I believe that part of the difficulty in governing is that too many people agree with you, so every initiative becomes a question of who wins and who loses.  Alex Johnston’s work at the Housing Authority required that he sit down with redevelopment and modernization staff, to figure out how to divide a limited pot three ways.  When I say “sit down,” I mean over many hours stretching over many weeks.  Outside of the workplace, there are other models, like Deliberative Polling, in which peole with differing views go through a process to try to reach a greater understanding.  This does not mean that you reach concensus, but that opinions and decisions are based on careful reflection, not shouting bumper stickers.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 15, 2009  6:14pm

Again the peoples voice left out.We need to elect not appoint school board members.Jut two more puppets from king john collection.

posted by: William Hosley on October 16, 2009  1:21am

Bravo. Alex rocks and the values and ideas he espouses are a plausible antitode to the calcified culture of public school education. Rebuilding every school in New Haven is nothing if the what happens inside them doesn’t evolve. The challenge of transforming our cities back into viable, thriving places is all about this costly knot at the heart of them. New Haven could and should be a national model. If not now, when?

Good luck!

posted by: Tim Holahan on October 16, 2009  10:55am

I applaud Alex Johnston’s appointment, and I think it adds significant credibility to the mayor’s reform initiative.

In my limited contact with Alex, he has struck me as honest, smart, and dedicated. I don’t know anything about his work at the housing authority, but from everything I’ve seen, to refer to him as anyone’s puppet seems completely invalid. As this article mentions, ConnCAN’s “Mind the Gaps” campaign was admirably executed and won significant victories that will enable reform efforts across the state.

During the campaign, hundreds of parents and students were mobilized to support and testify for changes to laws and processes that were blocking analysis and improvement of our educational systems.

Three Fifths, if that’s not the voice of the people what is? Who is?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 16, 2009  3:49pm

Tim Holahan
Three Fifths, if that’s not the voice of the people what is? Who is?

The voice of the people of those of us who have the right to pick and chose who is to speak on behalf of the people.It is a fact that when these appointments are made by the machine,The person is then controled by the machine. Look at West Haven they have for years a elected school board.
Other states have elected school boards and they work.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bal-md.kane18feb18001642,0,3838996.column
So tell me what is work with a elected school board.
P.S. I look at conncan board and funders,Load with former corporatist and good old Bank of American and you know the deal with them.


posted by: Tim Holahan on October 16, 2009  5:23pm

The voice of the people of those of us who have the right to pick and chose who is to speak on behalf of the people.

I’m not completely sure what you’re saying there, Three Fifths, but let me take a swing: are you saying that by virtue of being appointed by the mayor, Alex will inevitably become a puppet doing the mayor’s will?

I believe there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. Jeffrey Kerekes was appointed to the Financial Review and Audit Commission by the mayor, though his views about the budget were known to be quite different from the administration’s; nor have they changed since he joined the FRAC. I was appointed to the Budget Review Panel by Carl Goldfield, and I don’t think Carl or anyone else would say I “did his will”. Forgive the personal example; I’m sure there are many more instances of appointed office-holders acting independently, these are just the cases I know personally.

I agree that at least at least some of our Board of Ed members should be elected. It’s a common practice, and I believe New Haven is the only municipality in the state that doesn’t have elected Board members. Residents who agree should ask their aldermen to change the city charter to enable election of at least some of the Board. (Charter revision will be another major topic in the city over the next two years, as we’re due for a Charter Review Commission.)

You also seem to be saying that, because ConnCAN board members and donors have corporate connections, they are insincere in their commitment to education reform. How so? Even if they’re motives are as self-interested as “we need a better-educated work-force”, their support can still be useful. I imagine Alex is happy to have it.

Please explain how ConnCAN and/or Alex are de-legitimized by accepting corporate support.

posted by: sjbj on October 16, 2009  5:43pm

Threefifths, don’t forget that ‘the people’ elected ‘king john’. what makes you think they would do a better job with electing a school board???

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 16, 2009  10:45pm

Frist let me address SJBJ.
You said Threefifths, don’t forget that ‘the people’ elected ‘king john’. what makes you think they would do a better job with electing a school board???

Easy answer.Some people elected king john and some of the people did not vote for him.The point is that there was a election for the people to vote for him or not vote for him.When you make appointments of people it becomes nothing more then political patronage and that is big time here in new haven. So election are more fair than appointments.Rember how many appointments by king john have to at reelection time put money into his political coffins.

Now to answer Tim Holahan.

I’m not completely sure what you’re saying there, Three Fifths, but let me take a swing: are you saying that by virtue of being appointed by the mayor, Alex will inevitably become a puppet doing the mayor’s will?

Yes no doubt.Show me anyone here in new haven politics who is appoint by King John that is a indepedent thinker or will go against him.How do I know this .I had the chance to meet god rest his soul Chuck Allen and I Learned a lot about how king john is. Even if Alex doesn’t become a pupppet as you say, what is he going to do about the other puppets who are under king john control now. There is a old saying,If you take the kings meat you must do the kings biding!!! Asked Alex
How does he like his meat medium or rare. Rember most of those who you say under king john who act Independently,I bet you they are no longer around.

You also said I agree that at least at least some of our Board of Ed members should be elected.

I dont’ get this one.Why not just elected every member not just some.


You also said You also seem to be saying that, because ConnCAN board members and donors have corporate connections, they are insincere in their commitment to education reform. How so? Even if they’re motives are as self-interested as “we need a better-educated work-force”, their support can still be useful. I imagine Alex is happy to have it.

Please explain how ConnCAN and/or Alex are de-legitimized by accepting corporate support.

Be cause there motives are self-interestted. Case and point check this statement out and you tell me
if this is not about self-interested .

We’re not speculators. We’re investors.” So says the CEO of a real estate trust that recently sunk some $170 million into 22 charter schools.

Which got me wondering: why charter schools? How do they end up looking like sound investments?

It turns out the buyer, Entertainment Properties Trust (EPR), buys real estate nationwide, with its total portfolio worth about $2.6 billion. Over half of that is in megaplex movie theaters. EPR’s stated goal is to be “the nation’s leading destination entertainment, entertainment-related, recreation and specialty real estate company.”

Here is the whole store if you want to read it. and also check this one out.

http://normsnotes2.blogspot.com/2009/09/charter-schools-gamble.html

http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/send-clowns-3-stooges-gingrich-sharpton-duncan-hit-road-corporate-“school-reform”

Last to answer you question on this.

Please explain how ConnCAN and/or Alex are de-legitimized by accepting corporate support.

Look at Bank of American that is one of there funding corpartion.Look at the record of bank of American and what it has done to the people.

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Bank_of_America


I would not take money from a Corporation who does business like this.Somethinglike this would de-legitimized any one who took money from this type of corporation.

Bottom line As I said If you take the kings meat
ypu must do the kings biding. Rare or medium done.

posted by: Reform This on October 18, 2009  2:34pm

New Haven is very good at showing off for the public.  Unfortunately, what the public doesn’t see is the lack of supplies, shortage of staff and blatant disregard for special needs students in many NH schools.  Mayo and his cronies talk a good game - from an office not located inside any school, mind you.  But they are hypocrites.  Just read their own reform plan:  The district wants to attract and retain quality teachers.  Then it turns around and gives pathetic non-answers to very real concerns like the serious lack of parental involvement.  Of course, when teachers point that out to Mayo and his cronies, they do everything in their power to cast teachers in a poor light and label them as excuse-makers.  It’s a sin what truly goes on.

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