Following are two letters about the impending move of New Light High School to the Wooster Square neighborhood. The first, written by Superintendent Garth Harries to neighborhood Alder Aaron Greenberg, responds to concerns raised by neighbors once they learned about the move. The second letter, by neighborhood activist Ruth Koizim, presses for more of a response.
The Harries Letter
July 25, 2014
Alder Aaron Greenberg
Board of Alders – City Hall
165 Church Street, Second Floor
New Haven, CT 06510
Dear Alder Greenberg,
Thank you for coordinating a community meeting to discuss the potential of relocating the Dixwell New Light School to the former Polly McCabe building in Wooster Square. The conversation was constructive and engaging and I look forward to this being the start of a strong relationship between the school and community.
After reflecting on our meeting and considering the options, I have decided to move forward with relocating New Light to 21 Wooster Place. As part of that decision, I want to be clear that both the school and district are committed to establishing strong communication and re-building trust with residents and business owners in Wooster Square. New Light wants to be a good neighbor and the district wants to be a good partner. This letter will lay out some of beginning steps we believe will start to build a positive relationship between the school and neighborhood.
• Moving forward, the school will be called New Light High School.
• In order to ensure consistent, open and on-going communication, we will set a schedule of community meetings to discuss the school and its place in the community. The next general community meeting will be in October.
• We will schedule an open house/welcome event by mid-September for school staff, families and neighbors. A calendar of events, including the open house and community meeting, will be made public by early September.
• We will continue to refine plans for security, transportation and parking, providing that information for further feedback and reaction before the start of school. To support arrival and dismissal of students, we will have supervision outside the building for 30 minutes at the beginning and the end of each school day, at the entrance to the school and surrounding areas as students.
• We will work with the New Haven Police Department to collaborate on school and neighborhood safety. New Light Principal Larry Conaway has been in contact with local patrol officers and has reached out to Downtown District Manager Sgt. Tammi Means this week.
• We will work closely with neighboring Conte West Hills School and Principal Dianne Spence to nurture a strong relationship that benefits both schools, including creation of plans for sharing athletic space and establishment of strong communication between both school’s staff, students and families.
• We look forward to engaging in volunteer opportunities in the Wooster Square neighborhood and welcome interest in mentorship and other volunteer opportunities both at New Light and Conte-West Hills. Principal Conaway has spoken to Peter Webster about participating in the Wooster Square Neighborhood Association and block watch, and will follow up with that conversation.
Our goal is to create an open dialogue around issues that matter to the neighborhood, such as security, transportation, and parking. These are important issues to us as well, and we intend to have plans in place on all fronts to maintain a safe and welcoming school.
Additionally, Principal Conaway and his team will work on compiling information to respond to questions raised at the community meeting and in subsequent conversations.
We are committed to making this relationship between New Light and the community a positive one and we will continue to keep the lines of communication open as we work toward that goal. As issues or concerns arise, we will address them swiftly and work with the community to find a solution. We expect all issues to be resolved constructively and reasonably but, if they cannot be, we will develop alternate facility plans for the program. In addition, the district also will continue to seek ways to utilize available resources and facilities in ways which maximize our education mission, which could lead to an alternate location for the program regardless.
New Light High School is a school that brings new beginnings and opportunities for students who have struggled in the traditional school system. The program lifts students to their potential and transitions them smoothly back into their neighborhood school or into the world beyond high school. Our program adheres to the various learning styles of our students in a combined curriculum of academics, counseling, community service, work readiness, and internship training. We believe the relocation into Wooster Square will benefit these students as they seek a successful educational experience in such an engaging, diverse, and socially rich community. We look forward to being a good neighbor to the Wooster Square community.
Superintendent of Schools
The Koizim Letter
7 August 2014
Mr. Garth Harries
Superintendent, New Haven Board of Education
54 Meadow Street
New Haven, CT 06519
Dear Superintendent Harries,
Alder Greenberg forwarded the letter dated July 25 which you sent in reaction to our meeting at Conte School on July 21. I applaud your efficiency in being able to reflect upon the issues we raised and consider other options for relocation the New Light High School in so short a time.
While the stated desire to be a good neighbor and partner, engaged in a positive relationship between New Light High School and the Wooster Square community is laudable, your letter contains only vague indications of how that will be accomplished.
Step 1 of your 7-step “plan” consists of the renaming of the school itself, a cosmetic fix at best. This does not relate to the issues we raised and suggests that you have failed to understand those issues.
In Step 2, you state your goal of ensuring consistent, open and on-going communication. This is the area in which you have fallen short of the mark. What you propose is not an adequate response. Having community meetings is a good idea but meetings are not a valid replacement for regular reports from New Light and your office.
Step 3 is only slightly different from Step 2. An open-house is a publicity event, not an occasion for real dialogue.
In Step 4, you say that you will continue to refine plans for security, transportation and parking and that there will be opportunity for feedback and reaction prior to the start of the school year.
It is imperative that a draft of these proposals be sent as soon as possible, with a provision for face-to-face discussion before any policy is put into place. Time is growing short and the window of opportunity for true dialogue is decreasing rapidly. Please permit me to remind you that telling people what you have decided to do is not the same as asking for and carefully considering community input.
If your plan to have supervision outside the school for 30 minutes at the start and the end of the school day is an indication of the extent of your planning, you need to be aware of a serious flaw: as you yourself said, students come and go at a variety of times, depending upon their off-campus activities. What supervision plan is there for those other arrivals and departures? How far are the off-campus job/ internship sites from New Light’s new location compared to its previous location? How will students travel to their off-campus activities from Wooster Square and who will guarantee their arrival? Specific details must be provided in advance.
It is logical that you and New Light collaborate with the NHPD. To highlight that as part of your planned response to our concerns, as you do in Step 5, is disingenuous at best.
I am especially alarmed about the plan for facilities-sharing with the Conte West Hills School (Step 6). It is inappropriate to have older teenagers, regardless of their past history, sharing space that is intended for and primarily utilized by younger children. Having older students coming and going on a campus with numerous areas which are difficult to supervise is extremely risky. In view of the obvious drawbacks of the plan, what, specifically, are the plan’s advantages Conte students and their families to which you allude?
Since our meeting, what communication has your office sent to the Conte families? Conte West Hills has been a part of the Wooster Square community for many years, so it is imperative that we receive copies of what is sent to the families and that they likewise receive copies of all messages sent to residents of the neighborhood. I recommend that an email notification list be established for shared, joint communications, with specific people in each community (Conte West Hills, New Light, the PTO’s, BOE central administration, the Wooster Square Block Watch, Historic Wooster Square Association, the Alder, etc.) Informing only the Alder, as you have done thus far, is based on the erroneous assumption that he represents all the constituencies affected by the relocation of New Light High School to this area.
Step 7 is encouraging but falls short of acknowledging the concerns raised at our meeting. I am sure that there will be opportunities for New Light students to become involved in Wooster Square neighborhood activities. Their participation in the neighborhood Block Watch is out of the question: I am surprised that you are unaware that participation in the Block Watch is for residents, not visitors.
Many important questions remain unacknowledged and therefore unresolved. How many students will be enrolled at New Light? In the printed material which you circulated, the eventual population was indicated as between 30 and 40 students. At the meeting, Principal Conaway expressed his intention to limit the school size to 30 students. A verbal assurance without a written contract stipulating a cap of 30 students (or fewer) to back it up is insufficient and unacceptable.
We were told that every New Light student and his/her guardian will sign a behavior contract. We must see that contract before it is finalized in order to be sure that the parameters within which the students are expected to operate is consistent with our concerns. For example, what, specifically, are the consequences of particular infractions, both in school and outside its walls? What behaviors would result in a student receiving out-of-school suspension? As I am aware of your publicly-stated opposition to out-of-school suspension, I cannot but wonder whether and when this sanction would be applied.
If a student cannot or will not abide by the contract, where will s/he attend school? In other words, if a student is not successful at New Light, what are her/his other options? Related to this concern, in what way(s) will student success be measured? It is essential that we see a clear statement of policy in that regard. Mr. Comarco stated that arriving at school might be one such benchmark. Surely the bar must be set higher than that.
The penultimate paragraph of your letter is rich in buzz-words but devoid of specifics. A commitment to building a positive relationship is a worthy goal, not a plan. Expecting that all issues will be resolved constructively and reasonably - and you fail to define a constructive and reasonable resolution or how this might be attained – is another worthy goal, but without concrete details, we are left with our original skepticism. You twice leave open the possibility of relocating the school out of Wooster Square, but without providing examples of what might lead to such a decision or indeed how the community would have input on the process. Given the lack of substantive communication between your office and the community, we are unwilling to leave this to chance.
Your letter is full of kind assurances of good intentions, and I appreciate that. Without specifics,
however, what you are really saying is that we have to trust you. Nothing in your actions to date suggests that you have earned that trust.
Ruth G. Koizim
Owner, 560 Chapel Street