Days after resigning from his job at the city’s new turnaround school, a Teach For America recruit burst back into the school cafeteria, issued a boisterous farewell from the school stage, and threw candy to kids, leaving parents and staff on edge.
The incident took place Tuesday at the Clemente Leadership Academy, the latest school to be handed over to outside management after years of failing test scores.
“I love you!” declared the teacher to his former students, before handing out candy and Häagen-Dazs ice cream.
The teacher was a recent college graduate hired by Renaissance Services LLC, the company that took over the school this fall, according to New Haven Public Schools spokesman Chris Hoffman. The teacher resigned from his job because it wasn’t working out, he said.
Principal Pam Franco she said she needed to check with her company and with the district before discussing what happened.
Because the school was dubbed a “turnaround,” Renaissance got the power to hire and fire teachers at the school, which serves about 500 kids in grades pre-K to 8 on Columbus Avenue in the Hill. Three-quarters of teachers left, and the company got to pick a slew of replacements. The new teaching crew includes five recruits from TFA, a national not-for-profit that aims to lure talented young people into urban and rural classrooms while offering an alternate route to teaching certification.
The teacher who made his dramatic farewell Tuesday was a language arts teacher in charge of the Read 180 program. The teacher had recently stepped down from his post because in the first two months of school, “It became clear both to him and to the school that it really wasn’t working out,” school system spokesman Chris Hoffman said. “He decided at the end of last week to resign.”
The teacher still needed to give his key back, Hoffman said.
Instead of entering through the front door, he appeared at a side door to the cafeteria at 12:25 p.m. Tuesday. Some students let him inside.
“At that point, he got up on the stage, took a mic, and was throwing candy out” to the students, Hoffman said. The teacher also handed out Häagen-Dazs.
Onstage, the teacher started yelling, “I love you kids! I love you all,” according to Ann Boyd, a grandparent at the school. Boyd said several staff and parents called her Tuesday distressed about the incident. She said students congregated around the teacher in search of something sweet to eat.
School security arrived to the cafeteria and told the teacher to leave, Hoffman said.
“If you’re going to come in the building, you’re going to have to come in like anybody else,” security officers told the teacher, Hoffman said.
The teacher then left the building, returned through the front door, and went into the principal’s office. He gave her two gallons of ice cream and his key to the building, before leaving at 12:45 p.m.
Boyd said after the teacher left the school, he stood across the street and yelled, “I love you all,” then took a small object out of his pocket.
“He has a gun!” people yelled, according to Boyd. The object turned out not to be a gun.
Hoffman said the school principal did not see the teacher make a scene outside the school. No students were injured, he said.
“We’re shocked to hear about the incident and fully support the district’s handling of the situation,” Danielle Montoya, a spokeswoman for TFA, said Tuesday. “The individual’s behavior was completely unacceptable.”
The farewell-er was a first-year teacher who had just finished TFA’s training over the summer. Hoffman said the teacher went through an “extensive vetting process” through TFA, and spent the summer teaching in a district similar to New Haven in New York state.
Edna Novak, who coordinates the TFA program in Connecticut, said the summer session went well and the organization saw nothing to foreshadow Tuesday’s behavior.
The teacher met the selection criteria for TFA and “participated successfully in the training over the summer,” Novak said. “I’m not sure what led to his actions today, but I think that there’s an element of human behavior that is out of our control.”
After he completed his TFA training, Renaissance then interviewed the teacher twice and checked his references before hiring him, Hoffman said.
Hiring decisions are up to the school, TFA’s Novak noted. The teacher applied with Renaissance, and “ultimately they felt like he would be a strong fit for that position.”
Novak said as soon as the teacher was “let go” from the district, he was removed as a TFA corps member.
Boyd said staff and parents are worried he’ll return Wednesday, and about a potential threat to students’ safety.
“What if it wasn’t ice cream?” she asked. “What if the ice cream was poison? What if he had a gun?”
According to Principal Franco’s description, that scenario was not likely. “He wasn’t of a harmful nature,” she said.