Teacher’s Return Causes Ruckus

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.


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posted by: Me on October 19, 2011  9:39am

What is the problem?!?! Why is this news worthy? I bit childlike but not harmful. geezh people!

posted by: Suspicious on October 19, 2011  9:44am

My guess is that new haven “schools” drove him insane

posted by: MARLU5 on October 19, 2011  9:55am

It’s sad that in this day and age we as parents are too suspicious to appreciate when someone else other than them actually cares about our children. It use to be it took a village to raise a child. Now, we hide in our homes because of the crime and violence. Our children are suffering for it and so will we in the future. It’s time to take back the future of our kids. Let’s stop overprotecting our kids from the very people who want to help them. It’s funny because I would bet that the very same parents who thought this teacher, who wanted to come back and say good-bye; would hurt their kids with poisoned ice cream are the same ones allowing their kids play in the streets, speak disrespectfully to adults, show no consideration for their community as a whole, and not showing intense support for their child’s school. Saying good-bye isn’t a crime. But lets be honest, do you really think he would have been allowed to say bye?

posted by: Noteworthy on October 19, 2011  10:27am

Maybe he should have been a drama teacher.

Nice to see Chris Hoffman actually speaking and not being a secrecy guard.

posted by: SB on October 19, 2011  10:31am

@Me, someone who no longer has the right to enter the school enters, unannounced, and exhibits strange behavior, around 100s of children, and you don’t see the problem? Really???!!!

posted by: Teacher in New Haven on October 19, 2011  10:40am

Re: Me

This is a news worthy problem because we are spending a lot of extra money to hire an outside firm to run this school.  This firm was given broad power and trust to hire new teachers.  When one of those teachers quits 7 weeks into the school-year, it is worthy of note.  When someone who is no longer an employee in the building can sneak in, and disrupt the learning process, it is worthy of note.  At the very least taxpayers should understand that both of these things occurred at a school we are paying close to 500,000 extra to improve.

Re: Suspicious

If you can’t hack 7 weeks in a New Haven School, then there is probably something more to the story than the quality of the school you taught in.  This young man was vetted by both TFA, and Clemente’s new administration.  Neither one picked up on his potential to flame out so publicly.  Perhaps they were asking the wrong questions.  Perhaps this young man did not appreciate that the children he was going to “save” before going off to be an Investment Banker, might not wish to be saved.  Perhaps his desire to be a teacher was a bit misguided, given that his “love” for his students translated into feeding them junk food, rather than sticking around and teaching them.  Maybe he was a nut.  None of which would justify the suggestion that our schools are alleged.

posted by: robn on October 19, 2011  10:43am

It’s a big problem because the teacher could have been a psychopath instead of a nice guy.
The children naturally wanted to open the door for a teacher they knew so the mistake is owned by the cafeteria monitors who should have been keeping their eye on the door (the same door that a child could slip out of just as easily as this guy slipped in).

posted by: Why? on October 19, 2011  10:45am

I just wonder why they thought bringing some outsiders to work with our children would make things better.  Just goes to show that the pressure of being a teacher is not for everyone…New Haven students alone can not pressure you into not wanting a JOB…

posted by: THE WRIZZLA?? on October 19, 2011  10:49am

... If there was an intruder at Hooker, Jepson, or Edgewood, he would have a pair of bracelets on before he passed out another 1/2 gallon of ice cream. People always ask why things are made back and white because that is exactly what it is. Why was i not sent home a letter, explaining to me what happened, Why wasn’t the school locked down and the “teacher” arrested? It seems the “for profit” group is exactly that!! Safety was and is still being compromised today at the school. It is shameful to believe that our children’s best interests are at hand when the leader claims someone she barely knew for two months, was not of “harmful nature” I guess we need a couple of funerals so we can wake up and understand that everyone who knows better than to enter through an unauthorized door IS a suspect.

posted by: Pewterschmidt on October 19, 2011  11:03am

I agree with Me.  Why is the NHI reporting on incidents like this?  There is so much more going on out there.  Come on guys…

posted by: John Tulin on October 19, 2011  4:24pm

The NHI should be reporting on this, this is serious.  #1, the new corporate takeover of Clemente is a big story and doesn’t sound like it going so well, #2 young TFA teachers and their supporters (like Alex Johnson) are often at odds with unions over protecting the job security of experienced veterans, looks like their might be some wisdom to the idea that TFA is the be all end all and getting rid of ‘last in first out’ is a bad idea, #3 this story is part of ongoing reporting an school reform, and this school’s controversial leadership is one of the main components to the whole story of reform. 

Its also hilariously bizarre, what was this guy thinking?  Lastly, at least not about poor Wilbur Cross!

posted by: brutus2011 on October 19, 2011  5:28pm

It is very possible, considering the reported fact pattern, that the teacher was trying to communicate to the students that he was not abandoning them.

If so, his actions are defensible.

Unfortunately, NHPS students suffer from a relatively high teacher turnover.

But no one bothers to think of little things like that.

Six-figure administrative salaries are for more heady issues.

Break-est thou giveth!

posted by: Concerned Parent on October 19, 2011  6:34pm

Some of the people making these comments must not have children? Or maybe it’s you who is letting your kids play in the street. If he resigned, why didn’t he say bye to the kids and show his ”love” before his last day? If he resigned why wouldn’t he be allowed back in the building? If he wasn’t doing something inappropriate why didn’t he use the doors he is supposed to use? Why weren’t the parents notified that the teacher had resigned, And been replaced with another? Too many unanswered questions to be ” no big deal” as you others think. This world, not just New Haven is getting more violent and yes I would rather overly protect my children than have them injured by some one elses else’s negligence.

posted by: Toni on October 20, 2011  6:19am

why ISN’T this news?  Getting tired of car crashes and storms on WTNH ?
This is who TFA sends and private companies hire to teach YOUR kids.  How come no one asked the teacher why he resigned? You might hear another story…. or maybe you might hear the truth.

posted by: brutus2011 on October 20, 2011  12:56pm

“Toni” raises an important point about why the teacher resigned?

Given the controversy surrounding the take-over at Clemente, the citizens of New Haven should have full disclosure as to circumstances of a TFA resignation so early in the first school year of an expensive take-over of one of our schools by a private firm.

Perhaps Mr. Bass and Ms. Bailey could look into the matter further.

Administrators are far better at covering their rear-ends than they are at getting results.

Is this another example of administrative shenanigans?

Lets find out.

posted by: LOL on October 21, 2011  7:02am

I feel this teacher’s pain.  Some of this city’s schools are out of control and rife with poor judgement, such as no recess for primary students and low staff numbers for the worst-performing schools (while “exceptional” schools have all the staff they need).

posted by: A fan of Clemente on October 21, 2011  4:49pm

To read negative comments, or shall I say assumptions,  written by people who do not walk the halls of Clemente is upsetting.  So often, these negative comment blogs are fueled by ignorance.  Whether an outside company has taken over or not, there are fantastic things happening at Roberto Clemente.  The school leadership is comprised of hardworking, intelligent and extremely committed people. They have created, in two short months, a welcoming and organized atmosphere. The teachers are energetic and striving to improve student achievement.  Whatever may have happened with this one incident should not cast any shadow over the efforts and accomplishments of the Roberto Clemente team. Keep up the great work!

posted by: LOL on October 21, 2011  6:48pm

@fan ... I hope things really are going as well at Clemente as you say.  However, that doesn’t excuse the fact that for the past 15 years or so, the school was a dump.  Nor does it explain WHY this particular teacher resigned.  As for the new, welcoming, organized atmosphere, you ought to give teachers far more credit for that considering there are more teachers than leadership figures.

posted by: No Fan of Clemente on October 21, 2011  8:34pm

We are only hearing the sounds from the tip of the iceberg. Like the Titanic, the rip in the hull will grow wider. Wake up New Haven! There will be more
“stories” coming from Clemente. Have you heard about the bets about who will resign next?

It’s time to really save our schools from these greedy carpetbaggers.

posted by: kevin_cassidy84 on October 21, 2011  8:47pm

do not blame teach for america students….they are comprised of some of the best students america has to offer,,the trouble with this scenario is how can you truthfully ask a 21 year old grad to handle a high school class of unruly students that have exhibited the actions to scare the @@@@ out of a teacher who has never been thrown into an urban environment before.  remember most of these kids have grown up with drugs,violence etc in they’re lives, can a 21 year old that has a month of attempts to change kids lives actually be blamed for giving up or giving in?? i personally know several in the tfa group and admire the bravery it takes to be slandered on a daily basis and keep coming back for more..I’m not saying all the students are bad or indifferent, I’m just saying the challenge was too much for the average person…

posted by: parentnhps on November 16, 2011  8:41pm

Reason #235 why TFA should be booted out of New Haven Public Schools.  Brennan had a Looney Tune 3 years ago and Clinton had one too.