Birks Sets School District Goals

Christopher Peak PhotoThe school superintendent wants New Haven to score higher on state measurements next year, moving its numbers up in comparison to other big cities and surrounding suburbs.

Superintendent Carol Birks spoke about that drive to change the school system’s stats at the final Board of Education meeting this calendar year, held Monday night at Celentano School.

Presenting her first set of district-wide goals, Birks said she wants to see the schools do better on academic and behavioral measurements that the Connecticut State Department of Education uses to rate all public schools.

Over the past few months, Birks sat down internally with her executive team, union representatives and a handful of principals to decide where New Haven should direct its efforts over the next two years.

The five areas that Birks said they decided on largely mirror what she’s been talking about since a transition team convened in the spring: boosting academic achievement, recruiting and retaining talent, achieving organizational efficiency, improving culture and engaging families.

“The district goals guide our work. As a district, we have to demonstrate our progress to the state, to the school district, and, of course, most importantly to our community and our families,” Birks said. “They’re aligned to the expectations that have been set for us by the State Department of Education.”

In academics, Birks said that she wants all students to meet the state-determined “growth targets” that will put a student on grade level within five years. Currently, only about one-third meet their targets at 35.0 percent in reading and 32.6 percent in math.

She wants each kid to have a unique “student success plan.”

Birks said the work will start in early childhood. From preschool through third grade, kids will develop the social-emotional skills that will be a foundation for learning. She also wants them to be on grade level in reading by the end of third grade. Currently, only 30.4 percent of third-graders are reading on grade level.

By high school, Birks said, she wants them to be staying on track for a diploma. At the end of ninth grade, that means students are passing all core subjects and getting at least a C in Algebra. By the time they take the SAT, she wants to see minimum score of 1000 out of 1600 possible points in the two-part test of reading and math. Currently, the average score is 897.

In talent, Birks said that she wants to recruit and retain a staff that’s equipped for the diversity within the schools.

Birks said that work will start in tweaking the protocols for recruitment to go after a “larger, more robust candidate pool, with more educators of color,” especially in some hard-to-fill areas. She said that they’ll adopt industry standards for how “we enter and exit people.” Currently, 73.6 percent of the district’s teachers are white.

Birks also wants existing staff to have a “career ladder” that defines goals, offers professional training and leadership opportunities, and monitors effectiveness. She also wants the existing staff to “increase their knowledge of cultures and the assets embedded in diversity.”

In organization, Birks said that she wants to streamline operations and maximize technology.

In culture, Birks said that she wants the school system to feel “welcoming, safe and secure.”

Birks said she’ll do her part personally by meeting with parents monthly and with students quarterly “to receive direct input on every aspect of schooling.” She wants each school to look over their security protocols and behavioral interventions.

If the schools do it right, Birks said that she hopes to see no more than 10 percent of the district’s students marked chronically absent, meaning they miss up to 18 days of class each year. That would be down from the 19.9 percent chronic absenteeism rate now.

Finally, in engagement, Birks said she wants family and community members to “share in the ownership” of the school system, including its “continuous improvement.”

Birks said she wants each school to administer a survey on feelings about the school and to pass out a handbook with expectations for students and contacts for staff.

She also called for each school to set up a governance structure that allows a range of people to participate in decision-making, especially to make sure that parents and community members have a way to “voice their ideas and concerns.”

From Central Office, Birks said, she also wants to set up a Parent University that can train moms and dads in how to participate in their children’s education.

She seeks to redesign the district’s website and create a newsletter. She also aims to increase the number of community partners working in the schools.

“If we work in a coherent way to include all these aspects — not just the district internally but external stakeholders — we will boost student achievement,” Birks said at the end of her presentation. “This is our guide. This is our work.”

School board members said that they want to make sure that parents and students are involved in a deeper way as these broad goals are now translated into more specific plans for the district and each school. But overall, they applauded Birks for taking a first step.

“This is the kind of stuff that I’ve been looking for for some time,” said Ed Joyner, one of the board’s two elected members. “They meet the M.O.M. test. They’re meaningful, observable and measurable.

“I think all you need to make sure this happens is that policymakers and executives are working in concert, providing the cover and support that you need to execute this plan,” Joyner went on. “Because while you might be planning, someone else might be scheming. We don’t need that; we need to make sure that, even in a time of limited resources, we help you with the priorities that you deem necessary to move the district forward.”

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posted by: LivingInNewHaven on December 11, 2018  9:15am

I listened to the goals but what I didn’t hear was the “how”.  I really think that we should be also focusing on how this is going to be achieved.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on December 11, 2018  10:25am

This article reads like something from The Onion.

posted by: ElmCityVoice on December 11, 2018  1:39pm

This is all a waste of time and energy. All these people who are sitting around big desks working on “goals” need to be in the classrooms helping teachers. There are too many students, with many difficult learning issues, for one teacher to address. It’s depressing to read the same BS year after year. If you really want to help, use last year’s goals, stop chasing your tails, and get to work on the ground with the teachers and children.

posted by: AliceB on December 11, 2018  4:23pm

What wonderful goals you have, Dr. Birks. I have goals as well. That some day I will have the equipment in my classroom so it will actually resemble a 21st century classroom. Also, that the truly gifted teachers will not just stay for one year and that , maybe, teachers will be valued for the knowledge of subject matter and love of students and not the color of their skin or their ethnic background.
When you recruit teachers you should be looking for the best and brightest period; not the best and brightest of recruits of color. That is just not the way to run a successful school district.  That is just my opinion.

posted by: heightster77 on December 11, 2018  4:53pm

And I want to hit the lotto. Does anyone remember Reggie Mayo’s 5 bold goals plan? How did that pan out? Next year will be some other goals to replace the ones that fail this year.

posted by: Sarah.Miller on December 11, 2018  6:39pm

Last spring, some 50+ of us spent several days working on a Transition Plan as part of the Superintendent’s Transition Team. It’s unclear how much that exercise cost; but there were meals and materials and external consultants. The intent as I understood it was to provide community, family, educator, and student input on the district’s goals. Yet more than six months since the Transition Team’s last meeting, there is still no public, written report on its recommendations. And now we learn that district goals have already been set. It’s difficult to trust that “shared ownership” is a genuine aim when our first shared planning exercise never saw the light of day.

posted by: JohnTulin on December 11, 2018  7:12pm

Sarah.Miller, welcome to the NHPS

posted by: Sounds good on December 11, 2018  7:38pm

Agree with much of what has already been said. This is public posturing by Ms. Birks. One question I have is, how can teachers be so successful with your “plan” if they are constantly ushered out of their classroom. Since the almighty Birks has been in position there has been an absurd amount of teachers put on administrative leave and forced out of their classroom for sometimes weeks and months at a time. A vast majority of these instances were uncalled for. With a city starving for money, and looking to “recruit the best talent” (well best talent of color according to Birks), I find it hard to believe the district has an excess of disposable income for all the subs needed and the great talent will want to run to teach in her district. Most schools complain of the worst school climate they have ever seen, since Birks somehow secured her position. I remind you, it came with great disappointment and disgust that she even was hired, except for those in Bridgeport who were ecstatic. Save the PR propaganda Birks and show your teachers that you care about what’s happening on the front lines. Remember YOU are only as successful as YOUR TEACHERS. Wait, they are probably home on leave so they can’t be reached at the moment. What a joke.

posted by: Realist2016 on December 12, 2018  1:18pm

All the comments presented are spot on, especially “sounds good” and the absurd amount of teachers being placed on administrative leave. That is a story the Independent should look into! I am just reading this article and thinking to myself…man this woman makes more money than the mayor of this city, as well as having a Doctorate and all she comes up with no more than a low level plan by an over paid empty suit. I would love to know how this plan will truly help the students, or are they just going to continue to be the rallying cry for a bunch of overpaid administrators that only want data to justify their jobs?

posted by: Blitheringidiot on December 12, 2018  7:29pm

Things that used to be dealt with in-house are now being dealt away from the schools downtown. This is not a good model. This breeds fear and resentment. There’s no one to trust to be reasonable.

Some principals don’t know a lot. And they make sure to let the rest of us know that they don’t know. That it’s not their fault. That they are not in charge.

Well, if Birks wants to be in charge of things that are building-level issues she’s going to make her organization a lot more inefficient.

Low morale because of teacher absences leads to more teacher absences. More student roaming the hallways because substitute teachers are being taken advantage of. More fights. More suspensions. More money spent trying to fix things.

Very inefficient.

posted by: Disgust on December 12, 2018  10:15pm

Well it looks like Birks just stole Garth’s playbook.  Parent University and recruitment of minority teachers is nothing new….see the links below.  So I don’t know how this is the stuff that Ed Joyner “has been looking for for sometime.”  The board was quick to drive Garth out of the city for the same plan….when teacher morale was up and schools were making progress….

posted by: LennyMoore24 on December 13, 2018  5:36pm

The situation is becoming more dire each day as far as teachers are concerned.  I happened to be at 54 Meadow Street the other day; second floor where all the hearings are held; at least the preliminary hearings for teachers accused of , well, you name it.  There was a back up of over one hour. 
Our school has a teacher who confiscated a bag of cookies from a student during class time and was clobbered by said student.  That teacher is facing a hearing because the principal and assistant principal feel the teacher should not have confiscated the cookies.  The students are calling all the shots and administrators wonder why schools are out of control???????
Students are using their phones to selectively record teachers; edit; and then play these recordings back to administrators; the administrators then immediately go after the teacher.  This is a form of #me too; only the teachers are being targeted from all sides.
We, as teachers, are afraid to do anything for fear of reprisals from, not only students but principals and central office.
The madness must end.

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on December 13, 2018  7:45pm

Lenny, suspensions that lead to termination or resignation under pressure can be a stealth reduction-in-force without adding to the official layoff count.  A long-term sub for the rest of the year is cheaper than a teacher.

posted by: ActualNHPSteacher on December 13, 2018  9:22pm

Did we NOT learn anything from the ridiculous aspirations of No Child Left Behind??? Remember the Data Teams that sucked the joy out of teaching? The district put so much time and effort into training us all. Then, poof, gone!!! (and thank god) It was useless time spent filling out endless amounts of paperwork that went nowhere. And to go along with this initiative Dr. Mayo printed up colorful posters that hung in all the data rooms, predicting that by 2004 ALL students would be on grade level for reading and math. Well that year came and went. I’ve been teaching in the district faithfully for 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of supervisors, administrators, programs, district mandates and curriculums come and go. I just wait them out and keep on doing the fantastic job I was trained to do. I know what good teaching looks like. I may be WHITE but my students could care less. We laugh together, learn together, support each other. As their teacher I struggle every day to provide them with a 21st century education with limited antiquated resources while spending my hard earned money to supplement the “nothing” I get from the district. And I know the kids could care less about Dr. Birks and her new mandates. They don’t even know who she is. I doubt she’ll ever darken the door of our classroom, let alone walk in my shoes and do what I do. She wouldn’t last a day, a week, a month. I’ve lasted 20 and I’ll definitely outlast her. I know my school. I know my students. I know their parents. I taught some of their parents!  I know who’s having tough times at home. Who goes hungry over the weekend. Which kid needs a new coat and worry how I’ll find them one (and I will). I know my student’s baby brothers and sisters, their grandmas, aunties and cousins. No one cares what color we are because we see beyond that. We’re just teachers doing our jobs, with all our hearts, day in and day out. Teachers of all colors. Teaching students of all colors.

posted by: ActualNHPSteacher on December 13, 2018  10:31pm

One more comment from the teacher who carries out these pie in the sky mandates. So Dr. Birks has declared she wants all 3rd graders to be reading at grade level. Exactly how? I know! (but I’m only a teacher so my opinion doesn’t count) By instilling in them a culture that values reading. By immersing them in an environment that celebrates reading. By having a staff that is able to utilize basic reading resources right in the school. Oh, but we can’t do any of that because Dr. Birks took away our beloved school librarians and now our students can only access their own school library for less than 3 hours a day. The other 3 hours it sits dark. And who will be available to help the teachers raise 27 reading scores? SRBI of course. Well, we used to have part time tutors to help provide small group instruction but Dr. Birks FIRED them all. If the state only knew that SRBI interventions in New Haven are really not compliant to state regulations because we have NO PERSONNEL to help the classroom teachers….. The librarians used to help with SRBI. But they can’t anymore because they are spread so thin. Does no one see the absurdity??? You took away the librarians, you took away our reading tutors. We NEVER had math tutors. Teachers are dealing with ever increasing behavioral problems. What is this mysterious new plan that Dr. Birks hasn’t informed her teachers of? We’re the ones struggling to get any teaching done with little guidance. The Principals say going “downtown” is like being summoned to The Death Star. No one has anything good to say about the attitude from downtown. Scary times ahead.

posted by: AliceB on December 14, 2018  8:20am

Everything ActualNH…says is true. 
To quote John Adams, “Is anybody there?  Does anybody care?”

posted by: macarena75 on December 14, 2018  11:04am

All of the above is nothing but the TRUTH & some!  She is unprofessional, unethical, NO EMPATHY whatsoever. Instead of utilize the experienced staff, she is and has driven most out of district and/or to FMLA.  She worries about her image rather than the STUDENTS!  All this monthly “coffee” meeting for what—for publicity, she don’t even drink coffee!!  She has no KINDNESS in her soul.  She treats people horrible, unfair and talks down to them. VERY DISRESPECFUL!  It’s affecting the entire NHPS-at the schools and at the NEW HAVEN BOARD OF EDUCATION-where she feels if you disagree with her—she gets rid of, retaliates and hire other staff making twice if not more money—but she is saving the district money!  Its all a big joke!!  It’s UNETHICAL-UNHEALTHY-ALL UN’S! AND JUST NOT FAIR/RIGHT-specially for our NEW HAVEN children!!!  But she remains there and continues to do her injustices.  All the Board Meeting/Blue Sheets speaks for themselves!!  #newhavenspeakup #timetostopthemadness #timetobefair #weallhaveavoice #alllivesmatter
#kuddostothosewhoarestillfightingthisinjustice #kuddostoallcommentnothingbutthetruth

posted by: ChrisCNHTeach on December 16, 2018  12:11pm

After 8 months, this is what we get ” boosting academic achievement, recruiting and retaining talent, achieving organizational efficiency, improving culture and engaging families.”

Great, how are we doing that? What and where is the plan? What are the details? (at least with Garth and school change we got things posted on the website or through teachers union). What about the fancy transition team report? Where is it?
Did this plan involve teachers and schools? Who is doing what? Where are the resources to support it?
And… how is this different? Are we supposed to pretend that we did nothing before, and this is new? It seems like Birks wants others to take responsibility for the carrying out so they get blamed when nothing gets done. For her, its just about keeping her job.
I’m not usually one to just bash administrators, but this seems like a lot of empty suit talk, especially given what I hear from some assistant principals.
Honestly, can I just have some xerox paper for my classroom?

posted by: Sarah.Miller on December 21, 2018  2:20am

What have we gained and lost? Help document shifts in our school district by completing this 5-question survey, open to all staff, families, students, and community members: Results will be collated and shared on as they come in. Everyone is invited to participate.