Amistad Plan Runs Into Boise Kimber

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAfter sailing through the City Plan Commission with the help of Newhallville neighbors, a proposal to build a new charter school landed before the Board of Zoning Appeals—and hit an obstacle in the form of Rev. Boise Kimber.

Kimber (pictured), a longtime prominent public figure in Newhallville, showed up with about a dozen of his congregants Tuesday night to speak out against a plan to raze the abandoned Martin Luther King School at 580 Dixwell Ave. and build a new charter high school in its place.

Charter school organization Achievement First has put forward that plan, which requires zoning variances for the proposed height of the building, its signs, and the number of parking spaces.

The Board of Zoning Appeals, which met in the Hall of Records on Orange Street, did not vote on the proposal. Instead it referred it to the City Plan Commission for a recommendation.

The City Plan Commission has already considered another aspect of the proposal. The commission last month voted to recommend approval of the city’s sale of the Martin Luther King School to Achievement First for $1.5 million. The deal is now in front of the Board of Aldermen for final approval. It will be considered next by the aldermanic Community Development Committee.

Achievement First plans to build a three-story, 75,000 square-foot high school for 550 students. The building would be the new home of the organization’s Amistad High School, now on Prince Street.

The project is expected to cost $35 million, with the state paying $24 million of that total. Plans call for the school to be open in 2014.

Last month, when the proposed sale of the property cleared the City Plan Commission, it did so in part because Newhallville Alderwomen Delphine Clyburn and Brenda Foskey-Cyrus gave their thumbs-up. The pair have been working with Achievement First to create an agreement with the neighborhood about how a new Amistad High might benefit neighbors, including through the use of the space as a community meeting area after school hours.

On Tuesday night, Kimber and others stepped in to say they are concerned about traffic and parking problems caused by the new school. Kimber complained that he had not been consulted about the project.

53, 240, 100

Achievement First’s Michael Kerin (pictured) presented the proposal to the Board of Zoning Appeals Tuesday evening. He was joined by landscape architect Earl Goven and architect Michael Berger.

Berger showed renderings of the proposed building. He said the structure needs to go up three stories because it’s a “tight site.” He said the building would be about 53 feet high. That’s eight feet higher than allowed under the area’s zoning regulations.

Berger said the school would be built right up to Dixwell Avenue. He said the facade on the southern wing of the school, where the 55-seat gymnasium would go, would incorporate carvings of names and sayings associated with civil rights and education. That feature would be a nod to the murals depicting civil rights leaders on the existing Martin Luther King School.

The school would have signs in three locations, totaling 240 square feet of signage, or 220 square feet more than is allowed under zoning regulations.

Goven said school buses would queue in a pull-out on Dixwell Avenue and also in a 100-space parking lot behind the school, accessible from Ford Street and Sherman Avenue. Zoning regulations call for 138 parking spaces.

An unlit, “all-purpose” athletic field would go behind the building, Goven said.

BZA member Walter Esdaile asked about a Community Benefits Agreement. Candace Dorman, an “external relations” official with Achievement First, said the organization has held a number of meeting with neighbors. “We’re moving along in good faith,” she said.

“Hold Up”

Kimber rose to say that Achievement First never came to speak with him and his church, which he said is only about 50 feet away from the school.

“I’ve listened to this group without concrete evidence on what they are doing,” he said. “They’re asking to change the whole look of the community.”

He said the school would be too tall. “This building would overshadow the community.”

Kimber said the school would not have sufficient parking. People would be driving “from all over” to come to the school every day, causing traffic jams, he said.

“I’m not against education, but come on. Come sit down and talk with us,” he said. “This here, I’m not ready for it.”

He asked BZA members to delay the plan. “Let’s hold up on this while we really talk about it.”

Several neighbors stood to express concern about the plan.

“I really don’t want any school over there,” said Ford Street homeowner Magdalene Campbell. “I’d like to see something for our kids.”

Kimber asked that no zoning decision be made until the Board of Aldermen approves a land disposition agreement.

“Your comments are noted,” said BZA chair Pat King. She said the matter would be referred to the City Plan Commission before coming back to the BZA for a vote. “I’m not in a position to dictate when City Plan can act.”

As Kimber pressed on, Felipe Pastore, legal counsel to the BZA, interrupted him. “You’ve had your chance,” he said.

“Are you pointing at me?” Kimber said. “Are you the chair?”

Tom Talbot, deputy director of zoning, later said the proposal’s plans for signage are not sufficiently specific. He said Achievement First should either get more specific or withdraw that part of the application.

He also raised concern about parking. He said the charter school organization’s application indicated that students would not be able to drive, but now it’s not so clear “that that’s an actual fact.”

“A Jewel”

Addressing some of the concerns, Goven (pictured) said the school will have ample parking. “We have calculated that 101 spaces will satisfy our need,” he said. “That is not a guess.”

As with other Achievement First schools, the facility will be shared with the neighborhood and available for community use, he said.

“We feel that this is a jewel for the community,” he said. “The school wants to be a part of this community.”

Dorman (pictured) said that Achievement First has had a total of four community meetings about the school, under the guidance of Alderwomen Delphine Clyburn and Brenda Foskey-Cyrus. She said Achievement First looks forward to more discussion.

Clyburn and Foskey-Cyrus, who had been in the back of the room during the hearing, declined to comment on the matter as they left the hall after testimony on the school plan.

“We came to listen tonight,” said Clyburn.

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posted by: HhE on November 14, 2012  4:50pm

This guy again?

posted by: Kevin on November 14, 2012  5:46pm

“I really don’t want any school over there,” said Ford Street homeowner Magdalene Campbell. “I’d like to see something for our kids.”


posted by: PH on November 14, 2012  6:06pm

Really?  Complaining about how a new high school would change the look of a depressed neighborhood currently anchored by an abandoned and deteriorating middle school?  Yeah, it might bring people to the neighborhood! It might make the neighborhood look like it has a bright future, rather than the bleak dilapidation it is currently experiencing!

And I’m going to hope there is a misquote in there about not wanting a school but rather “something for our kids.” Uh, what do you think a school is?

These complaints are mostly just weird: self-important NIMBY whining when the backyard is crying out for improvement.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 14, 2012  7:23pm

Charters Have Nothing to do With Community Control of Schools.

Tue, 05/08/2012 - 21:47 — Glen Ford

Charter school advocates are among the biggest scam artists in politics. They use the language of community control to transfer public assets into private hands. “Promoters of ‘trigger laws’ have only one use for parents: to pull the trigger on a school so that it can be converted to, or make room for, a charter school operated by the private sector.

posted by: southwest on November 14, 2012  8:02pm

Kevin I have to agree with you on this one"I want to see something for the kids” like what? Have people forgot that a school educate kids.. What’s wrong with Rev. Kimber, why do one have to come to him before they build a school. He doesn’t have service at his church 24/7 so what’s the big deal about parking. The students want be there all night neither will his church members. Question to him what is he looking to get out of this deal by being a “stumbling block” for a education facility. It will make the neighborhood look more presentable and cut down on crime because more people will be around.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on November 15, 2012  9:44am

Three-fifths, if you can’t tell the difference between the Achievement First folks and the corporate for-profit charter school grifters referred to in that paragraph you quote, I feel sorry for you. 

“Candace Dorman, an ‘external relations’ official with Achievement First, said the organization has held a number of meeting with neighbors.”  Were these public meetings, publicly announced?  If so, Kimber has nothing to complain about.  If you don’t go to the meetings, you don’t get to whine afterwards that nobody consulted you.  Does he expect an engraved invitation, or a personal visit to his church office to seek his blessing?  “Are you the chair?” asks Kimber.  One might ask Kimber, “Are you the neighborhood boss?”  Or are the legitimate leaders the members of the Board of Aldermen, who were actually elected?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 15, 2012  10:20am

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on November 15, 2012 8:44am

Three-fifths, if you can’t tell the difference between the Achievement First folks and the corporate for-profit charter school grifters referred to in that paragraph you quote, I feel sorry for you.

Do you know the difference between the Achievement First folks and the corporate for-profit charter schools.I know about Achievement First.In fact you need to ask why they send a lot of there students who they can not handle back to the public school system.Ask the teachers here in New Haven and West Haven if this is true.I bet you they will say yes it is true.Ask the parents in New York and New Haven some who I know about Achievement First disciplinary policies which have had a very detrimental effects on children’s emotional states, Have you sit in there class rooms?

Achievement First Charter School Parents Speak Out: Why they removed their children Part 1

Achievement First Charter School Parents Speak Out: Why they removed their children Part 2

I feel sorry for you if you can not see that All charter schools are corporatization of education run by Hedge funds and bankers.In fact the owner of Achievement First Charter School husband is a Banker.Check this list out.Look at who is in the school game.

The Faces of School Reform.

posted by: SSSS on November 15, 2012  11:12am

Unreal that this project could be held up because Amistad didn’t adequately bow and curtsy to the Mayor’s right-hand man.  Just another reason that we need a change in mayoral administration.

Additionally, if you don’t like charter schools, don’t send your kids there.  No one is forcing you.  There is really no other argument that needs to be made.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 15, 2012  12:01pm

posted by: SSSS on November 15, 2012 10:12am

Additionally, if you don’t like charter schools, don’t send your kids there.  No one is forcing you.  There is really no other argument that needs to be made.

Then tell Charter Schools to stop dumping and counseling out struggling students and dumping the students that they can not handle back into the public school system.

posted by: swatty on November 15, 2012  12:52pm

“I’m not against education, but come on. Come sit down and talk with us,” he said. “This here, I’m not ready for it.”

What arrogance from a self-professed man of God.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 15, 2012  3:26pm

Given all of the substantive dialogue about the deleterious consequences of allowing Achievement-First style Charter “Schools” to take over our public school systems here in America, in New Haven, and particularly in our urban communities across the country, has the conversation now been reduced by New Haven community leaders to whether or not this business’ presence is good for PARKING??

This CAN’T be real. Or is this just another example of the alternate universe that is New Haven city politics, where the long-term benefits of tomorrow (in this case, our children’s ability to learn) is auctioned off for some short-term (and yet to be publicly identified) political benefit for today.

The ONE thing that I can say in Rev. Kimber’s defense here is that when the Achievement First company opened one of their franchises in a previously owned and run community public school’s space, The Dwight Elementary school, not a hundred yards from the church where I am privileged to serve, there were no visible signs informing me, the church, or the community of the impending buy-out (or sell-out) of the building to this corporation.  Neither was there any verbal communication from the superintendent who served as an officer at the church.

After the school was built and right before they opened their doors for business, they made several desperate phone calls to me and my office asking to use the church’s parking lot for a pittance. (Phones call that they assiduously avoided making prior to their hijacking - with the city’s help - of this public space).  I, of course, rejected their offer, as no price is worth my perceived cooperation with these rote memorization, creativity draining, data manipulating enterprises posturing throughout the Northeast as educational institutions.  My point, of course, is that they have a history of sneaking INTO the community (again, with the city’s help) while pretending to exist FOR the community.

I am keenly aware that AF’s (and city hall’s) defenders, hiding behind a vast array of colorful pseudonyms and aliases, will write rejoinders to my statement here, attempting to rebut this criticism/critique, but the fact remains that the Charter School movement, as practiced by A-F style groups across the nation, has done (and likely will do) little to improve our children’s education, but the obsequious leadership in New Haven has abandoned any serious dialogue about the educational value of these places…

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 15, 2012  3:37pm

...the long-term effects of their “teaching” methods on our children‘s ability to think critically and creatively, or the pernicious consequences of turning public money and responsibility over to private hands and personal gain as oppose to communal uplift, and have simply lowered the standards of this conversation to address whether or not their arrival will effect our ability to PARK OUR CARS.


The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee
Immanuel Baptist Church
New Haven, CT

posted by: Brutus2011 on November 15, 2012  5:09pm

I have to side with my favorite fraction on this one. Charter schools cherry pick and I have a huge problem with that. Of course, NHPS has its own version—it dumps at-risk kids into adult ed.

All so the education managers, public and charter, can avoid accountability for their failure to do their jobs.

And, I must support Boise Kimber on this one. Here is why.

The African-American church in our inner cities serve a very important function and their congregants and pastors deserve respect.

Especially from those who come riding in on their white horses and claim that they just want to help. For proof, consider US social history.

If you do not intuitively understand this, then you have no business criticizing Boise Kimber on the grounds I have seen advanced in this comments section so far.

posted by: robn on November 15, 2012  7:24pm

This article lacks quantification. Does the new school’s parking lot have fewer spaces than the old one and if so, how many? Does it have more students and faculty who drive? If so, how many and in what proportion to the last school’s parking load?
Are all things affecting parking equal or not? Even though Rev Kimber is incredibly late in a well publicized process, he might have a point (even though it appears to be some sort of shakedown because of its timing.)

posted by: new havener on November 15, 2012  7:50pm

two words:


posted by: Seth Poole on November 16, 2012  12:05am

I had hoped that the people of Newhallville would see that site as an ideal site for a renewed Q-House, but no such vision was shared.  I also found it to be strange that the Achievement First people had no idea about the preexisting firing range directly across the street.  Goes to show how familiar they are with the community.

posted by: RCguy on November 16, 2012  4:08am

“The African-American church in our inner cities serve a very important function and their congregants and pastors deserve respect.”

Brutus, I don’t see that the “African-American church in our inner cities” has helped “our inner cities” one bit. There may be isolated pockets of hungry being fed, but all in all, I know that such churches have actually become part of the cycle of poverty and oppression.

Sadly, Ego and Pride seduce church members just as much as anyone else.

We commend and affirm any person of God whose heart holds a sincere desire to help any and every living being be freed from bondage.

posted by: Brutus2011 on November 16, 2012  10:02am

to “RCguy:”

I could write an entire essay to answer your post.

But, if I may, I will just use one word.


posted by: robn on November 16, 2012  10:20am

I’ll answer my own questions.

A quick look at Google Maps..
shows that there are about 35 parking spaces maybe in the existing lot. A quick look at Vision Appraisal tells me that the old school is @24,000 square feet.
So that’s about one space per 685 sf.

The new school proposes about 100 spaces for @75,000 sf. Subtract the 6,000 sf of the gym which bears no school day parking load and you get one space per 690 sf.

Assuming teacher/pupil ratios are similar, the parking loads should (and do match). So if there wasn’t a problem before, there shouldn’t be a problem now.

posted by: SSSS on November 16, 2012  10:26am

Rev. Ross-Lee,

With all due respect, I know for a fact that AF actively engaged the Dwight community prior to opening their doors in Dwight.  They forged an agreement to provide a community center that is accessible to the community, and even got their charter changed to allow preferences for the community.  Yes, the community saw so much value in the AF model that they desperately wanted their kids to get in.

It is clear that you disagree with AF’s model, as is your right.  However, many within your community do not, and they should have the right to make that decision for themselves.

posted by: JohnTulin on November 16, 2012  10:58am

“Additionally, if you don’t like charter schools, don’t send your kids there.  No one is forcing you.  There is really no other argument that needs to be made”

Except for the argument that the state should not be redirecting $24,000,000 from our public schools to these for-profit charters!  Every dime they get is money taken from the public!!

posted by: swatty on November 16, 2012  12:37pm

woah. hold on John Tulin. the city of new haven give’s mayo and co. 106 million and what do we get for that?

on the whole the charter idea is a great idea. It does better with less. Charter is the way to go!

the more kids AF educates in New Haven, the less get screwed by our BOE.

posted by: JohnTulin on November 16, 2012  2:13pm

Swatty, Mayo and Co are a joke - yes.  The entire BoE, the entire city needs an overhaul.  That is a separate conversation however….

Charters are not the answer, not the way to go - and the data is out there:  they don’t do better, even with the playing field tilted to their advantage.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 16, 2012  8:15pm

posted by: swatty on November 16, 2012 11:37am

woah. hold on John Tulin. the city of new haven give’s mayo and co. 106 million and what do we get for that?

on the whole the charter idea is a great idea. It does better with less. Charter is the way to go!

the more kids AF educates in New Haven, the less get screwed by our BOE

And this is why they look good.

Are charter schools cherry-picking their students?

posted by: DreamDragon on November 17, 2012  3:15pm

Achievement First did not consult Rev Boise Kimber and other leaders of the Dixwell community because they are not looking for that input.  Despite the rhetoric the leaders of that organization are not skilled at forging authentic community partnerships and that is not a part of their agenda.  Their strength is in creating amazing looking cookie cutter schools that institutionalize our children, siphon every bit of creativity and suppress original thought.  The bottom line is that Achievement First schools are designed to promote the Achievement First brand and the business of education.  They have mastered the model for this and that is what we may all expect from this new school.

Meanwhile, as silly as it sounds to read her quote homeowner Magdalene Campbell makes an important point that schools are not perceived as viable community resources and that they do not exist to serve our kids beyond school hours.  She’s not altogether wrong.  Most of our schools (including the Achievement First schools) fail our students but the administrators at Meadow St./James St/ NYC are thriving. It’s as if their true but unspoken objective is to maintain the status quo because that is what happens year after year and they celebrate and reward themselves for a job poorly done.

The future of this town depends on changing that reality.

posted by: momofmarine on November 18, 2012  12:58am

“He had not been consulted about the project?”  How narcissistic is that statement?  How can you NOT want a school in that area where the building has been sitting unused well over 2 years? Something different for kids?  What? Another package store? Another Q house which isn’t being utilized? Rev. Kimber if you see yourself as a leader, I hope you focus on the needs of the neighborhood and not your personal agenda.  This proposal can provide accessible, usable space for education along with positive activities for the youth and less idle time which as you know can become “the devil’s workshop.”

posted by: HhE on November 18, 2012  12:46pm

I believe there are a number of issues here.  I shall try to speak to them.

Black churches are very important—says the outsider.  One of their critical missions is networking and communicating.  When people ask me how to reach people in Newhallville, I always say, “Churches.”  That is certainly not the only very important thing they do. I once attended church with my friends the Holloways.  I found the comradely, the energy, and the message to be very powerful and uplifting.  I wish my schedule would make it possible for me to make a habit of going.

Brutus2011, I would love to read that essay.

That said, I take exception to Rev. Kimber and his followers.  I find this city defers too much to him.  I opine that he does expect to be paid homage to. 

I am a strong supporter of public education, however I also recognise that one size does not fit all. I may be inclined to think that home schooling is for whack jobs, but I also know that it the right answer in some cases.  For some families, Catholic schools are the way forward.  For others, private schools.  I suspect that having charter schools as an option is advised.

As a rule, the private sector cannot do a given task as well for the same price as public solutions.  This is because private enterprise needs to make a profit, and must raise capital through commercial channels, where the government can get a lower bond rate to raise taxes. 

Privite enterprise’s interest in education, while suspect, may also be driven by the recognition that a well educated citizenry is ecential to our economic success.

I have heard good things about Amistad Academy, but I certainly do know enough to form an opinion.  (Don’t get me started about The Edison Project.  That disaster was doomed from the start—fortunately.)

The message here does seam to read, “Church parking takes precedence over schools.”  I thought Church was mostly a Sunday thing, and schools met during the weekday.  Hope is important, respect is important, but a good education is the trump card.

posted by: Jim75 on November 19, 2012  11:32am

Makes me sick to hear about how supposedly charter schools kill “creativity and original thought” when direct experience and surveys shows that many public schools fail to provide basic literacy and number literacy skills that are needed for a normal life in the 21st century.

What “creativity and original thought”? That is just a smoke screen. As a parent I don’t any fuzzy “creativity” taught to my children (as I believe it is all fluffy nonsense). I want them to gain a good base of math, language, and science skills.

posted by: HhE on November 19, 2012  2:02pm

Jim75, I may be miss reading what you wrote.

As a former teacher, and as a parent, I believe very strongly that literacy and numeracy is extremely important.  The failure of many public schools to address this effectively is typically a function of Faustian bargains that set low standards, and parents that do not do their part. 

I also take great issue with the idea that creativity is fluff and nonsense.  My take on that is not only from my experience as a teacher, but from my experiences and observations of China and Japan.  The one real advantage we have over them, especially China, is our creativity.  The Chinese are keenly aware of this, and are trying to do something about that.  They look forward to the day that artifacts are not only “made in China,” but also “designed in China.” Fortunately for us, it will probably take two or three generations, if not more for them to overcome this one disadvantage.

Tragically, we are helping them in this race by cutting programs that build creative thinking in students because we are teaching to tests.  The 21st century calls for a lot more than the 3 Rs.  We need a work force that can design, innovate, and invent.  That means our schools need rigorous Technology Education, Art, and Music programs.