Student-Shoving Principal Leaves Post

(Update) Morgan Barth, the school leader at Achievement First Amistad High School, has decided to step down immediately.

His resignation comes hours after the Independent posted a story and a video of him shoving a student and days after a former employee criticized the working environment he fostered at Amistad in a viral video. The incidents touched off a broader community discussion about discipline practices at the nationally acclaimed Dixwell Avenue charter school.

“It’s clear that he could not be the leader of the school right now, given his actions and the feelings of the school community,” said Amanda Pinto, Achievement First’s senior communications director. “I think both of those things became clear to him.”

A principal from another school within Achievement First’s network will step in to lead Amistad, doing double duty at both schools, Pinto said. That interim principal is currently announcing the new responsibilities at their current school and will be named publicly soon, she added.

Amistad had been searching for a new principal since last November, a month after Barth was disciplined for restraining the scholar. That replacement will be announced later in the year, Pinto said.

Within the next week, three leaders from the charter network — co-CEO and Superintendent Doug McCurry, Chief External Officer Fatimah Barker, and Regional Superintendent Amy D’Angelo — will meet with families and staff, Pinto said. And Amistad’s administration will engage students in similar discussions.

“This is about more than a leadership change. That is why you’re seeing three leaders from the network come to meet with families and staff to engage them in discussion,” Pinto said. “There is more that needs to go on than just changing the leader, because that’s not going to fix all the concerns that people have. These meetings will hopefully surface concerns to meet them head-on.”

Steven Cotton, the behavioral specialist who kicked off the conversation about the rigid disciplinary system at Amistad High School in a Facebook Live video, said he was “happy” that Barth is gone.

“He won’t be able to intimidate or put his hands on anybody anytime soon,” he said.

Cotton said Barth’s departure could create the conditions for change to happen, but he worried that the charter wouldn’t follow through.

He questioned why Barth hadn’t been dismissed earlier, especially after he emailed the charter network’s co-CEOs, Doug McCurry and Dacia Toll, about the video last October, telling them that what he saw was “over the top and unprofessional,” “aggressive and almost violent.”

“To me, that sounds like a typical Achievement First coverup. My question to them is if he was already going to leave and they were already looking for new leadership, why did you feel it was okay to keep him there for the rest of the year? If the video never came out, would you have let him stay around?” he asked. “It shows their way of thinking: This is the culture of your school, that you were willing to allow somebody to stay there for so long.”

Cotton said he didn’t expect much to come from Achievement First’s listening tour. He said he’d seen the network send its bigwigs down to hear from parents before — without instituting any real reforms after.

“I just want to point out to people, don’t be fooled. This is what they’re going to do: They’re going to say they want to hear what you black people want to say, they’re going to put out people who look just like you and they’re going to tell you all this good stuff to calm you down and make you comfortable with keeping your kids there,” he said. “But there are things that can be done now, like bringing a restorative philosophy into schools and allowing teachers to build relationships. But that doesn’t fit into the model that they have set.”

Recent graduates who’ve protested before, walking out of school in 2016 and skipping a big college announcement in 2018, said they’ve noticed that pattern too.

“What the AF system in general does is have meetings and say that they are going to change things,” said Tyshon Hill, who graduated last year and now studies at the University of Connecticut. “But every time it comes down to it, things get swept under the rug.”

The original full version of this story follows, including interviews with students and background on the issue:

Video Captures Principal Shoving Student

The future of Achievement First Amistad High School’s leadership is uncertain and discipline under scrutiny, as a top administrator who was reprimanded for shoving a student in the back heads for the exits.

Last fall, Morgan Barth, “leader” of the nationally acclaimed charter high school on Dixwell Avenue, manhandled a student who was trying to leave a debrief in his office about an earlier altercation. The following month, he told the charter’s board of directors that he plans to quit once the school year ends.

His actions were caught on video.

In that case, the charter network’s administrators agreed that the school leader (the charter’s term for its principal) had gone too far and punished him for it. But at the same time, administrators also encouraged other discipline that plucked students out of class, often leaving them feeling beaten down and sometimes even leading to their transfer out of the school.

The Barth video is one of two that raise questions about the school’s approach.

Sparked by a new, second video, debate has been raging both in the school and in the community on larger questions about the school’s discipline approach. In the latest instance in which the top-rated school’s methods are being questioned after a mass walkout in 2016, many of Amistad’s students reported feeling still like they go to school in a prison-like environment, where minor infractions like laughing, asking for a pencil or wearing the wrong-colored socks can land a student in detention.

Paul Bass PhotoThis story is based on interviews with more than 15 students, parents, recent graduates and former staff. Most of the current students asked to remain anonymous, saying they were afraid they’d get in trouble for spilling to a reporter.

The discussion was prompted by Steven Cotton, one of the high school’s few black male staffers, who quit last week in protest and unloaded his complaints about Amistad’s culture in an online video that has been shared hundreds of times. Most of the school’s students are black.

In interviews, students said that they are taught to conform. In the charter’s “no-excuses” model, some feel that they’re being “white-washed,” taught to speak properly and dress presentably, without being able to embrace their own identity.

Almost unanimously, the students praised Amistad’s rigorous academics; they said the school had propelled them into top-tier colleges. But many said the stress undermined their learning. They questioned whether it was worth it.

“The decision for parents is if their child’s education is more important then their mental health,” said one 2017 graduate. “We want to learn, but there is only so much, mentally, that you can handle.”

First Video

Achievement FirstIn mid-October, Barth confronted a “scholar” (the school’s term for student) in his office doorway. As the student tried to get by him, Barth grabbed the young man’s left arm, yanked it behind his back and shoved him into a corner.

The student eventually pulled away. Barth tailed him, blocking him from retrieving his backpack and walking down the hall.

The incident was caught on a security camera. Barth later told his colleagues that he’d been hit; the video showed that he had initiated physical contact.

In a statement, Achievement First said that Barth had been disciplined; it declined to say how. The network also declined to discuss what happened just before the tussle was caught on film, citing student privacy laws.

“The conduct shown in the video is unacceptable,” said AF’s Chief External Officer Fatimah Barker. “When this incident happened … we conducted an internal investigation, documented the incident in accordance with state laws, and worked with the family, including sharing the video with them. In addition, Morgan Barth was disciplined and also required to attain additional restraint training.”

It wasn’t the first time that Barth had initiated physical contact with a student.

Around 2013, when he was principal of Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Middle School, Barth pushed a kid in the back for trying to reenter the building after dismissal, the student’s older brother said.

Bertram Johnson, Jr., said that he and his brother were waiting for their sister’s class to come down before they planned to head home together. After standing around for a while, they tried to reenter the school to see if they could retrieve her from her classroom.

“As I walked in, however, I heard some commotion behind me. When I looked, I could see my brother was visibly angry and shouting at Morgan [Barth], saying things like, ‘Don’t touch me’ and ‘You didn’t have to push me. I almost fell down the stairs,’” Johnson recalled. “He began to raise his voice at my brother and I telling us we can’t get inside and she’ll be out when she’s supposed to.”

Their dad was also watching the entire scene from his car parked across the street, Johnson said. After watching what happened, he came over to the foot of the stairs and yelled at Barth, saying, “I saw you push him. I saw it, so don’t even bother lying,” Johnson remembered. Barth said he felt threatened and headed back inside, he added.

“Both of my parents attempted to reach him multiple times since then to have a meeting or conversation about what happened and he always had somebody lie to say he wasn’t available,” Johnson said. “He was petty enough to make personal visits to our classrooms during the day and issue any demerit possible to any of the three of us, but was too childish to show himself to our parents.”

Asked about Johnson’s account on Wednesday afternoon, Achievement First said it would not be able to respond in time for publication.

Johnson eventually went on to Amistad for high school. He stayed for three and a half years, until his depression got so bad that his father pulled him out of the school.

Barth declined to be interviewed for this story.

Second Video


The conversation that’s been swirling around the high school this week was kicked off by the departure of a much-loved behavioral specialist.

After working at Amistad for five years, Cotton called it quits last week. He said he felt that he could do more for the students by speaking out.

He said he turned down a severance payout that came with a non-disparagement clause. Then he posted a 45-minute Facebook Live video, in which he said that the school had been oppressive, both for students and staff.

What did he hope would change? “I used to use this one simple word: humanity,” Cotton said. “I’m looking for them to be more human. Get rid of this oppressive system.

“Think about the demographics that you’re working with: black and brown kids who already live in oppressive system. Then we’re going to bring them to school under another oppressive system that literally mimics their everyday life,” he went on. “I’m the police, Mr. Barth’s the warden, teachers are C.O.’s, classrooms are prison. That’s how it’s run: You mess up in your cell, we bring you to the hold for 50 minutes.”

Cotton was one of the few black males working in the building, where 28 percent of the staff is black, brown or multiracial. He worked on the one all-black team: the behavioral specialists who are focused on “issuing punishment to the ‘bad students,’” as Tini Haynes, a 2017 graduate who organized Amistad’s initial walk-out, put it.

Cotton returned to Amistad’s campus on Wednesday just after dismissal, and a group of kids gathered around him on a side-street to catch up. Amistad High’s Director of Operations Sandy Mackie then walked up and asked this reporter not to interview students, saying they had enough on their minds with midterm exams.

Many of the Amistad students with whom the Independent spoke to criticized the school’s severe rules for behavior. They said they could tell that their teachers hadn’t received enough training in how to control their classrooms. Without other tools, they usually rely on punishments, passing out demerits for minor behavioral issues, they said.

Christopher Peak PhotoThe state’s Department of Education has scrutinized Amistad for their disproportionately high rate of suspensions, with nearly three times as many students kept out of class as in New Haven’s other public schools.

Under the demerit system, a minor infraction is worth two negative points, and a bigger infraction is worth five negative points. Ten points lands a student in detention for an hour after school.

Several students griped about the punishment for forgetting supplies. If students turn to their neighbors to ask for a pencil, they can get two demerits at once: for lack of preparation and for the side conversation. One freshman boy said that it was difficult to buy administrator’s language that Amistad is like a family when he could get in trouble for helping his classmates out.

Others complained about the uniform. If a student is missing an article of clothing, they can be punished in each period. Sometimes, students are even told that they have to go home to change before they’re allowed into class.

Some graduates said they detected an uncomfortable racial dynamic in the white leadership cracking down on the black and brown student body.

“It was a school designed to help us get to college and succeed in college, but it wanted to white-wash us, mold is into ‘acceptable black and Latino students,’” said Nicole Valdovinos, a 2017 graduate now at the University of Connecticut. “They told us this is how you should dress, because if you dress how you want, they won’t look at you the same. They told us how to speak, and we often joked about switching on our white switch when speaking to colleges over the phone. Everything had consequences. No matter how good we were, we were never good enough.”

Even some parents called the rules too strict.

“They call you for every little thing,” said King Darice Bey, a dad who pulled his daughter out of Amistad in November 2017. “They put the kids in detention for not keeping their hands on the table.”

The stress can be counterproductive, several current students said, as it shifts their emotional response to learning from the excitement of discovering new things to the pain of working through tasks.

Sinjely Diaz, a senior who went from Troup School to Amistad, said that she felt unable to keep up with the homework, especially as she dealt with an attention-deficit disorder.

“I was more stressed then I’ve ever been,” she said. “I came home and cried sometimes because my mom didn’t believe me. She just thought I wasn’t trying. I tried so hard, but nothing was ever enough.”

Diaz was held back for a year to catch up on her academics, but she said that no one at the school checked in to ask her what she’d been going through. She said she didn’t feel like an individual there.

“I can’t remember a day that I didn’t wake up and dread going to school for the simple fact of I couldn’t be myself,” she said. “The AF system and the people who run it are strict examples of how you shouldn’t let people treat you and brainwash you into thinking your voice, opinion, and creativity do not matter.”

Several recent graduates also pointed out that the drilled-in obedience didn’t do them any good in college classes.

“Now that I am older, I understand how the way they wanted me to act in school didn’t apply to the real world,” said Michel’le Langley, now a student at Southern Connecticut State University. “I went to college and was scared to get out of my seat and go to the bathroom when I needed to. The professors were so lenient that it took me by surprise. And while walking to class and taking detours at SCSU, I was pretty sure that a staff member would walk behind me at any moment, tap me to ask where I should be heading and [tell me] to get there. No one ever did.”

Paul Bass PhotoRecent alums offered mixed opinions about whether the demerit system could be salvaged, particularly as Amistad accepts more students from the city’s public middle schools.

Ismail Abdussabar, a 2013 graduate, called it unfair to punish students who weren’t used to Achievement First’s rulebook. “That’s a culture that you can’t be thrown into; you have to grow into it,” he said. Especially as class sizes have grown each year, it’s tougher for teachers to build the relationships that can make a demerits an effective learning tool, Abdussabar added.

But the 2017 graduate who asked to remain anonymous said the demerits actually weighed more on students who’d been conditioned since 5th grade to associate demerits with failure. “Each one affects you more and more,” he said.

Cotton said that Amistad needs to do more to support its teachers and encourage its students.

“They’re not realizing that African-American people are a very creative people and very energetic people. We like to be up; we like to be moving. There’s other ways that we’re stimulated to learn besides sitting with your back straight, eyes forward,” he said. “They refuse to accept that. I’ve challenged them to stop using the same raggedy system that’s been in place for over 100 years now. We’re supposed to be a new, cutting-edge school. Shouldn’t we be using some new, cutting-edge teaching methods?”

In a statement, Achievement First said that Cotton’s complaints weren’t true, though it added that changes would be coming to Amistad, especially as a new school leader is named for next year to replace Barth.

“Many of the issues Steve Cotton raises are not accurate. We are proud of many great things happening for kids at AF Amistad High, and we also know there are ongoing issues that we must address,” Barker said. “Independent of this video, several changes are underway. Earlier this year, Morgan Barth had decided that this is his final year at AF Amistad High, and we will be making a number of adjustments at the school, including naming a new school leader.”

Achievement First added that it’s “committed to a process of intently listening” to students, families and staff to improve the network’s schools, said AF’s Communications Director Amanda Pinto. It’s figuring out plans to “hear and respond” to concerns, both immediately and during the transition in leaders, she added.

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posted by: ItsGettingBetter on January 17, 2019  9:02am

That Cotton video resonates.

I recently had the pleasure of interacting with a group of students from one of the Achievement First schools. The kids were bright, creative, thoughtful and inquisitive.

Which made it all the more disheartening to see the teacher be so condescending, harsh and outright rude to the kids. It was really sad to watch. It felt very clear that the teacher was empowered by the school’s values and leadership style.

posted by: AmistadHighparent on January 17, 2019  9:19am

As a current parent of AHS, I can agree and confirm with some of the statements concerns, policy and procedures that Mr. Cotton has point out in his videos. What I have learned over the last 12 years, with all teachers and administrations not just AHS they will lie behind your back and lie in your face.  So, why is he still there? Is there not a 2nd in command that can take over the school until the end of the year?  As parents we MUST listen to our children. You know your children best. When something isn’t sitting well with you, address it. Don’t let it simmer. Make your presence known at the school. Heck, make it so well known that they know your voice when you call on the phone or your name when you walk through the door.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 17, 2019  9:43am

An “educational” institution run by an overwhelming white majority, whose students are overwhelming plucked from the gullible in the Black community for the stated purpose of “Behavior Modification,” placed in a school named for a slave ship, while the institution receives public money, but have absolutely no public oversite by elected or appointed officials. 

Hmmmmm, I wonder what could go wrong with that??

The Rev. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: edgewooder on January 17, 2019  11:22am

Appreciate the reporting, but the headline buries the big story. I hope people actually watch the full video posted by the former Amistad employee, because it’s the courage and content of that video - coupled with the larger body of research of charters - that gives context for the specific incident featured in the headline and first chunk of the article. Of course, Barth should be ashamed and held accountable, and of course the matter warrants reporting. That said, there is much greater value to what the video offers in terms of an education for those who might not be aware how charters work, why so many people and organizations oppose them, how they threaten the wellbeing of students (especially student of color), etc. So many charter “success” stories have full-on skeletons in the closet, and that’s not even touching the way their very existence and proliferation systemically undermine public education and make it LESS (not more!) likely that kids in urban communities (where charters inevitably cluster) will get the education they deserve.

posted by: 1644 on January 17, 2019  11:31am

A bit of racist stereotyping: from Cotton
“...African-American people are a very creative people and very energetic people. We like to be up; we like to be moving. “

Frankly, Amistad’s methods strike me as like every high school in the US in the 1950’s.  Horace Mann’s inspiration of public education was Prussia, and public education was a tool for molding obedient citizens.  My own, independent school education was certainly regimented, but we also had mandatory athletics to expend the excess energy nearly all teenagers, of whatever race, have.  Many military units start and end their work day with physical training.

posted by: 06511 on January 17, 2019  11:47am

Morgan Barth is a symptom of an attitude toward schooling that is omnipresent throughout the Achievement First network and in a large segment of the ‘education reform’ movement at large. Hopefully this is an opportunity to talk about the nuanced and not-so-nuanced aspects of that attitude and how it has played out in our local community.

Having said that, I find the notion that Mr. Barth has been allowed to remain in his leadership position to be unjustifiable at this point. Having taught for years at New Haven Achievement First Schools, I know that Barth’s hotheadedness was an open secret. So many of us had stories about encountering Mr. Barth screaming at and physically intimidating children, often to the point of tears - to say nothing of his similar verbal abuse of adult faculty and staff.

So many teachers have been pushed out and fired for far less than this. The time for Mr. Barth to step aside isn’t at the end of the school year - it is now. Then, AF needs to EARNESTLY move toward the kinds of fundamental changes that students, parents, and teachers have been hoping for for years.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on January 17, 2019  12:40pm

There have been numerous reports over the years about the repressive and oppressive learning environment of the Achievement First schools. This is no new revelation.
What is very troubling is that no one seems to care enough to do something about it.
Why would any parent subject their kids to this kind of environment? Why has the State Board of Education not done some investigation of the charges previously made against the school administration and policies? Where is the NAACP and other community organizations? Where are our political leaders? Could some be silenced because of influence and financial backing Achievement First, a powerful charter school lobby which profits from this BUSINESS!
The leaders of this charter school should have worked aggressively address these complaints, but they seem to have failed to do anything. That is because many parents are so desperate to get what they consider a quality education for their kids that they continue to send their kids there in spite of the negative reports they have heard.
No child should be stressed out over going to school because of dictatorial inflexible regimentation!
What profit is there to send kids to this school in the hope of getting a better education, only to create emotional and psychological problems for many kids? Now we see an example of physical abuse!
This article is a call for community to action. If we allow a charter school serving mostly Black students planted in the center of the Black community to continue to treat students in this abusive manner, we should be charged with child abuse and contributing to the delinquency of minors!
If you have a child at Amistad and are happy, tell your story. If you are one who is concerned and disturbed about what is going on speak up. If Mr. Cotton is telling the truth (why should he be doubted), it is time to wake up, speak up, show up at meetings and DEMAND change and an investigation.
This must not be tolerated. If we don’t save our kids, who will?

posted by: Conscience on January 17, 2019  12:49pm

I have no idea what your ethnicity is, but I wonder why you are commenting on alleged racist stereotyping by Cotten rather than the racist actions by Barth.  Black people invented creative adaptations to survive slavery and exerted tremendous energy in the MOVEMENT to secure full rights of citizenship from 1865 to the present, and based on current circumstances, will have to continue to exert energy to create the next iteration of the movement to hold on to hard won freedoms. Necessity is the mother of invention and there are many behaviors associated with certain groups that are representative of the historical forces that shaped their development. Jews are philanthropic in ways that other groups are not, Italians are creative in ways that others are not,. The racist stereotypes are the ones that would suggest limited human abilities ascribed to a specific group. Cotten actually described qualities in most adolescents that might be more dominant in specific groups. How is this racist? On the other hand, do you believe Barth would have done this to a White child at Hopkins or even Madison?
Many of these charters are cults that have convinced Black parents to leave public education instead of remaining and fighting for good public schools. Bright, hardworking kids are better off in public schools with more options, more extracurricular activities, and less secrets. Although not perfect, public schools have been the difference maker for minority’ and working class white children. Ross-Lee’s point about educating Black kids in a school named after a slave ship is poignant. Change the name to Nat Turner, John Brown, or Thurgood Marshall.

posted by: publikskooled on January 17, 2019  1:01pm

Rev. Ross, im going to offer up some unsolicited opinions to you.
First the name of the school is not tacit support of our country’s horrific transgressions of the past , but a celebration of those who survived and triumphed, as well as honoring those who suffered and died , just as The Pearl Harbor memorial bridge isn’t a nod to a crushing Japanese victory over the american navy.  So lets not attempt to make that an issue.
My second piece of advice is that at every sermon you hammer home the importance of getting every parishoner registered to vote, and send them on a mission to convert the unregistered into registered and active voters.  Then use that political power to ensure the community they represent is in fact represented.
Finally, encourage the young people to become teachers, as well as police officers firefighters and librarians- people who are seen by and interact with the community every day.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on January 17, 2019  1:33pm

While listening to Steven Cotton’s comments, the first thought to come to my mind is the CULT-LIKE character of Achievement First Amistad Academy!
Cotton appears to be a rational, reasonable, sophisticated, compassionate, concerned community person who quit his job at this school and rejected a BRIBE from Amistad to keep silent. They tried to pay him four weeks salary not to tell his truth, his experience. That action alone speaks volumes about the administration of this school and their attempts to stifle truth and free speech!
The whistle has been blown, and blown loudly and effectively. Some very uncomfortable truths are being exposed. This warrants a serious response and a serious investigation.
The state of Connecticut, we the people of Connecticut, pay Achievement First to educate our students, not indoctrinate and torment students. These are human beings, not robots to be programmed to be modified into mindless, thoughtless, uniform personalities!
Amistad has the dangerous characteristics of a cult! It is time to go in there to check out what is going on there. If Amistad has nothing to hide, they will open their doors wide.
I doubt that that may happen.
Many have been hoodwinked and bamboozled by the charter hype thinking that all of these schools are superior to the public schools. We need to check their books, their records, their test scores, suspension rates, graduation and college acceptance rates, and college graduation rates.
We have been sold a bill of goods about Amistad, and it may all be based on a foundation of lies and deceptions!
Something is seriously rotten in the state of Amistad Academy!
Parents beware! Community be aware! All things are not always as they appear!

posted by: Bill Saunders on January 17, 2019  1:36pm

A very compelling, passionate, and brave video, Steve Cotton.  You made me cry.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 17, 2019  1:54pm


I think Rev. Ross makes an interesting point. I’m not sure that this is a perfect analogy, but how would you feel about a Japanese-run school named Pearl Harbor Memorial Academy where nearly all the students were descendants of the survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack?

I think the intent of the Amistad name is to inspire students, but there is something odd about a mostly white-run institution named “Amistad” serving mostly minority students. Obviously a school is not a slave ship, but the school may want to consider what it means that students are attempting to emancipate themselves and influence who the school is run. What might Joseph Cinque think about that? I am not advocating that students attempt to take over the school themselves, but I’m curious to know what the administration thinks about a school named Amistad that is a mostly white-run institution serving mostly minority students.

posted by: 1644 on January 17, 2019  1:58pm

Conscience:  I am commenting on Cotton’s racism because I believe it might otherwise go unnoticed.  As for Barth, I do not believe his actions were racist.  I do believe he would have acted the same with a white student in Madison.  These things happen in school systems like Madison, as well as between black teachers/administrators in other districts.  Absent video, and hyper-local news outlets like NHI, they are generally handled quietly and buried under the guise of student privacy and personnel FOI exceptions. 
Barth’s actions are not racist: they are emblematic of the “old school”, regimented learning style that AF embraces.  Elite schools are famous for physical abuse:  Eton didn’t do away with corporal punishment until the 1980’s.  Price Charles was sent to Goudonstoun to toughen him up.  I certainly had teachers and administrators like Barth in both my independent and public school education. Unlike you, I like to judge individuals as individuals, not surmise traits based on ethnicity, whether it be black, white, Jewish, Italian, etc.
Re Gourdonstoun: “Each day started with a run (whatever the weather) and then a cold shower. The kids slept in dormitories on hard bunks, with the windows open all year around, and older kids were free to enforce discipline on the younger students.”

posted by: EastCoast25 on January 17, 2019  2:31pm

It’s. About. Time. As a former employee of Amistad and a member of the “leadership team” I worked closely with Morgan. He is demeaning and condescending to staff members and VIOLENT with the students. He clearly and repeatedly showed that he doesn’t care about the staff or students and only cares about his title and position as an authoritarian principal.

I fielded multiple complaints from parents who wanted to meet with him about their child’s safety and he ignored them. Consistently. He ignored the Newhalville community and discounted the terms of the original agreement that brought AF to the community in the first place. What’s most disturbing is that AF has supported him and tolerated his behavior for YEARS! It was indeed an “open secret.”

I hope, with new leadership, the school begins to move in the right direction. However, it will make little difference if the CEOs and other leaders don’t address AF’s systemic problems.

posted by: Bill Saunders on January 17, 2019  2:41pm

Steve Cotton,

Looks like AF has just suffered its first casualty.  Keep up the fight!

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 17, 2019  2:44pm

@Mr./Ms./Mrs publikskooled,

The name of the school is the same name as the Slave Ship. One of the STATED purposes of the school is “Behavior Modification.” (google it).  Those two facts make a greater argument for the name of the school representing the enslavement of Africans than whatever it is you’re trying to suggest.

You should not make assumptions or stereotype me. I don’t waste time in the pulpit or in any other forum preaching to people about registering to vote, going to vote, or suggesting for whom they should vote.  That’s not my job or my calling. 

I do not try to tell people in what jobs/careers they should be interested, either Apparently, you have a notion of paternalism concerning me as a Pastor that is not accurate.  I could suggest . from where I think you embraced such a perspective, but I will not. I will leave such things to your imagination.

Rev. Ross-LEE

posted by: TFA2013 on January 17, 2019  2:46pm


I have to disagree. Barth certainly would not have put his hands on a student at “a school district like Madison” for several reasons. The first being that “a school district like Madison” would never subject students to young college age teachers experimenting on students with culturally insensitive behavioral management strategies designed to replace and “repair” the students’ culture during their most formative years. Secondly, Barth has minimal respect for parents and functions under the assumption that AF parents will not advocate for their children and should be complacent and thankful for AF. Lawyer up Mom.  I have met Barth at many TFA events and have never been impressed with the way he talks about his teachers and their “short comings .” I hope that like the historical Amistad, students throw him over board.
Bravo Mr. Cotton

posted by: conchienchous_observer on January 17, 2019  2:57pm

Are we seriously following this thread, spurred by a disgruntled employee that didn’t qualify for his position in the first place? There are times when a student needs “tough love”. That’s all you see in the video. Clearly, the guy that submitted this video had an axe to grind. Ever consider how he got his hands on the tape? Just downloaded it from the main frame and kept it in his pocket until the right time Give me a break.

posted by: Conscience on January 17, 2019  3:16pm

At 1664
Let me make sure I understand your points: Barth assaults a kid, Cotton reports it, and YOU call Cotton a racist. Looks like your isolated, independent school failed you ethically and intellectually.

posted by: Conscience on January 17, 2019  3:29pm

@1644 again
You liken Amistad to “old school regimented elite schools characterized by physical abuse.” I can only conclude that you are labeling Barth’s actions as such. Please walk me through your points as I did not attend an elite school like you. And, if you believe Cotton is racist, please elaborate on this claim. Should all schools be regimented and characterized by physical abuse to force children to learn? From 1619 to 1865, this nation created and maintained an institution that was regimented and horrifically abuse. Guess what it was called and guess how it’s victims were brought to our shores?

posted by: Conscience on January 17, 2019  3:49pm

Publikschooled give me a break. Where did you learn your history? As well, how do you assume the right to control the good reverend’s sermons? Is he trying to tell you how to manage your financial institution? Yours is PATERNALISM with all caps. Conflating the name given for the school with Pearl Harbor is a failure of critical thinking. Naming the school after Singbeh Pieh would have been the appropriate gesture.

Too bad, the unsuspecting people in the community that supported the school were not suspicious when they allowed a for profit charter organization to build a school named for a slaveship in that community. I am not against charters, but I am against abusing children in any school. Admit it was wrong and improve the school. What Barth did is an affront to the people the school placed on its front wall: Dr James Comer, Constance Baker Motley, and Stevie Wonder.

posted by: Conscience on January 17, 2019  3:52pm

Sorry, I meant “ horrifically abusive.”

posted by: conchienchous_observer on January 17, 2019  3:56pm

@Conscience - I’ll say it again, it’s clear Cotton has an axe to grind here. Perhaps it’s because he thought he was going to be fired? Maybe it has to do with race? either way, this is a disgruntled employee and doesn’t accurately reflect what happens in these schools.

posted by: Conscience on January 17, 2019  3:59pm

@ conchienchous observer
Would it be appropriate for the father of the young man that Barth pushed around to offer Barth an in-kind version of the tough love that Bart “ lovingly”  gave his child?  What Barth did was inappropriate and he is fortunate that he has not been sued.

posted by: 06511 on January 17, 2019  4:12pm

I second Cotton’s skepticism that anything significant and lasting will come of this listening tour; if you’ve worked at AF, you’ve heard all that before (after all, just look at AF’s initial response - “Many of the issues Steve Cotton raises are not accurate”). The end result will need to be a set of concrete, measurable (AF loves them some measurable) commitments. I can think of a few possibilities off the top of my head:

- A wholesale end to the behavioral system as it exists, with its credits/deductions, merits/demerits.
- A reduction in class sizes (no more than 20 students per classroom, say)
- Hiring of more counselors, particularly professionals of color (who will not then be forced to do tasks outside their expertise such as lead reading groups, as happens at AF)
- CONCRETE steps to make teaching sustainable (limiting teacher’s work hours, hiring assistant teachers, holding prep time sacred) and retain experienced teachers, especially teachers of color.

And so on - if AF can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to outside contractors to conjure up their now-faltering Greenfield model, they can spend just as much on figuring out how to administer schools that don’t traumatize students of color and burn through passionate teachers.

One more suggestion? AF should reach out to past faculty as it engages in these ‘discussions’ - we can speak honestly without fear of losing our jobs and explain exactly what it was that drove us away.

Amanda Pinto, if you truly are listening, we are out here.

posted by: 1644 on January 17, 2019  4:14pm

Conscience:  I was addressing Cotton remarks, which stereotyped black kids.  As usual, NHI’s ban on personal attacks seems to be ignored.  I don’t know where or how you were educated or where you have lived, but your remarks about Jews and Italians are evidence of your own prejudices.  Regarding Barth I would just say that his old school behavior is unacceptable in the 21st century.  Even Gordonstoun has changed.  And yes, my formal education, both independent and public, was limited, although my residential schools did draw from a diverse geographic as well as economic populations, something day schools cannot do.  Since my formal education ended, I have traveled and worked with folks in many countries from many economic strata.  I have certainly learned it is unwise to ascribe particular characteristics to individuals based on their ethnicity or geographic origin.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 17, 2019  4:32pm

This is nothing new.It was going on in Achievement First Charter Schools for years.

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

posted by: meta on January 17, 2019  4:34pm

Will the principal/perpetrator face assault charges?

posted by: 1644 on January 17, 2019  4:49pm

Regarding the name, should Amistad Park and Amistad Street be renamed?  And the statue in front of city hall? The replica schooner?  Personally, I have always felt naming things and places “Amistad” was to celebrate the entire rebellion and its aftermath, including the Connecticut judicial system that, to the horror of many, held the rebellion justified.  Certainly, we could name things after an individual, but freedom for the Amistad captives was not the result of one individual, however essential he may have been.

posted by: Conscience on January 17, 2019  5:01pm

The examples I offered were positive characteristics of two ethnic groups one known for uncommon philanthropy owed to the Golden Rule first advanced in Leviticus and then in the book of Matthew where Jesus cited it again. Healing the world is deeply embedded in Judaism. I offer you the Renaissance and the creative work of some of the greatest artists in human history as well as modern day designers, artists, and poets that had Italian backgrounds. This does not mean that other individuals did not have the same genetic potential, but historical circumstances and cultural priorities did not call such gifts forward. As I said, necessity is the mother of invention. What you did was to mount an ill advised defense of a man who assaulted a child and demeaned the young man who witnessed it. This was a diversion from the real issue of an adult “educator” pushing a kid around who posed no threat to him or others. Is this acceptable to you? Ask yourself why you are focused on Mr. Cotton and not Mr. Barth. I am sure that you encountered Socrates in your Etonion education. Remember what he said about the unexamined life? Finally, I would invite you to read anything about how dialogue has changed in the post-truth era. By the way, there are both positive and negative stereotypes . You attacked a man who reported a man who pushed a kid around. Look in the mirror my brother and put yourself or some child you love in that kid’s place.

posted by: teachah on January 17, 2019  5:14pm

Mr. Cotton, thank you for laying out so passionately in public what many of us have suspected and heard in private from ex-AF staff for a while now. I have worked with several students at New Haven public schools over the years who’ve transferred in after being “counseled out” (pressured out) of charters mid-year. The trauma for them was real. I hope you will consider joining us in the messy, complicated, but at its heart democratic enterprise of educating EVERY child in our community.  We need honest and dedicated people like you. Our public schools do too often reflect the inequities in our society at large, but they are also our city’s best hope for the future. We will keep pushing and doing better.

posted by: tmctague on January 17, 2019  5:34pm

No truly great principal with a formal background in Education and history of success would apply to work for the Achievement First network.  As they always do, they will pull one from the ranks to replace this expired time bomb, one who doesn’t know much about schools or pedagogy outside of Doug Lemov and Achievement First’s in-house “professional development”, and in doing so they will have all but guaranteed that nothing will meaningfully change. 

What principal WOULDN’T want to work at Connecticut’s #1 high school?  We shall see.

posted by: 1644 on January 17, 2019  5:50pm

Conscience:  Positive or negative, it’s still prejudice.  Further, by, extolling one group, you demean and denigrate others.  One can fairly ascribe Jesus’s teaching to Judaism, as he was a Jew, although charity is key to both traditions.  There are lots of charitable institutions founded by adherents of both religions, as well as others, and lots of creative people not of Italian descent. Ever heard of Damien Hirst, or Francis Bacon? Or Rothko, or Albers? Not many Italians mentioned in this discussion of 20th century art.  BTW, I did not attend Eton.  I crossed it off my list after finding out about the corporal punishment. :)

posted by: Teacher4Life on January 17, 2019  9:11pm

Since when is it ever accepatable to touch students?  Sadly? I am in no way surprised. As a former teacher at AF, I and others were very much aware of Morgan’s ways.  The culture of a school begins at the top.

Doug and Dacia, two not well-meaning white people, should resign their posts imemediately. They have enabled, supported, and promoted Morgan for years. It is truly disgusting and in no way surprising that his tenure at AF (and hopefully education) ended this way.

Achievement First has always had questionable practices and beliefs. How sad that it took this terrible, incomprehensible, and offensive circumstance to make all aware of what is happening behind the schools’ closed doors. 

The treatment of black and brown children at all of these schools is downright abhorrent and shameful. But what do Morgan and other white leaders there care?  They make their high salaries, return to their comfortable, predominantly-white neighborhoods, and never have to have any real interaction with their clientele.

The gig is up, AF…

posted by: Conscience on January 17, 2019  10:48pm

You will have the last word. You called Cotton racist for his opinions regarding Black teens, you excused Barth’s behavior by referencing Horace Mann and elitist Wasp private schools and implied that Amistad was a modern version of the same.. Then you called me prejudiced for citing the obvious about two groups’ contribution to human creativity and philanthropy. Extolling the contributions of one group does not diminish the contributions of another. Jews do contribute charitable gifts at a higher rate than any other group and Italians are creative. But, other groups in our society are philanthropic, and other groups are creative. The great majority of high school kids are creative, need movement, and respectful ways to burn off energy, since the teens at Amistad are in this group, it follows that Cotton was right. They happen to be Black and many have restricted options beyond school for access to a range of expressive outlets. Saying this is not racist and we ALL harbor prejudices and judgments about people and things. We err when we do not examine our thoughts and deeds and resolve to do better. Barth was wrong, Cotton was courageous and right. Do not be an enabler my friend. By the way, were you referencing Kevin or Sir Francis when you mentioned Bacon? LOL

posted by: Bill Saunders on January 18, 2019  1:23am

Steve Cotten

Again I want to commend you.  YOU are the kind of change agent that is needed.
In this world where people talk about the lack of Black Role models, HERE YOU ARE!!!!!!!!

I hope, in the wake of all of this turmoil, that you take a little time for yourself…. to gather your resolve, deal with your circumstances, take some time to gather your spirit and your strength knowing that you are on the right side of a very righteous fight.

You are a Hero, Steve.
Emotionally Prepare Yourself for you New Position!

I’m tearing up again…...

posted by: UnboundPromethius on January 18, 2019  2:18am

I just love it when people start to opine without having all the facts together. What this principal did was totally wrong, out of line and unacceptable. That said, this is a high school, and it always seems that many people forget to see the elephant in the room when taking sides in matters like this. Many parents think it’s the school’s job not only to educate their children but also to discipline and raise them. These parents want to wash their hands of raising their own offspring and actually want to hold the school system responsible for that job. Many of these same parents can not control these kids themselves, but yet when someone, now charged with the role of raising someone these kids, does what the parent should have done a long time ago all dung hits the fan. Many of these kids can’t be touched by the cops; they don’t want to dirty their hands until they just shoot them down one fine day. The parent in these cases doesn’t even know where the child is half the time. These same kids bully other kids, disrupt the school learning environment as they have no respect for anything. No one seems to care about this kid. Now the educators which are expected to raise this kid better never become emotional when the child acts out or misbehaves. I am sure the parents want money for this principal’s actions. The good old American way and the problems of these kids never really gets addressed.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 18, 2019  9:44am


The “gig” should have been up a long time ago.  This community, from the present and former politicians to the media, to the Black churches, the parents, and on and on should have been looking closely at this institution that was preying on Black bodies from day one. 

First of all, the inadequacies of the AF model should have been and was evident to many of us way before now. Some of us spoke out. But those who had the power and access to investigate this money grabbing institution did virtually nothing. 

I am thoroughly convinced that AF would have had regular and consistent oversight if its clientele was predominately white. In fact, the fact that there the number of these predatory schools in predominately white neighborhoods is telling.  To me, that means the oversight occurred before the places could even open, and they were turned away.  America is prone to protect its white kids much better than she is to defend African-American children.

Criticism of the AF enterprise is not complete without critic of the parents who allow their kids to attend these unregulated businesses, where the white business owners are using your children to make money for themselves in a building named for a slave ship.  Did any of you NOT see a problem with this arrangement?

Dear Black People, we need to stop trusting every group of white people that come to our community offering gifts and miracles with no sacrifice from us.  When have that EVER worked out well for us??  It Has Not. 

Mr. Cotton is not telling us anything that we should not already know.  GET OUT of Amistad!  Don’t be gullible. As you can see, neither the Black people in power, not the white people with resources are going to stand up for you.  You must research these things for yourself (and there is PLENTY of information on the internet that reveals the miasmic environment of the AF “schools” everywhere they exist. 

Everyone has failed these kids. You can’t afford to do so.

Rev. Ross-Lee

posted by: newhavenSTRONGER on January 18, 2019  10:26am

As a former administrator in a New Haven Public School, I am astonished that such an incident occurred months ago and the principal was permitted to stay at the school until the incident became public? Regardless of context that the incident occurred, once you resort to physical violence, you have lost your “power” and there is no possible way to be effective in the leadership role. It is troubling that many of the commenters have chosen to ignore what happened in the recorded ASSAULT of this black student and instead focus on the “disgruntled employee” as if witnessing the physical and emotional abuse of children that look like him isn’t reason to be angry or dissatisfied with his formal employer.

Achievement First gained popularity by being the anti-NHPS. Their scholars were smart, driven, college-ready and now we see that compliance has a lot to do with it.

posted by: 1644 on January 18, 2019  10:32am

Conscience: I was referring to Francis Bacon the artist:
Kevin, of course, is a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of mine and yours.  Also, a dancing Jew! :) Do you have any particular authority for your statement that Jews are more philanthropic than others? I’ve seen data that Republicans have more Schedule A charitable deductions than Democrats, and Al Gore was famously uncharitable, but I have never seen anything comparing religious groups.

posted by: Eric B. Smith on January 18, 2019  1:28pm

The mistake we keep making is that we keep looking for the school or system with the secret to educating our children.  There is no magic and there is no secret.  The key is parental involvement at all points in children’s’ education.  There are some things I strongly disagree with Rev. Ross-Lee about, but there is one thing where I STRONGLY agree with him.  You have to “research these things for yourself” as a parent and make your own decisions.

Research is what led me to the conclusion that the school my kids were assigned to attend would not be best for them.  Research is what led me to believe that Amistad was the best option for them.  I can’t speak for what it is now and I don’t want to dive into the debate about the pros/cons associated with the Achievement First model based on my experiences lest my main point gets lost.  And parental involvement kept me engaged in their matriculation at Amistad, both when things went well and when they did not.

I don’t have answers for the societal ills that make it more difficult for some parents to be engaged in their children’s education than others, but I do know that, parental involvement is one of the primary keys to educating children.

posted by: Blitheringidiot on January 18, 2019  1:50pm

I may be a blithering idiot but the writing has been on the wall (10 demerits) for a very long time about Achievement First. It’s even in their name. They value scores, not students. Now we REALLY know HOW they got their scores (even though it has been part of the not-so-public record for a long time). Berate children until they fall in line (step out of line, 2 demerits) or they leave.

I wonder how many tapes there are. I wonder how many more stories we will hear.

You know what? If I don’t have pen for work, my company provides them. I don’t have to bring my OWN pen to work every day (even though I do….but for days I forget, I can get a new one). My socks don’t always have to match. I still have a job. My belt doesn’t match my shoes. Guess what? I’m still employed. These things don’t teach kids to think for themselves; it teaches them to be compliant or else no one will ever love them.

It would break my heart to be a teacher who doesn’t give a frigging pencil to a kid. It’s a pencil. You get state money to SUPPLY the children with what they need to learn….not deny them the tools of education.

But I’m just a blithering idiot.

posted by: robn on January 18, 2019  2:48pm

I’ve watched this video over and over again and the only conclusion I can come to is that the adult was bullying the child (who, by the way, showed admirable restraint since he has about 6” of height over the adult and could have popped him but kept his hands at his side as he was being pushed around.)
That being said, the fact that Mr Cotton and commenters on this thread find it problematic that students are “taught to speak properly and dress presentably” is troublesome to me because thats part of what schools do.
I also find it troubling that Mr Cotton (evidently with support of many commenters in this thread) used the racist trope, “African-American people are a very creative people and very energetic people. We like to be up; we like to be moving.” All kids are fidgety and like to be up and moving but that’s not how most classrooms work. And Amistad isn’t a Montessori school; parent should have known this going in. I personally wouldn’t want my kids in this kind of environment and wouldn’t have chosen it; so why did these parents?

posted by: EastRocket on January 18, 2019  3:03pm

Former AF teacher here. I left after three years because of the intensity of the cognitive dissonance that I felt as a teacher there. We were continually told that the only way to empower students live up to their potential was through harsh discipline and control. It is truly a shame that parents, driven to provide opportunities their children, have had to make the choice to sacrifice their children’s emotional well-being for the “strong academics” the AF schools (debatably) provide.

The slogan on the wall, “Education = Freedom” felt like Orwellian newspeak, as the vast majority of our PD and feedback and policies were about controlling the bodies and voices of black and brown children. While I never struck a student, I continue to struggle today with the implications of my participation in the AF system, and the emotional harm that I inflicted on children by following their protocols.

It is worth saying that the vast majority of teachers I worked with were deeply dedicated, talented educators who believed fiercely in the mission of AF to provide equal educational opportunities for children, regardless of race or economic status. But with their oppressive, punitive policies—targeted toward both children and staff—is not surprising, then, that the organization continues to hemorrhage talent.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 18, 2019  3:48pm

Eric B. Smith,

Thank you for your excellent comment. You make critically important points. As an outsider looking in on this Amistad situation, I suspect that many of the concerns voiced by Mr. Cotton and students are legitimate. I tend to be much more skeptical, however, of anyone who offers definitive answers for how to best educate children. To my knowledge, no one institution has developed a full proof way of perfectly educating every student. Many of the “solutions” often offered up by critics are naive and unproven. Thanks again for your comments, I think they bring up important issues that have been lacking in the comment section thus far.

posted by: Teacher4Life on January 18, 2019  4:06pm

Very well put, East Rocket. Thank you.  My hope is that now more former teachers and families now feel comfortable sharing their experiences.

posted by: Callisto on January 20, 2019  7:29am

So asserting observable proven facts about Amistad’s many petty torments is now considered “disparagement” huh? Congrats for eschewing AF’s hush money to speak truth. Charters are very experienced in buying silence and acquiescence from those with no moral center.

posted by: 1644 on January 20, 2019  2:06pm

Callisto:  Anti-disparagement hush-money is hardly unique to charter schools:

posted by: Callisto on January 21, 2019  5:48am

1644:Comparing upper-echelon management to front-line teaching is a spurious equivalency at best but whatever. My main question is how telling the truth about one’s experience can be ‘disparagement’. Is there a legal difference between non-disparagement clauses and non-disclosure agreements? Who decides what is truth and what is disparagement? Do whistle-blower protections supercede ND clauses? Does this violate the first amendment?

posted by: 1644 on January 21, 2019  9:59am

Callisto:  A non-disclosure agreement is usually an agreement to keep some of all of the terms of a settlement confidential, notably the amount of the settlement lest others be encouraged to make copy-cat claims, or lest the amount of the settlement indicate the worthiness of the claim.  I might for example, pay a porn star not to tell my wife or others about that night of wild, passionate and fulfilling sex we had.  Non-disparagement, would mean that while she could tell people I spent the night with her, she couldn’t say that the sex was boring and uninspired, what my body really looked like, or that, consumed by guilt about my wife, I was completely non-responsive to her advances.  Neither would violate the First Amendment, as they are entirely voluntary restrictions on speech.  “Truth” is not relevant.  The whole point of these clauses is that truth is subjective.  Are Birks and the BoE hopelessly dysfunctional?  Does the triumphalism of Harp and Birds about black women getting power create a hostile working environment for old, white men?  Was the sex inspired and exiting or sick and perverted?  Does the Amistad environment promote or suppress learning?  Whistle blower protections generally protect against retaliation, not voluntary agreements, although courts do occasionally rule a contract void on public policy grounds.  They are, though, loath to do so, as non-disparagement agreements are often essential to settling claims out of court.  Our court system is highly favorable to “voluntary” settlements.