Dwight School Sold

nhidwight%20001.JPGBefore the city sold her neighborhood’s school to Achievement First, Dwight Alderwoman Gina Calder (pictured) tried to add something in the deal for her neighbors.

At a meeting Tuesday night, the Board of Aldermen approved the sale of the Dwight School at 130 Edgewood Ave. for $4.51 million to Achievement First, the parent group of Amistad Academy. Achievement First plans to use the space for a K-8 school in 2011, after a $31.5 million renovation.

The deal was delayed while Achievement First negotiated with the Greater Dwight Development Corporation on an agreement to let the neighborhood group continue use community space inside the school. An agreement was struck on May 16; both parties appeared at the board to applaud their new accord.

Calder also applauded the new Memorandum of Understanding between those groups, but she said it wasn’t enough.

The land sale allows the city to pay off $3 million in debt service and close a budget gap for the current fiscal year.

With all that money pouring into city coffers, Calder said on the aldermanic floor, “Our community is left asking, what does our community get out of this?”

The sale passed by a voice vote, with Calder the sole “nay.” Aldermen Robert Lee and Michelle Edmonds-Sepulveda abstained.

“I think [Amistad] will be a great community partner and neighbor,” Calder later explained, “however, there’re some community needs that still need to be met.”

In a closed-door Democratic caucus session before the vote, the Dwight alderwoman pitched two proposals to her fellow legislators that would have added tangible benefits for her neighbors.

The first proposal, according to Calder: “construction site vacancies would be first filled, when possible, from among qualified Dwight residents.”

A second proposal called for the city to devote $800,000 “to fund the acquisition and development of another site for a community center.” The money would have come from a combination of unspent capital project funds and surplus property sales.

The proposals, both supported by Edgewood Alderwoman Liz McCormack, “would have empowered and provided much needed opportunity for Dwight,” said Calder.

“Unfortunately, I did not get the support I needed from the city and my colleagues on the Board” to pass the amendments Tuesday, Calder said. What emerged from caucus, and passed through the board, were two watered-down proposals.

Aldermen questioned the legality of requiring construction contractors to hire Dwight residents. They opted instead to pass a non-binding resolution ordering Amistad Academy to “seek to recruit Dwight residents to work on the construction and rehabilitation of this new school.”

The board also passed an amendment calling for the city to look for sites for a community center — but without the part that required a funding commitment for acquiring the land. The amendment that passed ordered the city to conduct a six-month feasibility study “on the creation of community centers” in the city, and report back to the board.

On the aldermanic floor, Hill Alderman Jorge Perez applauded the latter amendment. He said it’s time to “walk the talk” and get serious about creating a community center. People across the city have long clamored for a new community space, especially after the Dixwell Q House closed.

Calder said both proposals stemmed from a feeling that neighbors were left out of the loop on the sale of the Dwight School.

When the city announced it was selling Dwight school this year, neighborhood activists felt blindsided. They had hoped to use the school for a community center and thought they had more time to get a plan together: Click here to read about that.

Despite the alderwoman’s dissatisfaction Tuesday, the leader of one active neighborhood group applauded how the Dwight deal worked out.

“I’m very happy with it,” said Linda Townsend-Maier, executive director of the Greater Dwight Development Corporation. Her group raised $600,000 towards the addition of a multi-purpose room and office space when the Dwight School was last renovated. The group had a Memorandum of Understanding with the Board of Education that allowed it to use the space when school was not in session.

The new MOU, signed a week ago, continues the old agreement and goes beyond. It gives the GDDC continued use of the all-purpose room, including during construction. It requires Amistad to reach out to neighborhood families to let them know how to apply to the school. It gives the GDDC four seats on the Amistad Academy Design Advisory Team. And it allows an office space and kitchen area to be used solely by the GDDC, the Dwight management team and the Montessori School on Edgewood Avenue.

IMG_3422.jpgAchievement First plans a $31.5 million renovation, with the addition of a gym and media center. The group has already secured a $25.2 million state grant to fund the project, said Achievement First’s executive director, Dacia Toll (pictured).

She said Achievement First is also pushing at the state Capitol for a bill that would allow for neighborhood preference in charter school admissions.

The city, under a mayor who has recently started publicly embracing Achievement First’s achievements, is standing fully behind the plan. In approving the sale, aldermen attached an amendment calling for the city to be a friend, not an obstacle, in helping the group get zoning approval for the school. They also stipulated that the charter school group won’t be stuck with a property tax bill in case there’s a lapse in time before it gets tax-exempt status. And they incorporated the MOU into the sale.

Townsend-Maier hailed the plans as a starting point for a good relationship.

“I’m very happy about the memorandum of understanding,” she said. “I’m hopeful that they’ll be a good neighbor.”

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posted by: Funky Chicken on May 27, 2009  2:51pm

Thankfully someone on the BOA has enough brains to stop this type of madness. It started with the hospital cancer center and they did it again at the Shartenberg sale and now they tried again. Why can’t a developer - who is going to be paying taxes not have to pay extortion money. (I know that the school won’t pay taxes but we weren’t getting any thing now).

With regard to Calder’s statement about “what is the community going to get” They are going to get one of the finest schools in the country in their neighborhood. They are going to get access to the building for even longer then the BOE was going to give them.

Regarding money that Calder tried [getting] from the rest of the City (the $800,000). This is a CITY asset - we all paid for this school - not only the folks in Dwight. I recognize that there was money put into the building by GDDC - that is why they have an MOU. What GDDC asked for is reasonable - what Calder is asking for is outrageous.

posted by: robn on May 27, 2009  8:04pm


I agree…its a bit weird for Alderperson Calder to treat the liquidation of a city asset like her wards’ own.

posted by: bebe1222 on May 27, 2009  9:05pm

Ms. Toll stated that AF is also pushing at the state Capitol for a bill that would allow for neighborhood preference in charter school admissions. GREAT!!!! Another fine school’s doors closed to all the city’s residents even though we all paid for the old DWIGHT. WHY DO I CONTINUE THIS UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH NEW HAVEN????? WHY OH WHY?????

posted by: Reader on May 27, 2009  10:41pm

I hope the sale included a clause that would prevent them from tearing down the old part of the building. It is the city’s only Eliot Noyes school and should be saved. They should also keep the Dwight graphic on the addition—a nice landmark for the neighborhood.

posted by: truthtopower on May 28, 2009  11:02am

Alderwoman Calder was right to try to negotiate some benefit for her district, particularly for that part of the neighborhood with high unemployment. That’s good politics!

posted by: PEOPLE on May 28, 2009  11:20am

You have to pay to play, The New Haven Way. Calder should not be suprised…“We have to close the budget gap”. Of course she was going to get screwed over on this deal.

Are they at least offering community preferential slots at the school? I’m curious to see if children in the Dwight neighborhood are even selected for this.

posted by: anon on May 28, 2009  11:40am

They should have tried to negotiate some traffic calming around the school too. It’s hard to walk around that neighborhood with all the speeding traffic along Chapel and Edgewood. I feel bad for the kids and hope there is a way to keep them safe when crossing. How come downtown gets all the traffic calming (Broadway, Temple Street etc) and Dwight is left with big old wide streets for speeders?

posted by: Alan Felder on May 29, 2009  12:00am

What will yoou do for the youth BOA?

posted by: Gina Calder on May 29, 2009  12:26am

It is quite disturbing that people seem to accept the fact that our struggling community is stripped of one of its richest assets while the city budget is balanced on the community’s back. How do you consistently strip communities like these of the few assets they have and not even attempt to replenish them in any way?

A public school is a community asset, built and operated with taxpayer dollars and hopefully run with local oversight via an elected school board. It provides benefit not only to its staff and students, but it is also a means of access to information and resources for residents, and helps build and strengthen community. In the case of Timothy Dwight, our community also made a substantial investment that provided recreational, performance, and meeting spaces for students, staff, and residents. The addition the community built increased the value of the property allowing the appraisal value, even though inflated,  and subsequent sale to meet the needs of the city in closing the budget gap, of Amistad in building a new facility to bring their students under one roof, and…what about us? We have lost our basketball courts, where residents have gathered and played, we are losing green space, which is a rare and valuable commodity in our community, not to mention homes/homeowners, senior centers, businesses, etc., yet we should pass up the opportunity to invest in our most valuable assets: our community and its residents?

We have leveraged relationships and resources and raised funds to address public health concerns by bringing Shaws supermarket to Dwight (= boost to lower Whalley & tax $); to address the need for quality early childhood care and education by bringing a Montessori School to Dwight; to address student, staff and resident needs for space by building the Dwight School addition; and planned to close the empowerment loop with the ownership and operation of an intergenerational community center. Addressing economic, educational, and social needs, it would incubate local businesses, grow a community garden, expand our Montessori program, and provide a safe and nurturing space for residents of all ages to learn, play, and access the resources they need to improve themselves, their families, and the community. Amistad/Achievement First is a great organization that is producing wonderful educational outcomes. However, just 4% of their student population is from Dwight. Yes, we now have a 2009 Memorandum of Understanding that expands our access to the addition we built, but we are hard pressed to see how the current situation is an equitable win for us. Given that, jobs and funding for “Dwight Place 2” are not unreasonable expectations.

One thing I have learned, Dwight never gives up or backs down, so I am confident that we will get what we are seeking and more. But I do yearn for the day that we all launch out into the deep and support opportunities for and the empowerment of struggling communities throughout New Haven. We will not continue regressive thinking and policymaking; ignore our challenges; talk about our challenges, but be fearful of addressing them; or maintain the status quo. Let’s change direction and focus. Let’s constantly encourage one another to seek after more than who we are, where we are, and what we have today and ensure that New Haven is strong by working together to strengthen each and every community.

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on May 29, 2009  9:38am

Most people seem to agree that:

1.  AF/Amistad represents a great educational option for children.

2.  The state charter law needs to change to allow a preference in the lottery for neighborhood children.

If, under Calder’s leadership a group of, say, 75 to 100 Dwight neighborhood parents and neighbors got together and met with our local delegation, and then paid a visit to State Ed. chairs Fleischman and Gaffey, the law could be changed in time for the 2010 lottery.  Don’t underestimate the power of the people to bring about change.

This would be a powerful statement about the strength of the Dwight community and its leadership.

posted by: Rep. Pat Dillon on May 29, 2009  10:26am

Fix the Schools
Your idea to meet with delegation members is a good one, though it already happened long ago without a post here, and no one from City Hall was present.
Alderwoman Liz McCormack and other activists first called me many many weeks ago, and I met with them. Then Sen Harp and I spoke at the capitol. I asked our staff to research how to help.
A few weeks after that Gina Calder and I discussed the same issue outside a local church.
I also informed a city official that I was working on this. Is that you?
So far as I know, Sen Harp and I are drafting the amendment. No one from the city has been involved unless they are doing something different through someone else.
It isn’t clear that we can get it done, but Sen Harp and I have both spoken to Rep Fleischman and Sen Gaffey.
I don’t know your name, Fix the Schools, or what you have done. But if you ask Liz McCormack, Gina Calder, Sen Harp and folks in Dwight the story will be the same.
Just as delegation members successfully got dollars for Shaw’s, and for the community room at Dwight, we are working in Hartford as a team on this issue.

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on May 29, 2009  11:24am

Thanks Rep. Dillon for your action.  I was unaware.  Neighbors please take notice.  On this issue, Dillon and Harp are being very responsive.  Now, Alderwoman Calder, lets give them the grass-roots support they need to carry this through.

Now onto another related matter. The Governor’s budget delivered yesterday, contained a 10% across the board cut in charter school funding. Since Amistad already receives only 75% of what the traditonal schools get, how in the world can this be justified in a state with the largest achievement gap in the country? And contrast the cut in charter school funding to the traditional district funding through ECS - which went unscathed. 

Rep. Dillon, the Governor needs to hear from you on this travesty.  She is proposing cutting funding for the very type of public schools which educate children in vastly larger percentages than the traditional district is capable of producing today.  Her decison on this makes outcome-based budgeting a joke.  And this comes from a so-called “fiscally responsible” Governor?

Send her school budget back to the junk pile.

posted by: Rep. Pat Dillon on May 29, 2009  1:18pm

The Governor’s new budget may put stimulus dollars at risk. So there are many problems in every part of the budget. But it has been marketed as “no taxes” and that creates the impression that the budget will be painless.

One barrier to the Dwight amendment I wrote is the ongoing filibusters that have slowed down the process at the capitol. It was written at the request of Liz McCormack and the Dwight activists in ward 24, so grassroots support isn’t a problem so far as I can see.
We’re working together as a team in Hartford, we have a few days left, and we will be working this weekend, so hopefully we’ll be successful.

posted by: robn on May 29, 2009  6:41pm


A public school is NOT a asset for an individual community…its a city asset paid for by all city taxpayers. Assets are judged for their value relative to the body of assets in which it sits and in this case, it was better for the city to sell this school.

Nevertheless, good luck pursuing weighted lottery preference for neighborhood children…I suppport that.

posted by: Rep. Pat Dillon on May 31, 2009  4:04pm

You make a good point. But siblings are already permitted special treatment in the legislation for charter schools. Given the Dwight neighborhood’s activism - such as fighting for state dollars for Shaw’s and state support for a community room - Dwight children should at least, I think, be treated as well as siblings of current AF students. I hope we can do that this year.

In the past, the AF/Amistad people invited legislators to their current location, but we haven’t yet heard their future plans for Dwight. The new partnership has promise. It’s exciting. So I’m looking forward to hearing their plans. Right now the legislature is working late nights and also this weekend, so we’re not easy to reach. But that’s not a problem. We can get together later.
This can be a win for everyone.

posted by: Gina Calder on June 1, 2009  10:01pm

Thank you all for your commentary. We applaud the work of Rep. Dillon and others on neighborhood preference, so the enrollment of our students at the new Amistad K-8 Academy will increase from a mere 4%. The new school will educate just over 700 students. There are 1400 K-8 students in Dwight/West River. If the neighborhood preference bill passes, some fraction of them may be able to attend Amistad in fall 2011 (when the school will actually open). However, let’s not forget that the vast majority of our kids will continue to be NHPS students no matter what happens. And regardless of what school they attend, they all go home to a community that lacks stable jobs that pay a living wage; lacks safe, open, green spaces; struggles with heightened violence; suffers from a loss of homes & home owners; and lacks a safe space for people of all ages to learn and play together. In the meantime and in addition to the neighborhood preference effort, we will still work creatively to ensure that the economic, educational, and social needs of our residents are comprehensively met. Stay tuned…