Parents Put Harries, Cordero In Hot Seat

Markeshia Ricks Photos“The challenge is these are not yes or no questions,” schools Superintendent Garth Harries told a crowd of parishioners, parents and supporters from other faith communities gathered at St. Rose of Lima Church to demand more security and transparency at Fair Haven School.

“Yes,” a voice from the crowd yelled out. “They are.”

The parents gathered in the basement of the church Thursday night as part of the spring assembly of CONECT, or the Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut, an activist group that has taken on issues ranging from gun policy to conditions at local schools.

The crowd of 200 put the “yes/no” screws to Harries and Fair Haven School Principal Heriberto Cordero on four specific demands: hiring more school security, providing translators for parent teacher conferences, addressing overly harsh student discipline and sharing the struggling school’s turnaround plans.

When pressed to commit to hiring more security for the K-8 school, which currently has one full time security guard for a student body of about 800, Harries answered: No — but let me explain.

He was answering the question on the same day that the city learned that it will probably take a last-minute $8 million hit in state funding for the coming year’s budget, and after Harries had already unsuccessfully advocated for an increase in a districtwide school security force that is down from a high of 120 to nearly half that number now.

Parents Yolanda and Felix Pablo have five children at Fair Haven School. They said one of their daughter has come home multiple times crying.
“When I ask her what’s wrong, she said the teacher punishes us and yells a lot,” Yolanda Felix said. “She doesn’t want to go to school anymore.”

Pablo said when she finally got a chance to speak with the teacher, the teacher seemed to have no interest in getting to the bottom of the problem or acknowledging that the teacher’s own classroom behavior might be to blame.

“I asked the teacher, ‘Are you a parent?’” she recalled. The teacher said no. “Then you don’t know the pain of a parent.”

Felix Pablo directed his questions at Cordero: Will you commit to fewer teachers using overly harsh methods of discipline? Yes or no?

Cordero’s response: “Yes and no.”

Felix Pablo asked Cordero to commit to respond to requests from parents within 24 hours?

Cordero said he couldn’t.

Cordero later was given the opportunity to explain his answers.

He said he has an open door policy with parents, teachers and students, but Thursday night’s forum is the first he’d heard of some of the concerns that parents had raised. He also encouraged parents to engage in the school’s SPMT, or school planning and management team, as well as the parent teacher organization.

“I’m committed to addressing these issues,” he said. “I’m willing to make time to deal with every issue raised by the families here and also the 800 families not here tonight.”

But he reminded the parents that his school is big and he needs the support of parents and the church to address problems.

Jose Ostroba, a co-chair of CONECT and one of the forum’s moderators, wasn’t ready to let the security guard issue go. He told Harries that the issue is important to the parents and the community.

“I cannot responsibly say I’m going to hire three security guards,” Harries said. “I don’t have the resources.”

“Can you not commit to finding resources for two security guards?” Ostroba pressed.

“Now we’re negotiating,” Harries said. The superintendent said that Fair Haven School is on his priority list for hiring at least one more full-time security guard, but it is unlikely that it is going to happen any time soon.

“I cannot mislead you,” Harries said. “We’ve been cut by $8 million — more than Hartford, more than Bridgeport.”

The parents and school officials found consensus in access to the school’s turnaround plan. The parents want a copy that they can look over and weigh in on. Cordero said he could have it in their hands by the end of the month. He agreed to meet with them this summer and make sure they have access to the school management meetings, which he pointed out are always open to parents.

Father David Blanchfield of St. Jerome Catholic Church in Norwalk, also a co-chair and moderator for the evening, had one more yes/no question for the school officials: Can we build a relationship with the members and parents of St. Rose of Lima?

“If it is a relationship,” Harries answered with a hesitant smile, “then yes.”

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posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 6, 2016  8:30am

Fair Haven is a wonderful community with big challenges.
Organizing and holding officials responsible is way to go.
Harries MUST partner with the parents. It is not optional.

posted by: HewNaven on May 6, 2016  9:17am

Just another example of how RICH cities like New Haven just suck all the money out of the suburbs and reap the greatest rewards of the region, like all of our awesome schools that are fully staffed.

posted by: Faccheck on May 6, 2016  2:00pm

If the Mayor says that the city has been cut by 8M, and Harries says:
“I cannot mislead you,” Harries said. “We’ve been cut by $8 million — more than Hartford, more than Bridgeport.”

Both the city and the BOE have not been cut the same $8M for a total of 16M.  Really?

So just who is telling the truth here, them or Looney….?

State Senate President Martin Looney of New Haven offered the perspective that” the city made out well in the deal.
New Haven will receive a total of $227 million in the deal, up from $219 million last year, he said. He said that equals the rate of growth in municipal aid to New Haven in years when the state did not face a budget crisis”..

“Other cities lost money from previous years” or emerged with no increase, Looney said. “We took care of the larger cities because of greater need.”

Wait, what…you could please clarify this $8M plus 8M cut again, for the benefit of us ignorant taxpayers..

posted by: BoydJones on May 6, 2016  3:15pm

I too am confused about the superintendent’s claim of a loss of $8 million. Please clarify, NHI.

[Ed: The $8 million is citywide, not just education.]

posted by: SparkJames on May 6, 2016  4:57pm

Can anyone who was at the meeting verify that
Superintendent Harries was “talking during class”, and ignoring members of the public who were addressing him directly? Being rude? I have friends in CONECT who said Harries repeatedly ignored and talked to others during the question and answer period. He even had to be sternly reminded to listen by a priest in the audience!? Can anyone verify? For some reason I thought this superintendent was more receptive and courteous in these kinds of situations. I apologize if this comment is out of line, but as I said, I know members of CONECT who wouldn’t lie about this.

posted by: Middleman on May 6, 2016  9:35pm

I would not amplify the “whispering” event out of proportion.  As noted during the program, a number of the concerns were first being raised at the meeting (or several days earlier) which may have led the officials to confer on the fly in contained whispers. [Until the Minister’s rebuke, I was focusing mostly on the parent-speakers.] While whispering is not proper, I would not be overly critical of CONECT’s official guests, who clearly understood the concerns raised. I could say more, but I subscribe to the old, practical and civil, military adage: “Praise in public, criticize in private.”  Overall, the assembly was quite productive and successful in advancing open “doors” [the Principal’s open door policy], open meetings, and stronger relationships. That’s what should be remembered and built on.

posted by: Teachergal on May 6, 2016  9:59pm

800 students in one school and one security guard? What other schools in NH support these numbers? Sounds like the wonderful climate created by Ms. Gethings (sp) has crumbled. These children need much support NOT teachers yelling at them. Patience teachers! I know how hard this job is and the pressure you are under. Stay positive and do what’s best for kids. they deserve it and so do you!

posted by: Havenparent on May 7, 2016  1:35pm

I was pretty disappointed in Harries on Thursday night. I expected more. The district staff in the audience were audibly and negatively commenting during parent testimony - parents who were incredibly brave to stand and make themselves targets. Harries’ and district response felt incredibly disrespectful. I hope he does better next time.

posted by: SparkJames on May 7, 2016  5:18pm

Yes. Apparently Senator Chris Murphy was a conscientious, thoughtful, and professional, listening… Followed by the New Haven Superintendent being anything but.

We should really do a better job of holding these people accountable to the people they serve.

I’m glad the Pastor called out Harries on it. I wouldn’t have, but I’m glad he did.

posted by: Brutus2011 on May 7, 2016  10:14pm

This article highlights the continuing arrogant behavior of NHPS officials.

Superintendent Harries is no different than his predecessors.

NHPS officials think that the system, the schools, the teachers, and the kids all belong to them and they are the “masters of the universe” of public education here in New Haven.

When you pay folks high salaries and pensions with power and no real accountability, then you have the situation that has existed here for decades.

Frankly, we are getting what we deserve because we put up with this cow pucky year after year bleating our protests while those in power just keep on piling on the disinformation.

Until we as the electorate take responsibility for the education of our youth, then we will continue to be treated with contempt by those who insist that we eat the gruel they deem fit for us to consume.

posted by: BoydJones on May 9, 2016  7:20am

It is sad that adults are protesting everything in New Haven from Yale, the hospital and the police, when the single greatest threat to the future here is the school system.

Where’s the march on Meadow Street?

posted by: The Future on May 9, 2016  1:59pm

I applaud the Fair Haven School community for standing up. The meeting is a direct result of the poor leadership of Mr. Cordero. Arrogant leadership along with a closed door policy, my way or the highway attitude and an acceptance of low expectations bring results. The results were on display at the meeting. We are in May and the leadership claims to be just learning of the problems. It is not alright to spend day after day behind a closed door with a spouse that has no role paid role at a school and them blame students, staff and parents when things begin to fall apart. The students and staff of Fair Haven School are special folks and deserve more. The time has come for Mr. Harries to try a new approach at Fair Haven School. The current situation is bearing sad, so sad results.

posted by: Alvarez on May 9, 2016  9:56pm

I don’t think anyone can blame Cordero. He was a high school science teacher that was fast tracked to the principal job. He had little K-8 leadership experience and was bounced around between schools. Harries appointed him principal without consulting or requesting input from parents, teachers, or community members. We at Columbus school experienced the same with our principal. Who are principals really accountable to if not to the community? Harries and his “people” make back room decisions without transperancy. Saturday Gaming Academy flop, deals w achievement first, and most recently his decision to request that 2000 teachers complete school climate surveys while refusing to share results with teachers, parents, and the general public.  I have visited Fair Haven many times. I personally know dedicated, caring teachers, that don’t hide their pride when the talk about their school and colleagues. I hope that they continue to do the good work that the Independent has highlighted many times in the past. I hope the strong Fair Haven School community can maintain their commitment to supporting each other and doing what’s best for children. Harries make the survey results public. Be transparent and democratic and let us parents know what teachers think about our children’s schools.

posted by: ms.mary on May 10, 2016  1:39pm

I am deeply saddened by the comments for Fair Haven.Fair Haven has always been a school of Hard-working Teachers and parents who work together thru our P.T.O and S.P.M.T to handle concerns about the school and our children.This process was not done.We are a large school with problems and we use the resources we have to work together as a team and have always put kids first.Our policy has always been to work together for our children and that has not changed with our new principal.Thank you for your kind words Alvarez from Columbus.

posted by: Teachergal on May 11, 2016  12:24pm

posted by: Brutus2011 on May 7, 2016 10:14pm

“This article highlights the continuing arrogant behavior of NHPS officials.

Superintendent Harries is no different than his predecessor.”

Exactly what I was thinking!!! Same old, same old! Corruption & rudeness still exists. Not surprising! Maybe they should take some social development classes that are offered in some of NHPSchools.