Schools Superintendent Garth Harries has removed the entire leadership team at High School in the Community, leaving its teacher-run tradition in doubt.
Erik Good, the school’s “building leader” (aka principal) and Assistant Building Leaders (aka assistant principals) Cameo Thorne and Paulette Jackson learned in recent days they will not have their posts come next school year.
New Haven Federation of Teachers (NHFT) President David Cicarella—whose union has run HSC for the past three years as part of a state-funded experiment overseen by the school district—said he participated in the decision and delivered the news. He said the removed administrators will be able to take jobs elsewhere in the system.
Cicarella and Harries also decided to open the top HSC three posts to teachers throughout the city, not just those at HSC. That’s a change. Since its founding 1970 as a “school without walls” emphasizing learning out in the community, HSC has had its teachers choose their leaders from within their ranks.
As word of the removals spread through HSC in the academic year’s final days, teachers expressed concern about HSC’s future direction.
“There’s great institutional unease” over how this was done and whether HSC will remain teacher-run. said Chris Kafoglis, who is also leaving the school. Kafoglis currently serves in a fourth top administrative post, “school culture leader.” He decided for personal reasons to return to teaching math, at another school.
“I find it ironic that when the union is the operator of the school, is when teacher-run seems to be coming to an end,” Kafoglis said.
Good did not return calls for comment.
Cicarella, the union president in charge of operating the school, said he envisions HSC remaining teacher-run, with some changes in the rules. One big change: The school’s teachers will no longer choose their administrators. The current system has presented a conflict of interest, he argued, because administrators discipline the teachers who vote whether to keep them in their jobs.
The second major change will be the opening up of the top positions to teachers from throughout the district. Cicarella argued it doesn’t make sense to limit the search to the 30 teachers at HSC, rather than the 1,900-odd teachers across town.
“The NHFT is absolutely committed to is keeping HSC teacher led,” Cicarella emphasized. “So while the leadership model may be changing slightly, we have conveyed adamantly to the superintendent that we do not want to see a principal running HSC. This is in fact why we feel it is so important to open up the leadership positions to every New Haven teacher as we are certain that we will find many, many excellent candidates among our membership to be potential HSC building leaders. So while Garth has stated nothing is off the table, the NHFT is absolutely confident we will emerge from the interview process with outstanding teacher candidates as potential leaders for HSC.”
The NHFT’s executive board voted unanimously in May to seek to extend its memorandum of understanding with the school board an extra year to continue running HSC. He said a committee of HSC leaders and NHFT representatives will continue meeting monthly to address concerns at the school.
Superintendent Harries said Tuesday night that there’s no guarantee the school will remain teacher-run. It’s not even clear, he said, whether Cicarella’s union will remain in charge of the school come September. That’s currently under review. (Read about that here.)
“I have not made decisions about what the structure might look like next year,” Harries said.
The school is at a crossroads.
Three years ago, amid declining student performance and low graduation rates, HSC obtained a state “Commissioner’s Network” grant—$1.5 million a year for three years—to experiment with new models as a “turnaround school.” It instituted union control of the school. And it instituted “mastery learning,” meaning students advanced to a new grade when they completed the necessary work, not at a fixed point at the end of an academic year.
“It’s ironic that there’s that friction” between the teachers and their union management, Harries said.
Most important, Harries said, absenteeism kept rising and graduation rates continued declining, along with the percentage of students on track to graduate. The four-year graduation rate dropped from 56.9 percent to 47.5 percent; college enrollment dropped from 69.2 percent to 57.8 percent in the experiment’s first two years. (Student, parent and staff satisfaction with the school increased, as measured by surveys.)
The city will lose most of the extra state money this coming year now that the three-year grant has expired; it will get an as-yet unspecified residual amount. That means the school will have tighten spending. Harries said no teachers will be laid off; Kafoglis’s administrative position will not be filled.
Candidates to become HSC’s new building leaders will be interviewed by a committee consisting of HSC teachers, a parent, a student, and NHFT leaders. That committee will pass its recommendation to Cicarella (pictured); Cicarella will then pass his recommendations to Harries.
“I can’t imagine not choosing some people that apply that come from that building,” Cicarella said. But he called the need to widen the search an example of how HSC needs to accept some changes. He noted that Kafoglis, a respected assistant building leader, had come to HSC from another school (Wilbur Cross).
“Some things are going to be uncomfortable. We’ve got to be willing to have the integrity to say these are the changes that need to be made,” Cicarella said. He called it a conflict of interest for teachers to choose their administrators, because the administrators have disciplinary authority over them.
“I’m going to need to be comfortable” with Cicarella’s recommendations for building leaders, Harries said. He also said that while Cicarella has urged that HSC remain teacher-run, he remains on the fence. “I’m not prejudging any of these issues,” Harries said. “I’ve been super-clear that what matters to me is a strong plan [for improvement] with strong leadership. If teacher leadership is consistent with that, I’m fine with it. That remains to be seen.”
Cicarella said the NHFT wants to train HSC staffers in consensus decision-making as an alternative to up-and-down votes on issues.
“Voting creates winners and losers, damaged feelings, and allows those voting against to sit back and not buy-in because they didn’t vote for the proposal,” Cicarella argued. “Consensus is much more inclusive whereby everyone discusses, has input and ultimately agrees to support and buy-in , even if it is not their idea. The NHFT Executive Board operates in this fashion as it is much more inclusive, and frankly more democratic, as we do not move forward with an idea until all members are heard and comfortable enough to support the proposal. Opposing and differing views and opinions are not shut down with a call for a vote. So while we do vote as a matter of record, our consensus mindset always leads us to collaboration and cooperation as we move forward in our work together.”
Previous Independent stories on High School in the Community’s experiment:
I smell Charter School Mackerel taking this school over.
posted by: robn on June 17, 2015 9:30am
The presence of the union is a read herring because the school was failing before they took over. The premise of this decision seems to boil down to one idea; that teachers electing a principal makes the principal beholden to teachers and unable to discipline teacher and therefore that lack of discipline is why the school failed. Really? Is teacher discipline the metric for school success or failure in New Haven? I find that hard to believe since we know that some schools in New Haven are more saturated than others with underprivileged kids with no parental support. Was that taken into account?
posted by: NHPS Teacher on June 17, 2015 9:48am
Isn’t the ‘purpose’ of mastery based learning to reduce graduation rates at the expense of bona fide college/career readiness? Do we want to keep pushing ill-prepared students out of our schools? College graduation rates are absurdly low - that should be considered.
It seems like the data behind the decision (presented in this article..) is irrelevant in the context of this mastery based school.
Was the decision to change things based on the data, or was it solely related to issues with leadership?
posted by: markcbm on June 17, 2015 10:57am
I’m guessing that the composition of HSC’s student body population over the past few years has remained pretty consistent. So, if that variable remained consistent but other indicators of student achievement continued to slide, then one can more or less safely presume that the school’s academic performance is not the result of shifting student demographics.
“Most important, Harries said, absenteeism kept rising and graduation rates continued declining, along with the percentage of students on track to graduate. The four-year graduation rate dropped from 56.9 percent to 47.5 percent; college enrollment dropped from 69.2 percent to 57.8 percent in the experiment’s first two years.”
As to the leadership structure, in a small school like HSC I can see how the collegiality that the leadership structure breeds could make human resource decisions less impartial. Maybe not all schools following a similar model would encounter similar issues - indeed, HSC itself has had an illustrious past using this same model - but I can see how it could yield conflicts of interest resulting in leadership being less effective at today’s HSC.
posted by: Paul Wessel on June 17, 2015 11:15am
@Threefiths: Do Gentrification Vampires eat Charter School Mackerel or are they symbiotic species?
posted by: robn on June 17, 2015 11:26am
Let me challenge two components of your comment.
1) You’re starting with a big maybe; a guess that student demographics haven’t changed.
2) By your own logic, if a no-centralized school with a democratically elected principal has worked illustriously in the past, then this structure isn’t inherently flawed.
a) You’re right. I don’t have the data, it’s an assumption. Anecdotally, the NHI makes it sounds like it’s served a pretty similar student population over the last several years. If there’s anyone reading the comments who can weigh in, please do!
b) true, I don’t think teachers electing their principal is a model that is inherently flawed or necessarily doomed to failure. The model appears to have been successful back in the ‘90s, when it was a smaller school, with fewer teachers, and a varied student population. Then, a change in leadership structure occurred and a number of talented teachers left to other schools. I guess my point is that policy outcomes can be context-dependent - what works in one place at one time may not work everywhere always. Just because the model worked in the past HSC doesn’t mean it’s working now (evidently, it’s not) and I don’t think that that that’s a contradiction.
While I’m writing, I’d like to respond to your question whether or ‘teacher discipline’ is a metric for success in NHPS. Well, I don’t know about ‘discipline’ per se, but the extent to which teachers are ‘effective’ can indeed have a large impact (be a metric for) student success in New Haven and most everywhere else.
posted by: markcbm on June 17, 2015 5:19pm
I should have added that school leadership can impact the effectiveness of school teachers in a variety of ways, using both carrots and sticks. Spare the stick, spoil the…
posted by: Kids First on June 17, 2015 7:12pm
Excellent decision! The school was wasting money and student time for a long time! It is a unique school that can be a really good place for many non-traditional high school students. Yet poorly run in recent years! Who evaluated who at this school? Garth continue to make these tough decisions !
posted by: Jessicarod on June 17, 2015 8:17pm
This makes no sense at all! It shouldn’t matter about how many votes or whatever the argument was about, the school will never be the same & HSC will be different without them few people that are leaving. It effects Us students in the long run because their the reason why Us HSC Students won’t continue learning the right way but at end of the day we will fight for our school and the staff, Erick & who ever else is leaving.
posted by: Riley Gibbs on June 17, 2015 9:39pm
I left HSC and the teaching profession in 2013, and I’ve wondered sometimes whether that was the right decision. But I’m sad to say that I regret it now less than ever when I’m reminded again that absurd logic like this is allowed to stand in education.
Dave’s pledge to keep it a teacher-run school rings hollow. If the teachers of HSC are not electing their leaders, then whether those leaders are NHFT teachers is irrelevant. Running the school effectively requires much more than three titles given to three new people who know neither the staff nor the students of the school. It’s true that Chris was appointed to HSC, but he was one of four leaders in the building, investing the time and work to earn the deep respect of the staff, including myself, in a way that I struggle to imagine an entirely new leadership team can afford.
The justification of a conflict of interest is also weak. Teachers needing discipline were not the cause for the metrics of poor performance, HSC students’ absenteeism and low graduation rates. The teachers I worked with were putting in long hours to come up with creative ways to innovate and create experiences that served their students’ needs. Whether the work they did was effective or not, discipline was not the issue. This is accountability without any understanding of the causes.
It’s insulting that Dave should put forth his board as a model of consensus-building. Did he never pay attention at an HSC faculty meeting? The hundreds that I attended often involved long, sometimes contentious, but always open and ultimately respectful conversations that didn’t shut anyone down.
And I have nothing but laughter for his claims of “integrity.”
Erik, Cameo, Paulette, and Chris were instrumental in my development as a teacher during my time at HSC. I struggle to imagine HSC with them all gone all at once like this.
posted by: T-ski1417 on June 18, 2015 7:24am
My son attends HSC and in my opinion the school is a complete joke. It really needs a overhaul. Im not saying that having a traditional “ranking” system in the school will remedy the issue but at this point from my prospective it can’t hurt. I have spoken to my child about the school and what goes on within the walls and the things that he has told me are totally unreal and unacceptable.
It seems that the teachers and staff prefer to be friends with the students instead of educators. Respect has gone out the window from student to teacher and visa-versa.
BOE please do something…...
posted by: Elizabethaiken on June 18, 2015 9:14am
I have a friend who works at HSC. This article fails to mention the great progress HSC has made. I was give the following list of achievements which are impressive and should be noted: Rising career and readiness scores as measured by College Board’s PSAT and SAT tests; Best colleges admission in recent history including Yale, Boston College, UConn honors program, Bennington, Wentworth Institute of Technology ( *African American female. Go STEM for women) and Hamilton; Several students received full scholarship; Won New Haven Reads competition beating area schools which included colleges and Hopkins; 30% have taken college courses earning A’s and B’s and are carrying those credits with them to college; AP scores have risen dramatically; Increasing numbers of siblings enrolling which indicated parental satisfaction. This is a significant turn around!
posted by: Sally Joughin on June 19, 2015 9:15pm
My son went to HSC a while a ago, graduating in 1988. He got a good education and had good experiences at the school, and benefited from the unusual block courses HSC offered. The teachers really knew him, including the faculty coordinator. I thought it was excellent that the teachers were in charge of the programs and that the leader was one of these teachers, whom the others had chosen and who knew the school and its students well. My son went on to college and grad school and now has a job he loves in Portland OR working for the city’s Parks Department. I feel that HSC allowed him to think for himself and be creative, and that he interacted with and got along with a lot of different kinds of people at this school. I have no idea how HSC is going these days and we no longer live in New Haven. But I hope the school does not change its set-up. If HSC needs some improvements, then make them, but do it without throwing out its unique structure.
posted by: loquacious truth on June 20, 2015 2:20pm
So what have we learned, when your graduation rate drops the city will change the leadership. But wait, at Hillhouse the graduation rate increased from 41 to 69percent and the city still rated the teachers as ineffective and dismantled the school and it’s leadership. Confused anyone? Don’t be. The answer is very simple. Central office doesn’t care about what works and what doesn’t, they care about WHAT PAYS! Every time a grant runs out they play the blame game and implement change!
posted by: hart1 on June 22, 2015 2:08pm
“I find it ironic that when the union is the operator of the school, is when teacher-run seems to be coming to an end,” Kafoglis said.
the school statistics ...graduations/college entry..are dismal. what was the alternative?
posted by: FormerTeacher on June 22, 2015 9:55pm
Switching to mastery-based learning is challenging, but it is a necessary change that should be done at a K-12 level. At a time when colleges and the work force are complaining that graduating students are coming to them unprepared, how do we shy away from holding students accountable for skills? Yes, the 4-year graduation rate is going to drop during this transition. It will probably stay down until the K-8 schools join mastery-based learning and stop social promotion. The current system allows students to reach 9th grade with mediocre skills. The average reading level when I taught in a high school was 5th grade with many students reading below that level. Students were unable to write a coherent paragraph. Social promotion is real. A sad example is a 15 year old placed in my class one October. He was moved from 8th grade when it was realized that he was too old to be in middle school. People incorrectly think that a student reaching high school has high school skills. Is four years enough time to cover high school skills and catch up students who are far behind? What is the harm of an extra year if it means that students are leaving with the skills they need? Continuing the traditional system where a D in class is good enough (when we know that a D demonstrates very little knowledge or ability) is ridiculous and will not solve the issue of students leaving high school unprepared for the real world. The drop in the graduation rate actually shows that the school is truly implementing mastery-based learning and not just pretending to do so. As far as a “conflict of interest” goes, one problem is unfortunately with the union running the school. Politics and the desire for power have taken over what should be put first: students getting the best education possible. Sadly, as seems to be the norm with educational reform, concentrating only on specific data seems to be everyone’s first concern rather than focusing on true learning and data that actually means something