Mayo To Tackle Morale, Tame Truancy

Markeshia Ricks PhotoReturning temporarily to the helm of a school system he ran for over two decades, Reginald Mayo said he hopes in eight months to turn over to New Haven’s next superintendent a district with higher faculty and staff morale, fewer absentee students, and a narrowing achievement gap.

After sitting through a shorter than average Board of Education (BOE) meeting Monday, where he was named the interim superintendent of schools, Mayo spoke about what he hopes to accomplish in the less than one year that he has to lead the district.

The former long time superintendent, who will be paid for a maximum 174 days at a per diem rate of $750, or $130,500, said it will be a challenge, but he’s excited about coming out of retirement to suit up for the home team. (Mayo will continue to collect his pension while serving as interim superintendent, according to district spokeswoman Mercy Quaye.)

Mayo is taking over from the man who was his successor when he retired in 2013, Garth Harries. Harries tendered his resignation in September after enduring more than a year of criticism from both the board and the public. His last day is slated for Nov. 1. The BOE is on the hunt for Harries’ permanent replacement.

“I think there is a morale issue in the schools,” Mayo said after the meeting Monday. “I’m sitting here listening to negative, after negative, after negative. You wallow in that sometimes.”

During the public comment section of the meeting, Mayo sat in the audience and listened to a parent who called for more accountability for students with individual education plans and a community member who seemed to suggest that the district is failing to teach reading and math. He also heard a continued call from paraprofessionals to not be used as substitute teachers. He heard about a lack of resources and culturally appropriate learning materials.

Mayo also got to hear teachers, instructional leaders and administrators push against what they saw as misinformation, particularly when it comes to data and student performance.

“The perception is that schools are bad in urban America,” he said. “You’re always fighting that tie. You always have to fight to put positive things out there. But we have some of the best curriculum in the state—in the country. And it’s done by teachers. It’s engaging and we change it every five years.

He said New Haven is progressive in making early childhood education a priority, pointing out that some school districts still don’t have full-day kindergarten. He also pointed to the reading and math specialists in every K-8 school. “New Haven has done well,” he said. “There are urban districts that just can’t believe it when we talk about some of the resources we have.”

Mayor Toni Harp, who also serves as BOE president, suggested that it might be time to start highlighting the positive at board meetings. Mayo agreed.

“We’ve got to stop people from just talking up the negative, because it starts catching on,” he said. “We’ve got to turn this thing around, otherwise morale will stay low. We’ve got some hardworking teachers in this school district. We have some very, very capable people, competent people in this school district. We have competent administrators in this school district and we’ve got a lot of parents who just don’t care about their own children. They care about all the children. Let’s take those human resources and get some positive action out of it.”

He said part of that starts with him, but it also starts with a a board that functions in a more positive way.

“I think you have to realize that if you’re at the top and you’re positive—I really believe it filters down,” he said.

New Haven Teachers Federation President David Cicarella alluded to the need to not only recognize the good that is happening in the district, but to remember how far the district has come. He said when he speaks to new teachers at orientation he’s honest with them about the state of the schools before the district undertook a reform drive.

“I say to them that years ago, it really wasn’t all that great to be a New Haven teacher,” said Cicarealla, who was a classroom teacher for 22 years and instructional coach for six. He pointed out that back then, teachers worked in “decaying buildings, we had low test scores, morale was low. People tended to go other places and they would look down on us.

“It was a very different place,” he said. “Now buildings are newer, morale is much different, and the school reform work has been a centerpiece of it. The joke I make to the new teachers is that you walk with a swagger if you’re from New Haven. Everyone knows us and that we do good work. Despite the bumps in the road, we have done very good work along the way. It’s time to move on from where we are now.”

Mayo said part of moving on will involve setting the stage for the next superintendent. He credited the outgoing Harries for making sure the transition is smooth and said he hopes to do the same for the next superintendent. In his mind that means not only focusing on morale, but also making sure that students come to school, that parents are involved and that everyone is pulling in the direction of closing the achievement gap.

“I think as I look around and in talking with the board we’ve got to continue with [closing] the achievement gap,” he said. “That’s the core and the basic elements of what we’re here for. It’s teachers, educators, curriculum and instruction. It’s teaching kids how to read, write and do math. That’s always number one in my mind.”

“Attendance is important,” he said. “It was important when I became superintendent, and it still is. If we can’t get them to school, how can we teach them? They’ve got to be here.”

Before laying out any specifics, he said, he wants to get reacquainted with the school system and how it has changed in the three years that he’s been gone.

But he’s optimistic about the challenge, which includes student testing coming up in just four months. He said he hopes that eight months from now he will help facilitate a similarly smooth transition.

“Garth has given me a great transition,” he said. “It’s the kind of transition I hope I am able to lay out an equally smooth transition so that the next superintendent can hit the ground running. I want to have it orderly and laid out—everything in curriculum, instruction, data, financially. But I’ve got to really catch up quickly.”

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posted by: Bill Saunders on October 25, 2016  9:25pm

THE FIXER is IN!!!!!

How can we recall this Mayor—it is just gross negligence and old favors at this point…...

posted by: Latina on October 25, 2016  11:03pm

It will be very interesting to see how this board will work with Regi. I think they will show respect and Regi will do whatever he wants and it will be approved. We shall see the dynamics now.! Politics politics!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 25, 2016  11:10pm

This says it all.

Beware of The Snake Oil Salesman.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on October 26, 2016  5:31am

I’m in full agreement with the mayor on this one.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on October 26, 2016  8:13am

As I recall, Mr. Mayo was rude and indifferent to parents at neighborhood meetings. His imperious style was the opposite of demonstrating concern. His actions were the opposite of respectfull or collaborative.
Dan Malloy also sat on the Stamford school board.
Aside from demonstrating his hubris, there was never any value shown in his occasional participation.
The Mayor should focus on being a Mayor. She is NOT an educator. Her voice is heard whether or not she sits at meetings, the only purpose apparently being to intimidate the other members.
The politicians have messed up the teaching environment, starting with the politically motivated No Child Left Behind.
If politicians wanted to improve educational achievement for all, they’d address poverty, job creation, a fair tax system, free child care and stop pouring millions into bogus for profit charter schools.
The Mayor is a decent person, but she has no vision and no skills to run a City, which is why she appears to be surrounded with all the holdovers from the Destefano reighn.

posted by: alphabravocharlie on October 26, 2016  9:18am

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

posted by: Sarah.Miller on October 26, 2016  9:29am

How can the BoE justify paying Garth’s $200+k salary, Mayo $750/day fee, and all the consultants and advisors who will need to be brought on to facilitate this transition? How exactly does all of this benefit our kids?

There is a long tradition of retiree volunteers in our country. Why not ask Mayo to serve in this role solely for the good of New Haven and its youngest residents, at no additional cost to the district, thus freeing up $750/day for teachers, books, technology, music, art, sports equipment, gardens, etc.? Or Mayo could donate his earnings back to the district. Now that would be leadership.

(NHI: can you please publish the amount of Mayo receives from his pension?)

posted by: Noteworthy on October 26, 2016  10:42am

Predictable and Pathetic - for $750/day.

posted by: Razzie on October 26, 2016  11:00am

As a short-term fix, I think Dr. Mayo is an excellent fix. He undoubtedly has the respect of both factions on the BoE, he knows the system well, and I believe he will be quickly accepted by the teachers and admins down at Meadow Street. He will, however need to work at bridging the divide that has grown between the parents/community stakeholders and the NHPS that has grown since he last occupied that chair. This is a new environment for him, and he needs to take heed and listen to the voices in the community. Eight months can be a lifetime ... if things don’t go right.

I admire his sense of civic duty, and his willingness to get back into the mix, albeit if only for a short time. He certainly doesn’t need the $$, nor does he need the aggravation. So why bother?!! Whatever the reason, we should all follow his lead and work cooperatively to move the District to the next level.

posted by: EducateourchildrenNH on October 26, 2016  12:35pm

@Noteworthy and others

I don’t remember you or anyone else complaining for one minute about Garth collecting $775 a day, or spending district money on a DC based time management consultant, among other questionable expenditures. But I guess the black more experienced administrator is expected to work for free.

Yup, as things change, the more they stay the same.

posted by: I Know on October 26, 2016  1:01pm

First of all, we welcome back a real and celebrated leader…Dr. Reginald Mayo. He is, and will be here, so we need to stop questioning his earnings when Garth will be earning $200, 000 plus other perks for no work. The focus now has to be shifted to the real work with our students. Dr. Mayo doesn’t have to spend time doing listening tours etc., he needs to just focus on teaching and learning and the budget process coming up. The Mayor and the board did the right thing by bringing this wonderful leader back. Some may not like it, but oh well, you don’t call the shots.


posted by: Paul Bass on October 26, 2016  2:37pm

I checked with the state pension folks. The annual pension plus cost of living increases come to $175,668.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 26, 2016  3:21pm

posted by: EducateourchildrenNH on October 26, 2016 12:35pm

@Noteworthy and others

I don’t remember you or anyone else complaining for one minute about Garth collecting $775 a day, or spending district money on a DC based time management consultant, among other questionable expenditures. But I guess the black more experienced administrator is expected to work for free.

You need to read my post.I for one have always been complaining about Garth Harries.In fact I wrote Back in 2014.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 31, 2014 9:01pm

Garth Harries got this job under White Affirmative Action.

And I wrote this based on this.

Take a look at the two Blackmen resume.

Dred Scott

Kriner Cash

Now take a look at Garth Harries Resume.

Dred Scott and Kriner Cash both have PHD and Garth Harries does not have a PHD.Also Both Dred Scott and Kriner Cash have been in the education system long then Garth Harries.Also Garth Harries got a waiver.Like I said White Affirmative Action.

In fact I don’t remember you or anyone else complaining of how the two Blackmen who had better qualifications then Garth Harries.The question you should ask is when Dr.Mayo was in charge how come he did not get rid of Garth Harries? I will say it again.

Beware of The Snake Oil Salesman.

My bad Can not forget this one.


posted by: markcbm on October 26, 2016  4:49pm

Curious to know how the once-lauded teacher evaluation system that got lots of headlines and national recognition has been holding up and curious to see what happens with it through this transition….

Dr. Mayo sure looks sharp in that suit!

posted by: iteachireach on October 26, 2016  7:54pm

Must be nice that we have all this money to spend on now 2 superintendent’s salaries…. when my classroom doesn’t even have 1 working computer for the students to use. Money well spent right.

posted by: StrateouttaHH on October 26, 2016  9:26pm

Hey, if morale is a key issue, maybe Mayo can do something about morale at Hillhouse.  All new system?  What’s in the new system?  Take college for instance—important decision in a student’s life, right?  And what’s being done at Hillhouse?  Students are now being helped by 2 College Interns, with NO experience in advising, counseling, or helping students with financial aid. And by 2 guidance counselors who have been assigned to seniors, not by their choice, who have NO experience with seniors and the college process.  All the other high schools, especially the larger ones (guess which ones those are, and who goes there) have a College and Career Readiness Center.  They have people with the skills and time to help with the college selection and application process.

Interns are practicing on the Hillhouse students—guinea pigs again, just like our academies at HH.  Students are crabby and morale is low—because our peers at other high schools have already finished their testing.  Our peers have already applied for financial aid.  Our peers have already gotten recommendations from their teachers and counselors.  I’m sorry, but just because college interns just went through it, does not mean you know anything or have anything like the knowledge needed to advise high school students about college. And don’t take away experienced staff and dump in staff with little or no investment in what happens after graduation day.  We deserve better.  We deserve quality.

Mayo knows New Haven students are far enough behind, so maybe he can do something to help HH students get quality experienced teachers, and counselors, and support.  We’d kinda like things at least to be even.  We’d kinda like to think we are worth more than practicing on.

It’s inexcusable to leave us in the hands of people who are completely unfamiliar with this process.  We are students and this is our future.  We need better help with it than we are getting now.

posted by: fearless on October 27, 2016  10:36am

We now have Dr Mayo and an active BOE . Hopefully, our students can now get the technology needed to receive the education they deserve. We have good teachers who have been hammered by ineffective politicians and it has to stop Get good Supervisors who can supervise from experience.  Some have supported this whole cleansing process, at an expense which has been argued here. Let’s see what teachers have to say as this unfolds Some folks wanted this, some didn’t. Some wanted this board to overthrow Harries. Some questioned the timing and expense Some are against Dr Mayo returning Parents (and grandparents) are watching and waiting for progress   To those wanting all this to happen , you have your team now Dr Mayo and a political upheaval at the BOE   We are all watching to see how this team advances instruction for all   AP classes to students with disabilities   I remain doubtful but wish all involved good luck for the sake of our students

posted by: Fairhavener on October 27, 2016  11:43am

A few steps forward, one step back.

Mayo = step back to the past.

posted by: Brutus2011 on October 27, 2016  6:55pm

I believe the key to effective school reform is to change the system.

Currently, there is a top down industrial revolution model of manager and worker.

The managers are the administrators and the workers are everyone else, including teachers.

Much has been made of school funding inequities causing disparities in student achievement.

What is seldom discussed, however, is that it is not how much money NHPS gets but how it is allocated.

Here is where the system needs to change.

Devolve running the district to each individual school and neighborhood community.

Get everyone in the classroom.

Stop the top down mentality and diversion of funds to the elite managers and their contracting to those who really do not benefit our kids.

For example: consultants, programming and book dealers, and whatever wasteful contracting is occurring that I don’t know of.

Teachers can run the design and implementation of the curriculum without the overseeing of some manager. Believe me, teachers are more than capable of policing themselves.

I hope that Dr. Mayo begin to lead toward the future grassroots movements and not harken back to the mayoral power politics of the past.

posted by: Kids_First on October 28, 2016  3:14pm

I am nervous because all of this money being spent to send Garth away and bring Dr. Mayo in and a new superintendent.  The Board stated that we are in a financial crisis, but yet we found money to fund this course of action?  There’s money somewhere. 

I am interested in knowing what Dr. Mayo and the Mayo BOE plans to do about New Haven’s leadership pipeline that has administrative interns working for years (more than two) doing the same work as principals and assistant principals for the same salary as a teacher.  I am also interested in seeing how Dr. Mayo and the board addresses the financial issues left with ease by the CFO.  There’s also a displaced principal from Barnard now working down town but what is her role/title? 

I am interested in knowing how the leadership in New Haven plans to put kids first?  Access to resources, community buy-in, usage of money that we have and student achievement all are concerns of mine. 

I just hope things change.  New Haven isn’t running an honest school district and everyone who loves this district, this city is paying for it.

posted by: Teachergal on October 29, 2016  9:25am

I know of a K-8 school that has 3 coaches. Really??? They happen to be 3 very good teachers. They should be teaching students not teachers. This district has become very top heavy with admins/coaches. And yet the scores are not improving. Let the 3 admins do the work of the coaches and let the teachers do their jobs. 🎃

posted by: canadachris on October 29, 2016  2:29pm

Let me try to understand Reggie Mayo’s appointment. Dr. Mayo oversees NH Schools for 20 years. His administration is noted for underachieving (failing) students, employee nepotism, mismanagement and some underperforming teachers. He builds shiny new buildings with considerable help from the Mayor and CT Legislature.

Dr. Mayo retires and leaves the mess he created to Garth Harries. The newly created school board is unhappy that Mr. Harries has been unable to clean up in 3 years Mayo’s 20 year mess. So Harries is forced out. The solution made by the board to solve all of this - REHIRE Mayo at the pay rate of $750 a day. (NOTE: Isn’t it illegal in CT for a retired public employee to double dip. Pension plus salary? This practice was rampant at UCONN until the state stopped it, we hope.)

So now we hold our breath, waiting to see how much damage Mayo can accomplish in the next 7 months. I can’t wait to see how many Mayo friends or children of Mayo’s friends get promoted. And all the time our kids fall deeper into academic failure. New Haven schools are an educational wasteland. If you want a good education in New Haven you must be wealthy. Hopkins, St. Thomas Day School, Foote, etc. are waiting for your money. Curious item - the principal at a NH Public School sent own children to one of the wealthy schools. Probably received nice raises from Dr. Mayo over the years to pay for the kid’s education.