NHPS, AF Team Up On Experimental School

Melissa Bailey File PhotoNew Haven Public Schools and Achievement First are exploring an unusual partnership, starting up an alternative charter school together.


The proposal for the school — now tentatively called “Elm City Imagine” — includes an extended school year with a calendar alternating eight weeks of regular classes with two weeks of “expedition” career engagement; longer school days with staggered teacher schedules; and small-group instruction with more focus on technology.

Achievement First has been researching and developing the school design for two years. The two sides are currently working on a memorandum of understanding. It dubbed the project “Greenfield,” to represent the “unconstrained,” wide-open nature of the process, according to the charter network’s CEO Dacia Toll. The district hopped on board at the tail end.

The partnership would be primarily financial, Toll said, with the district providing a “modest” amount of about $2,000 per student, $500 in operating funds and the rest through in-kind services such as nursing and food. The state provides about $11,000 per child, she said. AF would be responsible for hiring and day-to-day management of the school. The benefit to the city would be to ease overcrowding in existing schools, reduce the burden of mid-year transience, and add another educational option for families, officials said.

“It’s an important step in the direction of having at least one charter school be a more explicit part of the district’s portfolio,” she said. The school would ideally open in August 2015.

Unlike in other cities, New Haven Public Schools has had a working rather than adversarial relationship with local charter schools. That relationship was strained last month when the pro-charter Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN) held a rally on the Green that blasted the district for “trapping” kids in its “failing” schools.

However, both sides continued their commitment to working together. Mayor Toni Harp stressed that the discussions around the proposed school are “ongoing even as participants remember New Haven already has a full range of options and charter schools available to students.”

“The mayor and I have been clear about our frustration about the rally,” said Superintendent Garth Harries. “But in other ways, we have had a model partnership with Achievement First. … We are looking to expand it.”

Harries said the additional state resources that would support Elm City Imagine could be an opportunity to reduce class sizes at other, over-enrolled public schools and share the burden of enrolling “transient students” who switch schools after Oct. 1.

Technically, the Elm City Imagine proposal would be an “expansion” of AF’s charter that would allow for a “new model,” he said.

Elm City Imagine would be an extension of AF’s two Elm City Prep schools. It would start as a K-1 and expand every year through fourth grade, with enrollment at 80-90 students per grade, Toll said. The “Greenfield” model would also be integrated into existing charter schools, starting with Elm City Middle School next fall.

Toll said it felt “fitting” to launch the new model in New Haven, historically a “collaborative” city. The design prioritizes increasing students’ motivation to learn. The two-week “expeditions” interspersed throughout the year will allow students to “choose from a menu of curated high-quality options,” for example, learning about neuroscience by speaking with scientists and studying images of the brain.

During the eight-week class sessions, students will have extended days from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., with teachers on two staggered schedules, one from 7-3 and the other from 9-5. In the current charter school model, everyone starts at 7:30 a.m. and goes until 4 p.m.

She called the proposed school a “win win win”: New Haven families get access to an innovative school design; the district gets more state resources to reduce class sizes; and Achievement First gets to try out a “high-potential new model that we want to learn from as a network.”

Many details still need to be ironed out, Harries and Toll both said. A major criticism of charter networks is that students transfer out of their schools midyear for district schools, but charter schools do not accept midyear transfers.

“We’re still figuring out how to do it, but we’re trying to have charters take their quote unquote fair share of mid-year transfers and other high-need students,” Toll said.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoNot everyone is on board with the proposal. Teacher’s union President Dave Cicarella said he does not trust that AF will fulfill its promises in the partnership.

He said the rally’s message proved that the “whole existence” of charter schools is based on “negativity” about district schools.

Cicarella said he does not know if the additional money will actually be used for the benefit of the district: “You can’t earmark money and say that the money from the state will be used to reduce class size. What happens when there’s a budget deficit .…That’s the plan, but what happens four or five months from now? It’s a lean year.”

Harries said he understands the partnership will not be universally welcomed, but that it’s important is to provide “high-quality options” to all families.

“Education is consistently and persistently controversial,” he said. “I expect controversy around any potential conversation with charter partners.”

The partnership with AF is only one of a “full package” of proposals the district plans to roll out in January, Harries said. Among the others is a partnership with the teachers union around restorative justice and a plan to improve reading in early grades.

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posted by: Shulansky on January 2, 2015  2:45pm

This is fantastic! Its great to see collaboration between the city and its public charter schools, and even better that families in New Haven will have another option for their children.

posted by: Bena85 on January 2, 2015  3:05pm

This is very exciting! Whenever school districts partner with innovative organizations, children and families win. I personally have benefitted from growing up in a neighborhood with many educational options and know countless others who have as well. I hope to see more schools and programs like this in the future for students across the state. Cheers to Achievement First and Mayor Toni Harp.

posted by: JohnTulin on January 2, 2015  3:15pm

What collaboration?  AF, thanks to their inside guy Garth, just managed to siphon more funds from the already lean funds of the NHPS.  This does nothing to relieve the overcrowding, will have no effect on mid-year transience, and its been well established that charter schools provide no better of an education. 

These people dragged their students out onto the green, threw a tantrum and got their way. NHFT stabbed in the back again. Nice work, Garth.

posted by: Nickle on January 2, 2015  3:52pm

What an amazing opportunity for New Haven students and parents. It is so good to see charters and districts working together and doing great things for our kids. I can’t wait to see Elm City Imagine come to life.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 2, 2015  4:28pm

This is a three card monte mix with snake oil.This out right out of the play book to slip Charter Schools into the public schools for space and free rent.You see when Threefifths tells you something,You say I am a trouble maker,Always negative.People wake up.Just like the gentrification vampires are taking over.You got charter school vampires now who will be taking over your school.

Invasion Of The Charter Schools Village Voice


posted by: Brutus2011 on January 2, 2015  5:22pm

It is astonishing to me, as a parent and a teacher, that administrators persistently come up with “new” proposals while avoiding one essential issue—how to ensure a proper learning environment in every school building and in every classroom.

Behavior problems persist in our schools and distract everyone from the main objective of our schools—learning.

In my opinion, administrators are more politicians than educators (even those who started out as teachers) which causes them to look to their management organization’s needs and survival more than to living up to “Kid’s First.”

Again, for proof, just look at where the money goes ... that is, if you can find the true expenditures—if I recall, not even the BOA can get the real NHPS-BOE expenditures.

There should be no need for “choice” other than public or private schools. Those of us who cannot afford a Choate, etc., should not have to worry that our kids are sitting in classes where disruptive students are allowed to drain instructional time to almost nothing.

There is no problem with our public school teachers. We work hard and care about our kids. There may be a few who need a kick in the pants but there are none that I can see in my school.

This is a management problem because it is management’s duty and responsibility to design and implement policy to fulfill the goal of public education.

As public school administrators by and large have failed to ensure proper learning environments, they have waged a P.R. campaign to demonize teachers and to peg teacher evaluations to student standardized test scores.

The mantra, as we have seen over the past years in different incarnations, is “blame the teacher.”

I hope that Mayor Harp and other area representatives start asking NHPS management hard questions about what they are really doing, aside from scapegoating teachers, to improve our school learning environments.

posted by: Theodora on January 2, 2015  6:17pm

So AF is flush with donors. NHPS continually claims it doesn’t have enough money. So, let’s experiment with tax dollars. That makes sense.

posted by: wbstar on January 2, 2015  7:15pm

Can NHPS focus on the schools they already have? There is MUCH to do in those schools. How many 1st graders are reading on grade level district wide? I am sure it’s below 50%. Opening more schools is certainly not the answer and any partnership with AF is suspect.

posted by: FedUpInNewHaven on January 2, 2015  7:48pm

I was pretty frustrated reading this. As a New Haven teacher I see it continuing to get worse. The superintendent continues to maximize class size numbers all across the district and then discusses this shift for a small class size charter school? Smaller class sizes and over educated robot teachers who are in it for the street credit. It’s a show for the kids with educated parents in new haven and a bamboozle for the uneducated. All that money funneled away from the classrooms who need coteachers and para professionals.

Low performing students need all the help they can get, and more charter schools is not helping anyone. On their face they seem like a novel way to try something new and help out some really engaged kids. That’s great, but at what cost? The industrial educational complex is getting to a size of epic proportions and the public school system should be fighting against it, not asking to be it’s bed fellow. This is another sad decision that will further deteriorate the situation for some of the most at risk student in New Haven, and foreshadow the decline and possible extinction of a true public education.

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on January 2, 2015  8:02pm

I vote NO. oh wait. Taxpayers in this town have no say over how our exorbitantly high dollars are being used to fund the incestuous relationship between Achievement First and NHPS.And since there seems to be no oversight or public input int the decisions made by our so called public school system we’re forced to watch this corporation privatize what should at its core be a public good.

Here’s a thought. Instead of building new schools at SCSU and creating yet another experimental school, why doesn’t NHPS invest that money and effort into strengthening the existing schools? Putting paras in every classroom in the lower grades, improving technology,  and making sure students are learning?

No wonder so few NHPS principalsand administrators enroll their kids in NHPS schools.

posted by: Theodora on January 2, 2015  9:52pm

Since the media doesn’t do it, this city needs an independent financial watchdog over the schools. A citizen’s group. Find out who is working on and off the books down at Meadow. Find out who doles out contracts and to whom.

posted by: robn on January 2, 2015  10:21pm

Wait. What?

posted by: robn on January 2, 2015  10:23pm


Well put.

posted by: nhteach on January 2, 2015  10:45pm

As a NH public school teacher and a citizen of NH, it has become increasingly frustrating to see what my tax dollars are paying for in the public schools. After a contentious rally on the green, the NHPS decided it was a great idea to funnel money to AF to essentially play around with an idea about education.

What about all of our existing schools that lack supplies and materials? I was just told that my school has no money to buy books for my classroom, but the city has plenty of money to partner with a charter organization. Also, my daughter’s school (in New Haven) has virtually no updated technology in the classrooms—those are the kinds of things that money should be spent on regularly. It’s quite frustrating to witness this.

posted by: NewHavenPublic on January 3, 2015  1:38pm

The charter schools expand, courtesy of billionaire-trained New Haven Superintendent Garth Harries.

@Theodora:  the quiet cash flow from New Haven Public Schools to corporate “educrats” is astonishing.  You are absolutely correct in requesting an investigative report!

Who will Achievement First hire to teach in the “Greenfield” charter schools?  Is there really a focus on “human capital expenditure reduction”? 

Finally, do we know who has been teaching at the newest New Haven Charter school, Booker T. Washington?

Money smothers inquiry, eh?

posted by: cupojoe on January 3, 2015  3:46pm

The partnership would be primarily financial…

I’m confused by this. Is AF getting the 11k and a bonus of 2.5k to run the school? This isn’t clear.

Who is paying for us to start the soft handover of our schools to AF?

Will Harries soon be running both orgs?

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 4, 2015  12:46am

Yet another opportunity for well-heeled White surburbanites to “experiment” with, and make money off of, the lives of (largely underprivileged) African-American children, whose parents are either not informed or empowered enough to stop them, and all of this in the context of the celebrated presence of our first Black woman as the chief executive of the city.

And before any readers here claim I’m “playing the race card”, just look at the racial make-up (the owners and the student bodies) of the present Charter Schools in New Haven, and wait and see if this “proposed” experiment doesn’t follow suit.

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee
The Immanuel Missionary Baptist Church
New Haven, CT

posted by: ElmCityVoice on January 4, 2015  11:15am

I liked the idea of an Education Review Board. I’m going to call my alderman and see if he can put this on the agenda. Can everyone else do that? In the meantime, the scam rolls on. If we thought things would change with the firing of Stepan Prior, we were seriously delusional. Where’s there’s money to be had, corporatists will find it. BTW, well said Brutus.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 4, 2015  12:23pm

posted by: ElmCityVoice on January 4, 2015 11:15am

I liked the idea of an Education Review Board. I’m going to call my alderman and see if he can put this on the agenda. Can everyone else do that? In the meantime, the scam rolls on. If we thought things would change with the firing of Stepan Prior, we were seriously delusional. Where’s there’s money to be had, corporatists will find it. BTW, well said Brutus.

Here is one better.This is what they are fighting for in New York.

Part one.

The Charter Schools Act

1. STUDENT RIGHTS – Charter schools MUST be required to retain Special Ed and ELL students. No longer push out, counsel out or expel them out of the school.

2. PARENT RIGHTS – Every charter school board MUST have a parent board member who is the President of the school’s independent parent association.

3. BILL OF RIGHTS – There MUST be a universal Parents Bill of Rights and Students Bill of Rights for charter schools.

4. INDEPENDENT PARENTS ASSOCIATION – Every charter school MUST be required to have an independent parents association.

5. CO-LOCATIONS – The state MUST develop a better process in determining co-locations in public school buildings in New York City because it is pitting parents against each other.

6. ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY – Charter school board members and employees MUST be held to rigorous financial disclosure requirements and conflict of interest prohibitions as all other organizations receiving public money. There MUST be more oversight of Founding Boards. Board members MUST NOT be allowed to be permanent trustees. All employees (principals, directors, staff) MUST not be allowed to serve on the board. All schools must be audited by the State Comptroller.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 4, 2015  12:25pm

Part two

7. CHARTER CONTRACT & BY-LAWS – Every charter school MUST be required to post their charter and by-laws online to increase accountability and transparency in charter schools and their governing boards. Every board meeting MUST be held at the school.

8. STATE RECEIVERSHIP – The state MUST have the authority to take over a charter school and re-constitute the board of trustees.

9. MANAGEMENT ORGANIZATIONS – For Profit Management organizations MUST NOT be allowed to manage charters. Public money should be spent on public students.

10. COMPLAINT & GRIEVANCE PROCESS – The state MUST develop a formal complaint and grievance process that includes tracking and resolving issues within 30 days.

11. TEACHER RIGHTS & PROTECTIONS – Teachers in charter schools MUST be provided with whistleblower and job protections when exposing corruption, financial mismanagement and corporate chicanery in charters. No teacher should be fired for standing up for their students.

12. CHARTER AUTHORIZATION – Authorization MUST only be granted by the Board of Regents.

posted by: loquacious truth on January 4, 2015  9:48pm

All schools who push kids out during the school year should also send a prorated check to the school who receives them. Let’s at least start with with that policy. Then public schools may be able to hire more staff and maintain the little resources they have.

posted by: Tom Burns on January 5, 2015  9:10pm

No, No, No——No—we don’t need partners that disparage what we do at every turn—we need partners who are with us and who care about ALL children—sure we can experiment (if it ends up in reducing our lower grade class sizes by 6 or 7 students per class) but partnering with this group is not acceptable—this is surely a setback in the relationship between the NHFT and the BOE—(say it ain’t so)—please—I am very disappointed and a bit discouraged—Tom

posted by: BeFree on January 5, 2015  11:01pm

So many people here are fired up about AF attempting to create a great school but none of the folks commenting here get fired up about for profit prisons making money off the failures of public education….  Ya’ll should be ashamed… Just saying…

posted by: WayneJebian on January 6, 2015  1:12am

Dear State Board of Education:

There is currently a perception, created by debate in the public media in Connecticut, that the executive branch of the state government, including the Governor’s office, is forwarding plans for the creation of new Charter Schools with all deliberate speed, having formed strong working associations with Charter School advocacy groups. There is also the perception that these same groups are even now attempting to persuade key members of the General Assembly to ensure that plans for new Charter Schools move forward.

While a debate about the pros and cons of Charter Schools could surely fill volumes, there is one fact that speaks the the specific conditions in Connecticut that should rise above the din. At this time, Connecticut has not developed adequate means of systematic oversight of these institutions, their formation or ongoing operation. On December 4th, 2014, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, reporter for the Connecticut Mirror, unambiguously documented this shortcoming in the state’s management of charter schools.

The irregularities with the Jumoke/Fuse group have been referred to (and probably will be in your own deliberations) as “just one bad apple”. What they are is a textbook example of what can and will happen when proper means of regulation are not in place. The consequences of the “bad apple” proverb are all too true, and Connecticut has not demonstrated even the competence necessary to stop an existing bad apple from going into the barrel in the first place.

I hope that the board sees fit to adopt my own position that no new Charter Schools should be authorized for 2015 and until such time as the above shortcoming is addressed.

Respectfully yours,
Wayne Jebian

Former Instructor,
University of Connecticut
University of Hartford
Capital Community College

posted by: ElmCityVoice on January 6, 2015  8:18am

wooow. Even Tom Burns feels burns. That says a lot. Thank you Wayne for a perfect letter to the State BOE. I would sign on to that.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 6, 2015  9:07am

Mr/Ms BeFree,

Interesting that you would mention how poor education and private prisons are related to one another. But the fact is this, the so-called “failures of public education” is actually the failures of the larger society and not the public school system alone.

And when society fails its poor and underprivileged these poor souls are put into institutions that are controlled by the well-heeled and well connected who in turn make profits off of the backs of their misfortune.

This sounds eerily like the so-called “great schools” the vultures at AF (and AF copy cats) own and control, making money off of the backs of poor, underprivileged, and underserved African-American children and their gullible parents.

Nice of you to point out the connection between this failure and this exploitation, though.

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee

posted by: Kids First on January 6, 2015  11:07am

Scary thought of NHPS partnering with a group that there is such dissension with. If NHPS partners with AF this will be a direct insult to current teachers in NHPS. Tom, does the union the ability to veto this partnership?  It is very simple there is enough to contend with with the current schools in NHPS. We do not need to partner with AF & we do not need a school on SCSU campus. We need help in the schools and already open. There is currently so many inequalities in the schools such as enrollment, Fair Haven has over 800 students, Clinton Ave has over 500 & Columbus has less than 400 how could that be in less than a miles radius. Hill house has 9 administrators!! There is a principal being paid to work at Little Hooker on Canner Street with 200 students!  Trust me we don’t need a new partnership we need to focus on our existing schools and stop having the publicity stints! Anyone who thinks this is fantastic does not know enough about the relationship betweeN NHPS & AF..

posted by: BeFree on January 6, 2015  11:33am

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee,

You are correct when you say the large numbers poor/minority (mostly) men who have spent time in our for profit prison is a failure of society at large, not solely the failure of public schools. That being said, poor quality public schools are definitely a part of the problem (I would argue they are a large part). 

I would also argue that nobody seems to be as upset about the for profit prisons as they are about the so-called “for profit charter schools”

The failure to adequately educate our children (teach 3rd graders how to read proficiently for example) is one of our society’s biggest failures.

Also, the fact that if you’re poor, the ONLY option for free, public schooling is to enroll your child in a system that has been a failure for the majority of it’s existence, is not fair.

“making money off of the backs of poor, underprivileged, and underserved African-American children and their gullible parents.”

To call parents “gullible” because they want another option for their children is also not fair.

And if I’m being completely honest, if someone tells me they can make millions by providing high quality,free, public education to “poor, underprivileged, and underserved African-American children” I’d give them a high five and write them a check… just saying…

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 6, 2015  5:40pm

Mr/Ms. BeFree,

You can say that the public schools are a “large part” of the pipeline that leads to for profit prisons (or any kind of prisons, really), but the point that I wish to make is that the schools are merely a reflection of our societies unwillingness to do the hard work of balancing the scales of justice and equality.  The school system merely reflects the lack of fidelity our society has for the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, and the offsprings of the formerly enslaved residents of this land. Hence, the public school system becomes the dumping ground, not the starting point, of our nation’s insincerity to equality and justice for all and can hardly be blamed as a stand alone part of this massive failure.

Much has been said about the for profit prisons by the very same people who have criticized the for profit charters. I can’t say that you’ve been paying attention to the conversation, but it has been going on for quite some time now.

I did not call parents gullible “because they want another option” for their children. I called them gullible because they choose this option, one whose record is demonstratively mediocre at best and just as failing or failed as you claim the public schools are at worst, while selling the parents and the public a pipe dream that they can and will do better with public funds going, unregulated, into private hands.

Like the for-profit prisons, these corporate minded charters are institutions primarily controlled by White benefactors who make their money off of the backs, and yes gullibility, of desperate Black parents. I stand by that statement whether you think it’s fair or not, because the facts bear me out.

Finally, before you write that check that you seem so eager to sign over, you should, perhaps, consider a few things.  First, is what people are saying they can/will do matching what they are actually doing. Second, will you be writing a check from YOUR bank account or one from the PUBLIC’S account. Third,

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on January 6, 2015  9:35pm

will the check go to a private institution, a public one, or a private one PRETENDING to be a public one, and finally are you fine with double paying (the opposite of double dipping) as the clearly public institution and the obliquely private ones will be getting paid TWICE.  Think about it.

The Rev. Mr. Samuel T. Ross-Lee