Board Backs Birks; Parents Balk

Christopher Peak PhotoSixty parents, teachers and community members penned a letter to the Board of Education that “strongly urge[d]” it not to hire Carol Birks as the next schools superintendent — hours before she won the support of a majority of board members for the job in an informal vote.

After a community forum Tuesday night at which all three finalists for the job spoke, the teacher-community group debriefed and then put their impressions of the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. The co-signers said they were fine with Pamela Brown or Gary Highsmith, but they took issue with Birks’s support for the “school choice” (aka charter) movement, her proposal to change the district’s administrative structure and her perceived political connections.

“While we have personal preferences,” said the letter signed by 44 parents, 10 teachers, and six community organizers, “we would be pleased to see either Dr. Pamela Brown or Mr. Gary Highsmith emerge as our new Superintendent. Both offer numerous notable qualities that we believe would serve the district well.

“With respect to Dr. Carol Birks, we have come to a different conclusion,” the letter continued. “[W]e strongly urge you not to select Dr. Birks as Superintendent.”

Their opposition may have come too late to influence the outcome. The Board of Education met in private to interview the finalists Wednesday night. Afterwards, the board members took an informal, nonbinding straw poll. First they voted to eliminate Highsmith from consideration. Then four of the seven board members voted in favor of hiring Birks, according to four people with knowledge of the nonbinding vote. The official vote is scheduled to take place at this coming Monday night’s Board of Education meeting. One of the four Birks backers Wednesday night — Mayor Toni Harp and board members Jamell Cotto, Frank Redente, and Darnell Goldson — would have to change their vote for her not to win the job.

The community opposition note, meanwhile, highlighted five primary concerns.

The co-signers rejected Birks’s “strong support” for charter schools. They argued that the district shouldn’t be opening new charter schools when money’s already tight, with some students lacking proper textbooks and four schools (Creed High School, Quinnipiac School, High School in the Community, and West Rock Authors Academy) lacking buildings.

“Why keep incubating when we have to fix what we have?” one mother phrased it.

At Tuesday’s forum, Birks defended charter school operators, while Highsmith rejected them and Brown took a middle position “[W]e shouldn’t fight charter schools; we should learn from them,” Birks said, citing the way her district had picked up on disciplinary practices Later on, she said, “Charters give parents another choice opportunity.” 

Birks also admitted that she serves on Achievement First Hartford’s eight-member board of directors — a position she did not mention on her job application.

At City Hall on Wednesday night, city Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett argued that Birks was on the board simply to meet a requirement of state law. The law requires that the chairs of local boards of education sit on charters schools’ governing councils — unless, that is, they appoint another school board member or the superintendent instead. Carlos Torre, for example, took a seat on Achievement First’s board in 2015, just a month after he fought against the network’s proposal for a new charter school, Elm City Imagine.

Reached by phone, Birks reiterated her support for giving parents choice and then added, “I’m a strong believer in public schools.”

“Money Follows The Child”


The co-signers called out Birks’s “past advocacy for student-based budgeting.” Under that system, a school district allocates a set amount of money to a school for each desk that’s filled, rather than the standard practice of ensuring base staffing levels and then earmarking additional dollars for specific purposes. Used in Houston and Denver, the idea is also sometimes referred to as a “money-follows-the-child” system.

In response to a convoluted question about how to address socio-emotional learning, Birks talked up Hartford’s use of student-based budgeting as a way to achieve equity.

“I’m not talking theoretically,” she said at the forum. “I want to take some of these practices and replicate them here in New Haven, but first I need to assess how you spend money, how you spend time at central office, what principals are doing.”

In 2015, a controversial study identified disparities in New Haven, prompting then-Board of Eductatioin CFO Victor De La Paz to float several student-based budgeting formulas. Advocates say those kinds of funding formulas are more equitable and give schools more ownership for the results they achieve. On the other side, opponents like Chris Willems, a co-signer and member of the New Haven Educators’ Collective, argue that it reduces students to dollar amounts and simplifies the complicated reality of kids’ needs for extra support, variations in teacher salaries or building costs or ever-shifting counts in a transient population.

In a conversation Wednesday, Birks clarified her answer in the forum. “We have that [in Hartford]. I didn’t say if it’s good or bad,” she explained. “I said what we’ve done and how we use that to look at equity.”

The letter co-signers also opposed Birks’s proposal to elevate the district’s three director of instruction to assistant superintendents. At the forum, Birks said these administrators were “handcuffed” in their decision-making. Parents argue that change would only line administrators’ pockets with higher salaries, taking money out of the classroom to make the district more top-heavy. They added that they worried about political favors being owed for the promotions.

The co-signers took exception to a comment Birks made in a Tuesday morning forum with student council members regarding closing schools. Birks said in an interview that she’d given an example that was being misinterpreted. Students asked her how she had listened to student voices in Hartford; she gave an example of how students’ input was considered in “how to reimagine our district, including everyone in the process to determine which schools should stay open, should [any] have to phase out or go offline,” she explained.

Finally, the co-signers alleged Birk used her “political connections in the recruitment process, which suggests that political favors will be owed.” That’s a reference, in part, to her Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, to which Mayor Toni Harp; two Harp-appointed search committee members, Maysa Akbar, founder of Integrated Wellness Group, and Tamiko Jackson-McArthur, a pediatrician; and Housing Authority of New Haven Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton all belong. At Tuesday’s forum, Birks referenced Akbar’s Integrated Wellness Group, a contractor that has received at least $1.34 million in contracts from the district in recent years to work on YouthStat and socio-emotional issues, as an organization she’d continue to partner with, along with Junta for Progressive Action. Back in June, three months before she sent in her job application, Birks also attended a fundraiser for Harp at Anthony’s Ocean View, where she wrote a $150 check to the mayor’s reelection campaign.

Birks Wednesday said she had no comment about the parents’ charge of political connections. “I have no idea what they’re talking about,” she said.

Click on the links to download copies of the full applications for Birks, Brown and Highsmith.

Evaluating the Rest

The letter also weighed the pros and cons of putting Highsmith or Brown in charge of New Haven’s public schools.

“In the case of Dr. Brown, we note as positive characteristics her bilingualism; level-headed demeanor; experience navigating diverse school districts; emphasis on collaboration; the feeling that we can learn from her; status as an outsider who doesn’t owe any political favors; and first- hand knowledge of poverty from her own childhood. We also note a few concerns regarding Dr. Brown, including the fact that she has worked in many different places for short periods of time; the learning curve in navigating NHPS and New Haven; and politically-correct answers that sometimes felt canned and jargon-filled, particularly regarding the role of charter schools.

“As for Mr. Highsmith,” the letter went on, “we also note many positive attributes, such as extensive experience in schools and classrooms; broad grassroots connections in New Haven; skill in connecting with and inspiring people; the impression that high-level positions have not changed him; the fact that his children attend New Haven Public Schools; and his insistence that he does not owe political favors. A few concerns regarding Mr. Highsmith include: we observe that he has limited district-level administrative experience; the fact that he did not reference the Latinx community in his remarks; and the possibility that he may owe political favors due to his extensive New Haven connections.”

On Wednesday night, around 5:45 p.m., four public-school moms — Sarah Miller, Fatima Rojas, Maritza Baez, and Kirsten Hopes-McFadden — stormed the district’s facilities offices on Ferry Street, where board members were conducting the last interviews with the finalists, to pass out copies of the letter. Lisa Mack, the district’s head of human resources, accepted the packet on the board’s behalf. But up in the conference room, the board members told her to set the letter aside until interviews were over. Several forgot to pick up a copy before deliberations began.

Members of the Board of Education will take their final vote on Monday, at 5:30 p.m., in a special meeting at L.W. Beecher School at 100 Jewell St.


Click above to watch Tuesday night’s superintendent candidate forum.

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posted by: GroveStreet on November 16, 2017  11:20am

Birks was, by a wide margin, the least impressive of the three finalists. This has everything to do with the mayor not giving a damn about what’s best for the city, but about what she perceives to be best for her.

Not only did the parents not like her, neither did the teachers or the students. All she did in the dog-and-pony show was to talk about herself… at every turn.

Birks does not deserve this chance. She hasn’t earned it. She was the pick of non-educators. She needs to be heavily scrutinized at every turn and hopefully she will be driven out quickly.

Let this be the final term for this self-absorbed mayor. And when she goes, let her pathetic board choices go with her.

posted by: SparkJames on November 16, 2017  11:35am

“Birks also admitted that she serves on Achievement First Hartford’s eight-member board of directors — a position she did not mention on her job application.”

That’s fishy.

posted by: elmcityboy on November 16, 2017  12:05pm

yeah, this is pretty distressing. we really don’t need a superintendent who is in bed with achievement first, just like we really don’t need a superintendent who brings along the baggage of bridgeport p.s. and hartford p.s.

the district needs a culture change from the top down.

posted by: westville man on November 16, 2017  12:06pm

Folks, I tried to tell you the fix was in…..but NOT for Gary. Now that you know, follow the money! NHI finally nibbled at the edges.  Do yourself a favor- see who gets charter schools and where our students are sent to be “counseled”.  Then you can put the pieces of the puzzle together.  You will know why the other 2 candidates could not overcome the original plan which they weren’t part of; and Gary would not participate in.

posted by: Callisto on November 16, 2017  12:17pm

Garth redux. A total disaster for public schools. The corporate scam takeover is on. Here come the charter schools to decimate public school budgets. Here come the non-educator corporations to turn our schools into stress-inducing data-mining factories and destroy all creativity and independence. A sad day day for New Haven and and it’s precious students. Absolutely atrocious.

posted by: TheMadcap on November 16, 2017  12:17pm

I’m inclined to say Pamela Brown is clearly the best for the job, but i suppose opinions may vary, as well as board votes.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 16, 2017  12:40pm

Garth Harries is Back.

posted by: Acer on November 16, 2017  12:42pm

This entire process of selecting a new Superintendent has been flawed from the start. The “Search Committee”, Harp, the B.O.E., the dog and pony shows of straw voting, “Rally Teams” at parent/public forums, etc., all speaks to how fractured, small town and petty New Haven politics is. New Haven should never have been left with only these three candidates. New Haven has much to offer: many wonderful, caring parents, many great teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, students eager to learn and a solid educational structure, all coupled with a lively city filled with real potential and the tremendous (and underused) resources of Yale. New Haven needs to continue searching (without the divisive political bull) and find a real educational leader to rally behind, to be inspired by - and an individual who will be in the job for more than two years. I am sure that New Haven politics has scared away many qualified candidates who may have helped lead the New Haven School system to the excellence it deserves. Shame on Harp and the B.O.E.

posted by: positive4NH7462 on November 16, 2017  1:18pm

It is so hard to be positive for New Haven when this kind of politics continue! This was obviously a pre-planned choice and a disgrace that the BOE has done what this city is so famous for.  Let’s make everyone think that we care what they think and do what benefits the insiders.  Really? This is an absolute shame that our children are going to continue on as we fail to educate them in a manner which will benefit them.  Our schools are failing our children and will continue to do so with this regime! One party systems are never any good, just a shame it’s at the expense of our children’s future! I’m trying to stay positive 4 New Haven but this is a difficult one to swallow!

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on November 16, 2017  1:18pm

The phrases “community input” and “parent engagement” are little more than feel good phrases meant to deflect from the very limited influence of parents, educators, and students. Why not have teachers on the Board and committee?

People are more willing to accept an outcome that doesnt match their preference IF theyre assured of the transparency and integrity of the selection process. None of that has happened here. 3 years from now we’ll be having this same discussion. Again.

posted by: robn on November 16, 2017  1:28pm

I’d have to agree with MADCAP that Dr Brown’s experience dwarfs Ms Birks’.

posted by: Openupyoureyes on November 16, 2017  1:38pm

Move over for the Corporate Choo Choo Train! The majority of the BOE and Mayor have sold their souls for the all mighty dollar and committed a grave injustice on the people of New Haven and the students within its schools. The BOE needs to ask themselves who they work for…corporations or the people of this city! The Register and NHI both have shown the people of this city want Highsmith, and yet the board votes him out of contention. I guess the sack of cash he brought to the table wasn’t large enough.

Birks is the wrong choice for this city and will be nothing more than a Garth 2.0., the charter school applications will probably triple within a year, and CTRISE will move and and set up networks across this city for the Daleo Foundation and New Visions to prosper from considering Birks is in the tank with them.

And where is the Teacher Union president? oh yeah… hes under the table picking up the crumbs the fat cat board members are dropping from their plates! We need the people of the city and teachers to stand up and take a stand against this corporate take over! I urge you to go to the next board of ed meeting on Monday and let the Board know your voices can’t be silenced. Let them know that “Kids First” is not just some fancy slogan they can throw around on business card.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 16, 2017  1:39pm

Get Ready for this.

Invasion Of The Charter Schools

posted by: JohnTulin on November 16, 2017  1:46pm


posted by: AverageTaxpayer on November 16, 2017  2:09pm


Not my first choice, at all, but if the BofE has selected her, I’m willing to at least give Ms. Birks a chance.

None of these candidates were that great. (Top-tier talent would be crazy to join this zoo.) But if the education system is going g to function, we need to try and move forward, together. fwiw.

posted by: watchfuleye on November 16, 2017  2:23pm

The “Search Committee” that the Board created didn’t even have the opportunity to vote on this! Board of Ed ONLY!!! Which again it is NOT the parent egagement groups fault! Its not the teachers fault, or staff! This is the BOARD OF EDUCATION with their lack of integirty, work ethics, and unprofessional! Why did they create a search committe anyways? I’ll tell you my thoughts it was just to be fake! Why all of sudden they had some forums that again they wanted to control how that went too!! Why because parents were concern! It was just to try to shut people up! But it wasn’t REAL! They were going to do what they wanted and for the reason that appear other than the most important of all this foolishness The Students!!!! I comended any parent group, teachers and whoever else tried!! You didn’t just go down without voicing your concerns! But how as a community can we come together to reonovate the BOARD!!! That’s where we need to start! Get rid of them! Vote a non confidence in the BOARD! Does anyone know how? Please advise! Thanks

posted by: watchfuleye on November 16, 2017  2:30pm

Here come that one Rev Kimber or whatever his name is!!! He will be back at the Board Meetings again about this school he wants that doesn’t have a solid plan! I bet it is a great day for him!!!

posted by: watchfuleye on November 16, 2017  2:34pm

And another thought, Birks doesn’t seem like a terrible person. Bot my pick but moving along from thar which is concering is her ties with the Mayor. We all know the Mayor doesn’t play nicey nice! So will she be controlled by the Mayor and her goons!! Will she actually do the right thing all away around? Well if she does the right thing then she is OUT because the Board and the Mayor will push her OUT! And she pisses one of them off especially the Mayor she will be pushed out!! We will be back her soon! And giving someone a year salary and benefits to leave. Smh..

posted by: connecticutcontrarian on November 16, 2017  3:00pm

Where can we find a full list of the appointed search committee members?

[Chris: In addition to the seven board members and two student reps, the other members are: Nijija-Ife Waters and Letisha Harris, parents; Dave Cicarella, teachers union; Claudine Wilkins-Chambers, paraprofessionals union; Cheryl Brown, administrators union; Tyisha Walker, Board of Alders president; and Tamiko Jackson-McArthur and Maysa Akbar, mayoral appointees.]

posted by: GroveStreet on November 16, 2017  3:39pm

When people say “the BOE” pre-planned this, take a deeper look.

There is one person who selected sorority sisters to join the committee trying to select another sorority sister, who is both unqualified for the job and specially interested in schools outside the district’s command. She also picked two lackies to do her work. Shame on Redente and Cotto.

But I am particularly disgusted by Cotto. He was picked (for no good reason) to fill the vacancy left by the sudden death of Daisy Gonzalez and he has immediately undermined Daisy’s wishes. What a failure. His community should be all over him because he has sold it out.

posted by: justice4all on November 16, 2017  6:17pm

So agree with Grove Street, all you have to do is ask around on Birks experiences in Bridgeport.  Shame on you Mr. Cotto what disappointment especially when you committed to follow Daisy’s example.  She had principles, stood her ground and we see where you stand.  A disgrace to our community.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 16, 2017  9:03pm

This is how this will play out.

1)Dr. Torre and Che Dawson will be gone.

2)Mayor Harp get’s replace them.

3) Goldson will move up and become President of the Board.

4)Dr. Joyner will have no power due to the fact it will be six against one.

I will say it agaiun.If you want to see where New Haven Is going Read this Book.

City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York

  By Wayne Barrett

Today’s reformer is tomorrow’s hack,” Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito used to say.

Esposito had a special knack for making this motto a self-fulfilling prophesy. Surely one of his greatest triumphs was the sell-out he and other New York City machine bosses

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on November 16, 2017  10:40pm

Our very own Betsy DaVos, hired to run the public schools into the ground and create demand for the charters and associated “educational” services.

Hang onto your hats—we are about to go down that Hartford slide.

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on November 16, 2017  10:46pm

@Threefifths, true for a while, but Goldson will have to face an election when?  Next fall?

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on November 16, 2017  11:14pm

Something is rotten in the state of New Haven.
It has been a year since residents and educators made crystally clean to the BOE that   “Gath Must Go!” for numerous reasons including his attachment and support of the charter school industry. The BOE with public backing and support moved ahead to remove Garth
Harp hated that decision passionately. She had defended and protected him like he was a sorority sister!
For nearly a year the BOE engaged in a superintendent search with starts and stops, delays and debates, boycotts and acts of sabotage and slander, subversive meetings and deals, arm twisting and intimidation and political intrigue, flipflops, board packing with political puppets aligned to the mayor, not the students, teachers and parents. What a sordid, revolting and disturbing tale to be told if the account of this superintendent search is ever written.
Parents, students, members of the public watched, waited and anticipated the BOE to select the best most qualified candidate for superintendent. To many that meant getting the complete opposite of who the BOE dismissed.
News spread across the city that the Harp controlled BOE picked a pro-charter school advocate and supporter who is on the board of ACHIEVEMENT FIRST!
Carol Birks, as far as the public knows, is not a clone of Garth Harries, but the LINKS to the charter school industry are severely troubling to public school advocates.
Are reports that Birks did not disclose her connections to Achievement First in her application true?
Did Birks really make a contribution to the Harp campaign? 
Are Harp and Birks members of the same sorority?
Was there a plot to delay this selection until after the election?
Many parents & students are fiercely upset. For many the battle has begun: the people versus Harp.
A dark cloud will hover for years over any Birks administration.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on November 16, 2017  11:41pm

Dr. Pamela Brown

posted by: Bill Saunders on November 17, 2017  3:10am

I found this article in NHI about Delta Sigma Theta…..

Scroll down to the bottom of the story and see ‘the slide’.

First Bullet Point: WHAT TO WATCH:

1)Education reform that prioritizes Charters…...

As a learned mentor once told me—the way you read this stuff is that the first line is always the lie…..

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on November 17, 2017  9:01am

Look at all the good work Birks did in Hartford, where they laid off 200+ people and closed schools. Birks said they count the charter school numbers in their test scores, yet Hartford’s scores are abysmal—at least 6 percentage points below New Haven’s. Weaver High School has been divided into three academies—sound familiar?

Her policies will drag us down, making a reality of the charter schools’ marketing pitch—“failing public schools.”

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on November 17, 2017  9:15am

Birks’ resume is full of exactly the kind of educational gimmick institutions we should not be spending students’ classroom money on (instead of teachers, textbooks, field trips, and equipment):

“Vice President of Operations with Global Partnership Schools, a New York based national educational management company whose mission is to build an integrated knowledge rich learning community in which affiliated schools and school districts share worldwide resources to create an educational environment that improves the instructional capacity of teachers and prepares students to succeed in the global economy.”

“Dr. Birks is the Chief Executive Officer and founder of her own business, Erudite Educational Consulting LLC, an educational consulting company which provides executive coaching and professional learning to school leaders nationally and internationally.”

posted by: Brutus2011 on November 17, 2017  10:25am

1. Brown
2. Highsmith

10. Birks

C’mon folks, block this ridiculous appointment.

posted by: NeoHavener on November 17, 2017  11:41am

This is a travesty. The Board of Education is clearly puppets of the philanthrocapitalist charter movement that has actively sought to dismantle public education throughout the country. This is how they do it.

Shameful. Absolutely shameful.

posted by: Massimo on November 17, 2017  12:32pm

Whoever is eventually chosen will stay at the job for less time than this entire expensive, nation-wide, and ultimately absurd superintendent search has taken.  “Kids First”

posted by: GroveStreet on November 17, 2017  12:35pm

FYI, if you want to voice your opinion to these wayward public servants, here are their published emails:

Frank Redente — .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Mayor Harp — .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Darnell Goldson — .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Jamell Cotto — .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

posted by: Maritza Baez on November 17, 2017  12:59pm

Please sign this petition, our students deserve a Superintendent that will put kids first!

posted by: Seth Poole on November 17, 2017  1:39pm

I am curious about what the outcome would have been if our elected student members of the board had a vote. 

The people will be the deciding factor, or a change in leadership is within view.

posted by: Flunky on November 18, 2017  7:05am

Although many have listed the charter issue, that is a distraction.
I believe it is the budget issue that is the problem with Birks and the reason the Board picked her. They know that they have to cut expenses and have to make it sound good to schools, principals, and teachers. The site-based budgeting is a scheme to make it seem as if the schools have control, away from the restrictions of the evil central office. Its a scam, and people fall for it all the time.
I again don’t understand why site visits and interviews haven’t been part of this process.
ASK the real educators in Hartford how this policy has hurt them. It leads to fewer funds for all: everything is more expensive without the large district purchasing power, principals feel pressure to get rid of experienced (expensive) staff, magnet schools lose out, and there is no control or support over curriculum. Teachers, principals are overworked and can’t manage it.
But it also makes central office, a superintendent and Board of Ed LESS accountable, since they can blame everything on a school…. which then leads to the idea they can replace a principal, turn around or replace a school that doesn’t instantly improve.
We don’t want a dictator as superintendent like some of the internal New Haven candidates would have been, we don’t want someone that puts everything down to the school level either.
We need a balance, an educator who will partner with us.
This choice isn’t that.

posted by: vpaul on November 18, 2017  1:15pm

Gary Highsmith would be best. No question of his commitment to public schools, and his caring, committed disposition would prove inspirational to the youth of this City.

posted by: Wakeupnewhaven on November 18, 2017  1:30pm

posted by: Brutus2011 on November 19, 2017  5:42pm

“Flunky” ‘s argument makes sense.

What many folks don’t understand is that there are 2 tiers in school systems.

1. The administrators. (Above the classroom)

2. Those who work with the kids. (The classroom)

Those above the classroom make the most money, have the most power and little accountability.

Those in the classroom make the least money, have the least power and have most of the accountability.

Consider all the talk about “teacher effectiveness” that reached its zenith several years ago. This was how administrators deflected accountability to the teachers and staff and away from themselves.

What is needed is to invert the education system and put those in the classroom in charge of the education curriculum.

Teachers are already highly educated and are ready to work together with the community to teach the whole child.

Central office administrator staff should be substantially cut and those remaining should handle business matters to achieve economies of scale.

This really is not rocket science.

The problem is that there are too many folks whose pecuniary interests would suffer if we ran the school system in a more rational and efficient manner.