Promise Launches Search For New Chief

As the founding head of the New Haven Promise college-scholarship program steps down, the head of a search committee promised to find another executive director who’s “independent but aligned” with the public schools.

Friday is the last day of work for current Promise Director Emily Byrne. She’s leaving to take a job with new state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor. Assuming her hiring is confirmed by the state Office of Policy and Management, Byrne will serve as Pryor’s director of strategic initiatives. That means she’ll work on communication, legislation, and policy. (Byrne declined comment pending her confirmation. She was up at the state education department Thursday.)

Promise is one the key legs of New Haven’s current school reform drive. Funded by Yale University and the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, it promises to pay as much as 100 percent of the cost of tuition for New Haven public-school students who meet certain benchmarks. The program also sends volunteers into neighborhoods to work with families throughout their children’s school careers to prepare them for college.

Byrne has run Promise since its inception last November. She also worked before that on devising the program.

Adriana Arreola, Promise’s “benchmark manager/student and parent organizer,” will serve as interim executive director while a national search commences.

Garth Harries, New Haven’s deputy superintendent of schools, will head the search committee.

Harries said Thursday that he hasn’t formed the committee yet. He said it will be a national search.

“We think Emily has done a great job of setting up Promise,” Harries said. “Our priority is making sure we get the right person in the role. Promise is running perfectly effectively now. The most important thing is who ends up on the bus.”

Yale pledged $4 million a year in scholarships through the program. The Community Foundation pledged $500,000 a year to run it. From the program’s inception, Yale and foundation officials stressed that Promise was supposed to function as both a supporter and an independent actor in New Haven’s school reform drive—supporting an important new piece of it while offering accountability outside of government.

Whether the latter has happened is an open question.

Byrne came to the job from City Hall, where she worked as deputy chief of staff to Mayor John DeStefano. Before that she was a campaign worker for him. Promise’s website is a section of the New Haven public schools site. Its activities are closely coordinated; that was especially true during campaign season.

Harries was asked Thursday if he’ll be looking for someone independent of City Hall and the school board.

“The important characteristics of the new person include their understanding of education reform, their understanding of change management, their understanding of community organization and communication broadly,” he responded. “We’re confident that whoever comes is going to be an independent but aligned. That is very much the spirit of our reform more broadly: Different stakeholders working together. Promise is just one of many examples of reform to do that.”

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posted by: Selfish on December 8, 2011  5:19pm

Why do they always take the good ones. :-(

posted by: bob solomon on December 8, 2011  7:01pm

Congratulations to Emily Byrne, who will be sorely missed.  Emily combined tremendous talent with an incredible work ethic, all to make her community a better place.  Thanks, Emily.

posted by: Tom Harned on December 8, 2011  8:53pm

Congratulations Emily! I’m sure you’ll bring the same energy and talent to the State that you brought to everything you did here in New Haven.

posted by: Mary Rosario on December 8, 2011  9:41pm

Emily you will be missed.Thanks for the great job you did with the Promise program.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 8, 2011  10:50pm

She will be part of the corporate take over of the public school system.

posted by: Noteworthy on December 8, 2011  10:51pm

Independent but aligned means it will continue to be prostituted for political purposes as it was during the mayoral campaign. Promise is a marketing gig that while giving money to any and all who qualify, fails to recognize or do anything about the 80% of NHPS students who fail to graduate from college in SIX years. In four years, it will be interesting to see how many Promise takers actually graduate from either high school or college.

It is worth noting that we build $50 million schools and don’t teach; we Promise college tuition when we know the kids aren’t equipped to do college work. At what point do we get our priorities straight and results in the bank?

posted by: Anderson Scooper on December 9, 2011  1:04am

Emily is the greatest!

Going to be a tough act to follow…..

posted by: streever on December 9, 2011  9:47am

Emily, congratulations on your promotion—New Haven will miss you!

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 9, 2011  11:11am

I implore the search committee to be extremely careful.

When visionary founders leave for greener pastures, the replacements, while looking good on paper, rarely fill the shoes.

How many scholarships have been given out so far???  Zero, right?

At this point, there is absolutely NO measure of success for the program, and ‘ship jumping’ like this is always suspect.

The question we are all waiting to have answered is:

Will this well-funded ball of bureaucracy yield substantive results.

Time will tell.

posted by: Alderwoman Maureen O'Sullivan on December 9, 2011  11:35am

I certainly hope that the State’s OPM is smart enough to snatch up Emily.  She did a wonderful job running the School of Democracy while working at City Hall.  I received many compliments about her during her time at City Hall.

And FYI, Mr. Saunders, scholarships were awarded this past summer.  The program is being phased in so the Class of 2011 was the first to receive a partial scholarship and 2015 can receive the full amount.

posted by: Betsy Yagla on December 9, 2011  12:49pm

@Bill Saunders,

Last school year Promise gave out 112 scholarships to graduating seniors. Those 112 students are now studying in 16 colleges and universities across the state.

In years coming, obviously, we hope to grow the number of students who qualify for and decide to use a Promise scholarship.

We are currently and will continue to be checking in with our scholarship recipients who are in college to make sure they’re earning good grades (they need a 2.5 GPA to maintain the scholarship) and checking to see if there are on-campus resources we can direct them to if they need help.

Colleges and universities realize that it’s important for them to retain students and some schools do a better job than others. Money is a major reason that students drop out of college (or take a long time to complete). Hopefully Promise can prevent that.

Promise was just invited to a luncheon yesterday at Gateway Community College for Promise scholars. The point of the luncheon was to connect the students with each other and to connect them with on-campus resources.

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 9, 2011  12:54pm

Alderman O’Sullivan,

I am not casting aspersions, I am asking for information.

Have any???

posted by: cedarhillresident on December 9, 2011  12:55pm

Good luck Emily. May of us know here from Democracy school and do respect her for giving us the starting tools and knowlege to help us fight for ....... Democracy. She will always have my respect for the work she did in that program.

posted by: Bill Saunders on December 9, 2011  1:00pm

Thanks for the Information, Betsy!!!!!

posted by: anon on December 9, 2011  1:31pm

See It looks like most of the scholars are going to CT State U and UConn, but there are 2 going to Yale, 3 going to Quinnipiac, and several to other private universities too.

posted by: Talia Aikens-Nunez on December 9, 2011  1:39pm

Congrats, Emily! You did a great job in New Haven and I am sure you will wonderfully at the State level! Good luck!!

posted by: NHer on December 9, 2011  1:47pm

I think what people often forget when talking about new haven promise is the partnership component. As I recall reading earlier this fall in the nhi, promise worked with the schools and the nationally recognized college summit program to develop curriculum that will teach our kids early and often that college is the next step and what they should be working towards. I’m glad there are people working to tell our kids that college is necessary and, as a community, we want to make it attainable for them. I think the scholarship portion of the program is a necessary logistic to making college a reality, but what goes along with that is developing a community and a school culture that believes every single one of our children can complete and should aspire to achieve a college degree. Call me an optimist, but I think the work that’s going on in new haven schools is amazing. And I think promise is a great complement to the work that the district is doing in the classroom. It starts with giving kids the academic rigor they need to be successful in an increasingly competitive world, but kids also need to live in a community that stresses the importance of a post high school education and provides the support and resources needed to get from point a to point b. I for one will continue to support the reform efforts, new haven promise and the potential of each of our kids. I see a lot of criticism, but I don’t see anybody offering tangible better ideas to improving our schools. If someone out there presents me with a solid plan, I’d be happy to listen. For now, I’d rather be standing with the people who are trying to give it a real go then sitting on the sidelines with those who aren’t taking any action, searching for the negatives and continously asserting that the lack of immediate results deems reform a failure in new haven.

posted by: Noteworthy on December 9, 2011  2:28pm

Since I am on the college tour now, I can verify that every single college from Babson (#1 entrepreneurial college in America) to Gateway to the Coast Guard Academy, ALL have tutoring programs for their students. That’s not the point.

Our students should not need the level of tutoring they do. They need remedial help. The statement that the number one reason kids fail to graduate is money is specious at best, and most likely demonstrably false.

If this were only a matter a money, the 80% plus drop out rate at colleges in Connecticut could have been solved long ago. If it were only money, and wasn’t solved, it’s a pox on the house of those who pretend to lead.

posted by: Noteworthy on December 9, 2011  3:38pm

NHer -

We need happy optimists like you who question little and hand out accolades like candy. I take specific objection to your comment which is as follows:

“I see a lot of criticism, but I don’t see anybody offering tangible better ideas to improving our schools. If someone out there presents me with a solid plan, I’d be happy to listen. For now, I’d rather be standing with the people who are trying to give it a real go then sitting on the sidelines with those who aren’t taking any action, searching for the negatives and continuously asserting that the lack of immediate results deems reform a failure in new haven.”

1. It’s not my job to come up with better ideas. I’m not an educator nor am I being paid to be one. I’m not paid to run this city. My job is to go to work every day and lead my family, pay the bills and the outrageous property taxes.

2. Further, if I have to come up with a plan to fix the NHPS, then why do I need the NHBOE and all those high priced administrators and consultants?

3. I don’t know any parent or taxpayer in this city who is looking for “immediate results.” I know a lot of us are disgusted that for most of the last 20 years, clear signals that something was seriously wrong in our classrooms was ignored. More recently, for most of the last 10 years, we’ve been on this ambitious building program that provides extravagant facilities while largely ignoring outcomes. There are exceptions - Davis Street School being one - which proves who can educate well in a crappy building. Edgewood School does a nice job in a modest building.

I’m glad reform lite is happening and hope it takes on a more robust form and that the standards are continually raised and challenged.

And one final point - You don’t need Promise to teach how important a secondary education is. That too should have been taught from kindergarten across the last 20 years. It should have been a core principle. That you may be suggesting it wasn’t until now is almost as outrageous as suggesting it’s the responsibility of working families to also come up with all the solutions to poor school performance.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on December 9, 2011  4:09pm

posted by: NHer on December 9, 2011 12:47pm

I’d be happy to listen. For now, I’d rather be standing with the people who are trying to give it a real go then sitting on the sidelines with those who aren’t taking any action, searching for the negatives and continously asserting that the lack of immediate results deems reform a failure in new haven.

Use the Dr. James P. Comer Model.

posted by: Semi Semi-Dikoko on December 9, 2011  6:57pm

Dedicated, reliable and available, Emily will be missed. Those of us who got to know her through Democracy School quickly came to realize how effective a public servant she was. So, we came to rely on her for answers on many occasions.
Best of luck in your new endeavors Emily!

posted by: Q Love on December 9, 2011  9:13pm

I do not know much about Emily but what I do know is that the new Commisioner of Education has just created a position for someone who has no substative education background. Furthermore, he has created this position behind close doors. The State Department of Education has lost valuable staff that actually work in the districts helping to improve education. The only thing the Commisioner has done is hire more managers making over 100k.

posted by: urban ed on December 10, 2011  10:29am

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is the influence promise is already having on the present school population. As a NHPS administrator, I’ve been intensely gratified to see our high school students really thinking it through and saying things like, “I was really mad and I wanted to hit him, but I didn’t want to mess up my promise,” or “I was afraid they were going to get in a fight, but I didn’t want her to mess up her promise, so I grabbed her and brought her to you,” or “I know I missed a lot of school last year, but I’m trying really hard to be here every day for my promise.”

A very small start in terms of $ and number of scholarships distributed thus far….but a huge culture shift underway. As a 25-yr student of school culture, I can tell you that this kind of change doesn’t happen this quickly unless something powerful is going on. Something powerful is going on.