Original Date: 
Mon, 2009-06-22

Contact:          Michelle Wade, Director of Communications
W (203) 946-8450  C (203) 675-5132
NEW HAVEN – As the city and public school district begin work on their ambitious school reform initiative, one of the first steps taken to ensure inclusion, engagement and transparency in the process has been outreach to local non-profit organizations, the business community as well as the district’s own administrators and teachers, and soon, parents.  This outreach has taken the form of informational sessions for each group with Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. and Dr. Reginald Mayo, Superintendent of Schools, sharing their vision to move the New Haven school district from incremental to exponential success and become the best urban district in the nation.  Attendees are encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas and are asked to support this initiative in their community realm.
“Our school system has built a strong foundation,” said Mayor John DeStefano, Jr.  “But we know we can do better.  Our emerging plan will be designed to ensure that student performance becomes the center point of how the district operates – how we set expectations, how we manage different schools, how we recruit and develop our educators, and how we work with the community”
The school reform initiative is based on other successful school initiatives in systems such as New Orleans, Washington, DC and New York City.  The City of New Haven and the Board of Education have been working closely over the past few months to put together the basis of a plan and determine what will be needed to achieve their goal; including community outreach and support.
“We realize hard work and community cooperation will be required to accomplish our goal.  We are committed to trying new, out-of-the-box ideas in order to provide a better system for our children”, said Dr. Mayo.  “We are going to work hard to be inclusive in this process and we hope the community will support us and work with us to see it through.”
Another key element to the success of this emerging plan was the recent hiring of Garth Harries to fill a newly created post, assistant superintendent for portfolio and performance management, a position similar to one he held at the New York Department of Education.
Harries is tasked with fleshing out and implementing the initiative which will focus on creating a portfolio of effective, diverse and empowered schools through four key district wide strategies: creating a culture of high expectations, clear accountability and earned autonomy in each school; attracting, developing and retaining high-quality, motivated principals, teachers and administrators; moving to a differentiated management, or portfolio approach where the support systems of the Board of Education and central office are differentiated based on school performance and need ; and increasing the level of engagement among students, families and the community as a whole in support of student learning. 
“This portfolio approach will entail implementing a “tier system” by which each school is reviewed based on performance criteria such as student achievement, annual progress, and qualitative measures”, says Harries.  “Each tier will have aligned rewards or consequences.  For instance, a top tier school will be rewarded with much broader autonomy in decision making than would a bottom tier school who will receive intensive support from turnaround experts.”
To date, outreach efforts have stimulated great interest and positive feedback.  After recent sessions with administrators and separately with teacher stewards, an electronic survey was circulated and approximately 80% of all administrators and almost 54% of all teachers in the district responded. The results – summaries of which are posted on the City of New Haven and Board of Education websites - pointed to some overlapping views among the two groups.  For instance, when asked “How do we create and implement accountability?” administrators and teachers agreed that “student achievement” and “transparency among all parties (BOE, central office, school leaders, teachers, parents, young people, community)” should be guides for accountability.  In responding to the question, “How do we create differential interventions?”, administrators and teachers agreed it is important to “meet with school leadership teams to determine the school’s needs” and “use data from each school to determine needs assessment” in order to create differential interventions.  This type of feedback will continue to be collected from various constituents and will be taken into consideration as specific plans emerge.
At a recent session with local business leaders, interest for the plan was peaked as attendees asked questions and received honest answers.  A former New Haven Public School antagonist seemed optimistic and willing to support the effort and called on Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President, Tony Rescigno, to revive the Chamber’s Education Committee to help support the initiative and suggested the Chamber purchase a full-page ad in the local paper proclaiming its support of the plan.
“New Haven’s business community has a vested interest in the public schools succeeding”, says Tony Rescigno, Chamber President.  “We want to be a part of this initiative and look forward to more conversations and opportunities to be supportive of the Mayor and Dr. Mayo.”
At the recent non-profit session, over 50 leaders from that community gather at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven to hear about the plan.  Foundation President & CEO, William Ginsberg commented, “We are pleased that the non-profit community is being brought into this conversation.  There are is so much knowledge here that can be brought to bear on the challenge of better educating and preparing our children for success.”
   The city and district recognize transforming the entire district will take six – eight years and they are fully committed to this important work. Ongoing, two-way communication with community constituents around this reform initiative will be central during the creation and implementation of these bold changes in the effort to make New Haven the best urban district in the nation.