It was indeed nice to see 75+ neighbors (those with and w/o school age kids) at tonight's meeting. The Mayor, Dr. Mayo and Asst. Sup. for reform, Garth Harries spoke and answered questions for 2 hours. More than a few questioned what look to be truly ambitious objectives. Harries accepted that observation and stated that these reform objectives are "possible" [to attain] and they are "aggressive." He and the Mayor also backed that up by both saying that they "believe this can be done."
A new (Oct 2009) hand-out listing these Reform Objectives, an outline of "Why New Haven?" (they state they have "A Strong Foundation to Build On"), and a chart, "Focus and Coherence in the Management of Schools," of what Harries described as some of the how the main goal of "Raising Student Performance" will be accomplished. It shows four "planks," each with a "vision," having several "potential components." Here's the link to these documents & here's the official reform website.
While the "achievement gap" appears to be the measurement, school reform as the Mayor, Mayo & Harries propose does seem to tackle much, much more. Harries specifically mentioned that reform goals include "push[ing] high performers" as well as achieving "double jumps" in performance at the lower-end of the performance continuum. "Resources will be allocated" to attain upward improvements from all performance levels they assured. They did admit that money and resources will not be allocated uniformly or equally to each of the 47 schools (as they are now), but allocated so as to achieve these new goals district wide - measured on "upward movement/progress;" not just hitting a targeted average - and "not just in pockets." The Board of Ed will hopefully define "performance" criteria to include state tests, post-secondary readiness, student engagement, etc. by spring 2010. They'd also like NHPS to be measured overall (not solely on "achievement gap") and thus reach their stated ultimate goal, "[to] be recognized as the best urban district in the country."
There seemed to be a lot more listening than questioning. (I too only listened tonight.) About 10 people did most of the questioning. Alderwoman Silverman started off the questioning with the tough one, "How will this be paid for?" The Mayor's blunt answer was that taxes could indeed go up. It does seem to the Mayor that education is central to just about everything and thus can justify its costs. Obviously money is a component. However, I know as important as these reform initiatives are, fiscal responsibility will be vital. Oversight, transparency, measurable return on investment, and accountability will all be very important. Parents, teachers, administrators, city residents, the Board of Alderman should all be collaborators in this huge undertaking of school reform. Additional venues and forums for further discussion seem necessary. More specifics addressing many cost issues will come to light next week as the Teachers Union votes on a new contract.
Please contact me with your thoughts, questions, ideas, etc., so as many of us as possible can play a role in taking advantage of what the Mayor sees as a "window" in economic & political times for "aggressive" public education reform here in New Haven. I will most certainly be engaged, with vested interest (child at Edgewood), in this process as a parent and neighborhood representative.