For Mayor John DeStefano, preparing New Haven children for the future has been a top priority.
“At the end of the day, our goal is to have kids emerge from the New Haven Public School district prepared and ready for college and lifelong learning and success,” said DeStefano.
But in order to do that, Mayor DeStefano sought to change both where and how students went to school. One tall order of business was renovating or replacing 40 school buildings in the district to make them schools where parents want to send their children.
“When I was growing up in New Haven, there were three high schools. Now there are nine. They provide choice, smaller learning environments, more productive learning environments,” said Mayor John DeStefano.
Four years ago, the district implemented New Haven School change, where teachers inside every New Haven school are held accountable for what happens in their classrooms and given the support they need to engage their students.
“Our goal here is to be collaborative in what we do, and we’re not doing anything to anybody. We’re working with teachers, administrators and parents, in other words, organizing all the adults on behalf of kids,” said DeStefano.
The district also added incentives for students, specifically with the Promise Program, which offers scholarships to high-achieving high school students.
“We began to recognize that we need to be concerned about did they have not only the talent and prepared to go onto college, but did they have the resources, and that’s where the Community Foundation, Yale University under President Levin, provided the resources to launch New Haven Promise,” said DeStefano.
As of this year, there are 420 students on Promise Scholarships. Retired School Superintendent Dr. Reginald Mayo worked with DeStefano on Promise and other school initiatives for two decades.
“He probably is the greatest visionary that I’ve ever seen in my entire life. John has vision that is unbelievable about all things,” said Dr. Mayo.
Dr. Mayo says DeStefano was also persistent and had the expertise when it came to getting things funded like the $1.7 billion school rebuilding project.
“We were going to paint a few schools. We’re going to put some windows in some of the schools. We're going to bring some up to code. This guy’s sitting here talking about rebuilding every school. I couldn’t believe it,” said Dr. Mayo.
Not that every idea DeStefano had went unchallenged. When he helped to implement school reform four years ago, there was concern from teachers about losing their jobs because of a new evaluation system. Dr. Mayo says that concern was met head on. Four years later, the teachers’ union just ratified a new contract building on school change.
“It's increased responsibility and increased accountability, and we're fine with that. If we have a good evaluation system in place, which we do, and it's followed with fidelity, we have no problem,” said David Cicarella, who is the New Haven Teachers Federation President.
But Mayor DeStefano says school change is something New Haven has to remain consistent with.
“You got to do it today, you got do it tomorrow, you got to do it next week, you got to do it next year, rather than treat it as a flavor of the month. Keep at it. Do the work,” said DeStefano.