New Haven’s new superintendent began work Monday, marking the start of a new era for the school district.
Dr. Carol Birks said her goal for the first 90 days on the job is to listen and learn from the district’s students, parents, teachers and administrators.
“Ask some very basic questions, what are the strengths of new haven public schools?” Birks said. “What are the areas of growth of this district? What would you do first if you were the superintendent and what gifts and talents will you bring to help move our district forward?”
The decision to hire Birks was a controversial one that prompted outcry from the community. At a November meeting parents exchanged verbal jabs with Board of Education members. Many parents said the community wasn’t involved enough in the selection and that it was “political connections” to New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, not Birks’ qualifications in education, that led to her getting the job.
Despite the outcry, the board still approved Birks’ appointment. She comes from the Hartford Public Schools district where she served as an administrator.
Birks begins her job at a time when both the state and the city face fiscal challenges. The Board of Education had asked for an increase of $10 million dollars to its budget, but Mayor Toni Harp said she can only recommend $5 million.
“We are going to make sure that we prioritize the classroom and make sure we protect the classroom as much as we can,” Birks said.
Birks takes over a district of 22,000 students when school security is a top of mind issue following the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“School safety is a top priority” Birks said, “making sure that our students feel emotionally as well as physically safe. I’ve already convened two meetings with our security team and (outgoing superintendent) Dr. Mayo as well as central office staff. We’re looking at our systems across the district making sure that we have the appropriate keys and locks and all those technical things.”
Birks had a busy schedule Monday that began with visits to the Fair Haven School and Wilbur Cross High School.