Tom speaks out on NHPS response to high chronic absenteeism and the search for a new Superintendent

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Tom gave public testimony on the New Haven Public School district’s high rate of chronic absenteeism, which was highest in CT last year. From the New Haven Register:

Tom Goldenberg said the response from the NHPS doesn’t really provide a clear answer of the cause of the problem. He suggested implementing a “public-facing” data dashboard that allows parents to see information for school-related problems such as bullying and trends of kids who feel safe going to school and feel engaged in the classroom.

“Of course there are family factors and economic factors of all kinds, but I would love to see more discussion on what we can control and not on what we can’t control,” Goldenberg said.

Here is Tom’s full testimony as can be seen on the YouTube recording from 2:22 to 2:27

A lot has been said and it’s late so I will try my best to not be redundant on anything that was said so far. It was mentioned that we had the highest chronic absenteeism in the state last year, such that there were recent meetings with the Department of Education. It has been said that it is still at a “crisis level.” The response from the New Haven Public School District, including today, has not really provided clear answers as to exactly what is causing it. We’ve heard a lot of things about illnesses, and we’ve heard about family situations, but we don’t really have data. And that was a topic that came up repeatedly as to what exactly is happening.

What we do know about the national trends on chronic absenteeism is that there are several types of causes. Some are family related, some student-related, and others are school related. And what I can from my own experience – I’ve worked with several school districts on implementing public-facing data and dashboards for parents to see at a school level what are those school-level factors. For example, take bullying. Several districts like NYC DOE have a public-facing dashboard where it provides results from a student survey, a teacher survey, and a quality review. And they’re able to say for each school, what percentage of kids feel safe coming to school? What percentage of the students feel engaged in the classroom?

Of course, there are family factors and economic factors of all kinds, but I would love to see more discussion on what we can control and not on what we can’t control. There are some other suggestions in my written testimony. I’ll leave with this. A few years ago, I had a discussion with the Chief Accountability Officer of NYC DOE, Jim Liebman. And I said that there is research that shows that 25% of school outcomes are economically related – e.g., economic inequality, level of income. And I asked, what can we do about this? And his response was, I care about the other 75% that we can influence. What I would call on is that we should have public-facing data on student and family surveys. This can all be anonymized. And we should focus the conversation for these meetings on what we can actually address. That is the responsibility of the school district. That is all.

Tom also recently gave public testimony in regard to the NHPS search for a new superintendent. The testimony can be listened to on the YouTube recording from 1:51 to 1:55:

Thank you, I will try to be brief. In what everyone said, there is a lot of emotions, a lot of thoughts, so I’ll echo a lot of what people said. Just three points that I would like to make.

First, Mr Wilcox mentioned that in the context of the last time there was a national search for a Superintendent, that they did not want to repeat the outcome of that. And when asked by Alder Miller what were the lessons learned, the response was simply, “We don’t want to repeat that again.” I call upon the Board of Education to reflect on what were the mistakes that were made, and to put it in writing. Because it is concerning to me that after an incident like that, there is not an actual response other than “we don’t want to do that again.”

Point number two. It was great that we got to hear from people involved with the New London Superintendent search. I’ve had the honor of working with the New London Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie. She’s a phenomenal person and that city is very lucky to have her. Given the lessons from that process that we heard from Lauren Anderson, we should include her in the search committee, and take to heart some of the lessons. This includes the behavioral interviews and other techniques that were used.

And a last point. I find it concerning that the search commitee would be limited to the seven members of the Board of Education. When asked about how that would work, Mr Wilcox mentioned that some members would not be able to attend several of the required meetings, so an even smaller amount of people will have a higher amount of influence over the process. There are a lot of people in this room that are willing to attend those meetings. So if the Board of Ed members are unable to attend those meetings, I call upon the Board to assign people from the community who can. Because there are people who are passionate about this. There is a lot of energy, and a lot of passion in this room right now. And these people should be included. That’s all.

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