Message from the Superintendent

  • Superintendent’s Thoughts and Update for school year 2020-2021

     

    This unprecedented year has come and I hope is gone forever, but we have endured and learned a lot together. WE made it. Below are some aspects of the work that I wish to highlight:

     

    Staff as Priority

     

    This is the best part. This work could not have been accomplished without the most dedicated, persevering, flexible, creative, and dedicated staff. New Haven Public Schools is happy to have you. Through it all you rose to the varied occasions. We learned together and pivoted to varied situations together. You are the most important to the work of the district: teachers, custodians, administrators, security guards, food service workers, counselors, psychologists, speech pathologists, social workers, supervisors, administrative assistants, HR, Choice and Enrollment, IT and facilities personnel, assistant teachers, truancy and youth workers, central office staff, business office folks, administrators, part time workers, all support staff, and anyone else that I may have missed. Thank you for your resilience, creativity, and flexibility.

     

    Kudos to all, and a heartfelt thank you from the bottom of my heart. I stand by the fact that leadership is not a solo act. Thank you for standing with me and for supporting the students and the overall work of the district.

     

    This is “our” district, and with your continued support we will achieve the vision of a premier urban school district. I remain dedicated and committed to this work, and sometimes decisions I make may not sit well with everyone, but I will stay committed and actively involved until I retire from this system.

     

    Operating in a Pandemic Crisis

     

    As the new superintendent operating in a pandemic, there were myriad challenges, opportunities, and successes. I set out to accomplish much work even in the face of an unprecedented global health crisis. I set goals and timeline for accomplishments.

     

    Goals:

    1. Improve the work conditions for staff during the crisis,
    2. Focus on social emotional learning,
    3. Create and balance the budget, and
    4. Ensure academic learning by instituting a hybrid learning plan.

     

    What have we done?

    1. Provided one to one devices for all 20,000 students, and invested in webcams and other tools to support teaching and learning.
    2. Professional development for all.
    3. Improve IT—installed mesh networks on several schools to beam into the community to ensure connectivity, fitted many schools with controllers to ensure adequate broadband.
    4. Created a budget process and balanced the budgets, and wrote and received millions of dollars in grants to support the district.
    5. Created and implemented a comprehensive school opening plan in a pandemic that reflected our priorities including health and safety.
    6. Created and implemented the strategic school plan (there wasn’t one in six years, due to leadership disruptions).
    7. Focused on social emotional learning via several means including Wellness Wednesdays.
    8. Communication through varied means: parent link, class dojo, webinars via zoom, emails, text messages, website, videos etc.
    9. Adopted math textbooks for K-5 with corresponding professional development.
    10. Conducted several webinars with parents, teachers and student groups.
    11. In addition to the new policy on equity, launched professional earning to transform the district.
    12. Created a new code of conduct based on restorative practices.

     

    In addition, the school year 2020-2021 has been exciting, challenging, and an aberration. The excitement comes from the ability to think differently, to ensure that collaboration with stakeholders regarding planning come to fruition, to be able to practice and implement change theories from theories to actual practice. Surviving in the rapids and navigating varied white waters—posed both a challenge and enthusiasm. The level of innovation unleashed by staff to ensure that learning occurred was unprecedented. The level of planning and coordination of supports was also unprecedented.

     

    Challenges came in varied forms and there were myriad challenges. First, the challenge of supporting students at home when we were informed to close school in the midst of the pandemic. How do we instruct students? What kind of work will teachers do? How will leaders lead? What about monitoring? How will students learn? All sorts of rapid decisions had to be made. Packets were created for students to serve for two weeks and later schools were completely shut down. We jumped into action—took inventory of all the devices we had and distributed to students no matter what schools had them. This we did rapidly. Many students were able to get devices with parents using what they had to support. We informed the state of our dilemma and needs and through the support of the Dhalio Foundation we received 5,600 devices, and thousands of books for students. Other partners, like Yale, supported with devices as well as a gentleman who heard of our crisis.

     

    Later, we received funds to invest in purchasing thousands of laptops, chrome books and tablets for pre-k through grade 12. We can now boast one-to-one for all students. We have now bridged the digital divide that existed. In addition, teachers received new technologies and training to support the learning and teaching. Other challenges include, providing professional development for staff not really knowing what to do to teach in a hybrid model. But thanks to staff and the team of great workers we were able to figure things out. Although it was not the best way to deliver instruction, we tried to do so with the help and support of teachers, administrators and parents.

     

    Another challenge we experienced was food insecurities—how to continue serving families in the midst of a pandemic and to keep everyone safe—we did what we could to support families. Our cafeteria staff made sure our families were served. We distributed food in the community by working collaboratively to distribute fresh foods from the USDA in varied community locations.

     

    Reaching the homeless and undocumented workers was another major challenge, but through the ardent work of YFCE, and the SROs, we were able to reach out to support many of these families. How do we deal with learning loss?

     

    COVID 19 impact on learning was great--not only with the failure rate and poor attendance, but with several staff and teachers out on ADA accommodation—over 300 from varied sectors of the organization, but about 200 teachers. The teachers being out presented a real challenge to find

    substitutes to cover for in-person learning. Under usual circumstances substitutes cover when staff is absent, but this time staff was not absent, but were working from home and the classes still needed coverage. We were able to get coverage by increasing the sub pay to $100 per day which attracted more substitutes and kept us competitive.

     

    Attendance became another challenge. In spite of all the efforts we still had over a thousand students not showing up in-person nor on line for learning which added to the increased the failure rate across the board. This continued to be an area of concern—reports indicated that many students gave up and some were working to support their families impacted by the pandemic. I am proud of the collaborative work of the staff for all the calls, and the knocking at doors in search of our students, for the numerous care packages distributed to families, which indicated that we care about all the pathways—physical, psychological, cognitive, ethical, and social emotional. This demonstrated the level of care and that we are all about putting our children first. Overall, challenges became opportunities.

     

    The school year was certainly an aberration. We have never encountered anything like this in our life time. Everything changed—face-to-face meetings now became electronic meetings, closing schools for long duration, transforming our physical spaces to make them safe, disruption of students learning etc. Even though these things occurred, it became a time of innovation and thinking differently—staff, students, and parents rose to the occasion. Financial support from the state and federal government poured in to help us to get started and to thrive and transform.

     

    Organizational Management

    This work is serious work, because we have lives in our hands. Managing and directing the varied aspects of the organization is a monumental task and could be compared to directing an orchestra.

     

    Many people tried to find fault with or just look out for things to go awry, but this pandemic has taught us that working together is better than the drama of the day. Creating a reopening plan was a monumental task, but one that demonstrated the power of teaming and collaboration.

     

    Through the engagement of stakeholder groups—teachers, administrators, support staff, community groups, the CSDE, we were able to develop a comprehensive plan that guides our functioning. New Haven Public Schools Plans were widely shared and distributed receiving accolades from the state and others.

     

    The plan encompassed Academics, Social Emotional Learning, Youth Family and Community Engagement, Communication, Training, Health and Safety etc. I am proud of the work everyone has done in this unprecedented time. I am blessed to be in a district where staff, teachers, and administrators demonstrated that all children do matter and that we will do whatever it takes to provide opportunities for success.

     

    Communication

    We established strong communication systems via parent link, text, email, Facebook, class dojo, google meets, Microsoft Team, Zoom, website information, pandemic dashboard, board updates, several parents and teacher webinars, video conferencing, door knocking etc. We went all out to inform and update about what was happening. We had virtual orientations for families, virtual magnet registration, and virtual school registration. We have learned to create opportunities for everyone in a different ways.

     

    The creation of a reopening plan was a great accomplishment which guided in health and safety, academics, social emotional learning, and community outreach.

     

    Professional Development

    Professional development is key to the running of the organization. When new things are introduced, implementation cannot occur without professional development. Everyone was engaged in varied forms of professional development, of which I am proud. For example, the district’s efforts focused on the delivery of instruction through on line platforms was an important aspect of professional development.

    .

    Budget and Hires

    I am proud of the fact that we were able to be fiscally responsible—closing two budget deficits and presented another budget for fiscal year 2021-2022. I am also proud of the fact that my team has been involved in writing grants and being awarded several million dollars to support the work.

     

    Many of our grants are entitlement, but they have to be written in order to receive them—Alliance and Priority, and IDEA—Ms. Typhanie Jackson, Title I and ESSER--Ms. Keisha Hannans, Title IV A —Ms. Jessica Haxhi, Title III and Immigrant Grant—Mr. Pedro Mendia, 21st Century, Extended School Hours, and After School grants—Ms. Gemma Joseph-Lumpkin, Head Start Grant—Ms. Liz Gafney and Pam Jefferson, CARES ACT and ESSER I, Mr. Phill Penn and leadership team, and several other grants by our new grant writer Lauren Strillacci. This is indeed a team effort, and I am blessed to have these competent people at the helm and a great financial team supporting the work.

     

    Management of the school buildings was another priority. In spite of the issues with the HVAC systems, we were able to improve broadband in the schools, by adding mesh network and controllers to school buildings to ensure internet access. This pandemic allowed us to see areas that needed attention in our buildings. Attention was paid to health and safety by establishing guidelines for COVID-19, cleaning and contact tracing protocols, and identifying our own task force to help with contact tracing.

     

    In addition, two key administrators were hired—Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, and more recently, instructional leadership for principal supervision and evaluation, and for the first time in years we had all math teachers in place.

     

    Instructional Leadership

    Student achievement in the context of the whole child framework remained the most important goal of the superintendent. Through our strategic plan we focused on the whole child and that what we do align to the strategic plan even in the midst of the pandemic. Although the Strategic Plan had no mention of a pandemic, the priority areas established with varied strategies guided our responses to several issues. Even our budget was developed addressing a priority. We created an equity policy, restorative practice protocol, and a strategic plan. We invested in professional development to guide staff in how to teach in the pandemic—hybrid learning. This was a new phenomenon for all of us. But staff rose to the occasion, experimented, and became innovators on the use of several platforms to get across to students.

     

    Below is a list of other accomplishments based on the Strategic Plan:

     

    ACADEMICS ACCOMPLISHMENTS 2020-2021

    1. Strengthen instructional practices
    2. Expanded play-based learning (EC)
    3. Launched PreK-5 project based interdisciplinary units
    4. Launched PD on culturally relevant pedagogy
    5. New K-5 text; approved and ordered
    6. All leaders trained on the CCAR protocol to discuss racialized outcomes
    7. Teaching and learning
    8. Expand community engagement via summer partnerships
    9. Completion of Department and school plans

     

    YFCE ACCOMPLISHMENTS 2020-2021

    1. Code of conduct adopted
    2. Expand afterschool
    3. Training in restorative practices
    4. Expand community partnership : help with home loss and chronic absenteeism
    5. Intensify focus on chronic absenteeism
    6. Keeping the connection with our youth
    7. Translation
    8. Increase parent links
    9. Youth connection 

     

    ORGANIZATION EFFICIENCIES ACCOMPLISHMENTS 2020-2021

    1. Translators
    2. We hired a new COO
    3. Electronic Purchase Orders
    4. West Rock/Quinnipiac school choice process
    5. Keeping the connection with stakeholders (Zoom)
    6. HR hired two additional staff members
    7. ESSER II approved grant
    8. Hiring of a grant writer
    9. Remote learning training and implementation
    10. Vaccination process and contact tracing
    11. COVID protocols
    12. Completion of strategic plan

     

    CULTURE AND CLIMATE ACCOMPLISHMENTS 2020-2021

    1. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Academy
    2. Identification of SEL ambassadors across district
    3. Monthly and weekly wellness activities
    4. Parental workshops engagement in multiple languages
    5. Collaboration between staff
    6. Courageous conversations about race
    7. Vaccination clinics
    8. Restorative practices policy
    9. Remote work ability during COVID-19 pandemic
    10. Equity work from policy
    11. SOAR 96 students

     

    TALENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS 2020-2021

    1. Purchased a new frontline solution (central) (paperless onboarding) **Phil Penn**
    2. Interviews 16 minority (bilingual) candidates
    3. Recruitment initiatives
    4. Relay CT (in progress)
    5. International Visiting Teachers Program (IVTP from Spain)
    6. ARCTEL program for Teaching of English as a second language
    7. Pending partnership with SCSU
    8. Several key hires : COO, Assistant Superintendents, Grant Writer
    9. Recruitment and retention of critically conscious leaders (teachers and administrators)
    10. Recruitment fair
    11. Secure SRD candidates alternate route to certifications

     

    ESSER III

    1. Provide each school with funds to invest in priority areas within each school
    2. Hire additional bilingual and TESOL teachers
    3. Restore project pride
    4. New arrival center
    5. Tech refresh in 2023

     

    These are just some of the things. We ended the school year with joy and happiness—our students’ graduation and moving up ceremonies were sights to behold. What a joy it was to see them enjoying their proms, receiving their diplomas, and enjoying Field Day!

     

    Enjoy your summer, and if possible, help to support our summer camp. See you next year.

     

    At your service,

    Dr. Iline Tracey