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Kimber’s Charter Sparks Creed Backlash

by MICHELLE LIU | Jan 31, 2017 7:43 am
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Posted to: Schools, True Vote
Michelle Liu Photos
MICHELLE LIU PHOTOSOrtiz and Goldson clash on Kimber’s charter school.
A Board of Education student member took on an adult colleague Monday night as a politically juiced proposal to establish a boys-only charter school ran into resistance by advocates of a different school.

The heated debate occurred at the Board of Ed’s regular twice-monthly meeting at L.W. Beecher School.

Rev. Boise Kimber brought 15 or so supporters to the meeting, where he presented a unified vision for C.M. Cofield Academy, an all-boys’ school Kimber has pushed for as a way of addressing the developmental differences between boys and girls. Named after the revered late pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church, the local charter school — to be funded by the city’s Board of Ed but free to make many of its own rules — would aim to provide young boys and men of color with a learning atmosphere in which they could grow and learn from male role models.

The proposal met one of the district’s bleak realities Monday night, when the board was yet again confronted with the fact that its smallest traditional high school, Creed (formerly Hyde), hasn’t had a building to call its own for years and now appears to be dropping from a list of future construction projects.

Student board member Coral Ortiz spoke out on the contrast between the board’s support for the all-boys school and the prospects for Creed — sparking a debate on the board’s priorities.

“We need to watch our rhetoric,” she told her colleagues. After board members lined up behind Kimber, members of the Creed community emerged to demand they not be treated as “small and insignificant.” Meanwhile, board member Darnell Goldson urged that people accept fiscal reality — that however much support Creed has, the fiscally strapped state can’t be counted on to continue sending millions to build new schools.

Kimber’s Crusade
Michelle Liu Photo
MICHELLE LIU PHOTOKimber pitches his plan.
Kimber (pictured), a politically active minister who has been outspoken at board meeting, said he has lobbied nearly everyone in the city and the state for resources his planned school, meeting with hundreds of people over the course of a decade to formulate his plan. He added that he has been exploring a partnership with Eagle Academy, which runs six all-boys charters schools in New York and New Jersey. Kimber looks to model the Cofield school after the Eagle Academy schools.

When approached by a reporter for details, Kimber referred questions to mayoral aide Jason Bartlett . Bartlett, the mayor’s Board of Ed liaison, stressed that the school is being proposed as a local charter school. This means it would fall under the governance of the Board of Education, but has greater autonomy than a traditional public school.
At the meeting, Kimber aired an 11-minute promo video of his plan, in which testimonials from the board members (Mayor Toni Harp speaking from City Hall; Ed Joyner in conversation with Kimber) are interspersed with TV news coverage of the proposal.

The school would start with no more than 60-80 students, beginning with the sixth grade, Kimber said. The students would be grouped into four classrooms at most.

Board member Ortiz, a senior at Hillhouse High, praised the way in which schools like Cofield could potentially reach at-risk youth during their middle school years. But she had a quibble: If the district plans spend time, energy and money on a new school, what did that mean for schools like Creed, where students don’t even have a building?

Board member Goldson, who has been closely allied with Kimber, jumped in.

“I don’t think we’re talking about building an actual school at this point,” he said. “So comparing it to [Creed] is comparing apples to oranges at this point.” He added that Interim Superintendent Reggie Mayo has been hard at work on the proposal, that the board shouldn’t put up roadblocks to the project.

Joyner and Board member Carlos Torre provided finer points of admiration for Kimber’s initiative. Joyner pointed to how schools like Cofield and Creed alike could help resolve the larger issue of “black boys and brown boys in urban communities … who have never gotten the kind of support, in the long haul, that they deserve.” Torre stressed that young men in these schools should also be taught a proper attitude and relationship toward women.

Goldson resumed the argument, noting that the state is unlikelly to keep funding new school construction endlessly in New Haven as it faces a projected $1.5 billion deficit.

“We have to be honest to the Creed families about what’s going on there!” Goldson said. “And we haven’t been honest in the last couple of years, and we’re not being honest now. There is not a stomach in this city, in this state, to build another high school. It’s just not there. So we have to be honest with them and we have to meet with them and we have to discuss ways that we can make sure they have some sort of identity if that’s what’s going to continue to happen.

“But to continue to say, ‘Before we do anything else, we have to take care of Creed’ — Let’s be honest! Creed is not going to get another school. Let’s be honest about it. And I’m not going to let that discussion damage this discussion because this is an important project. I’m not going to allow that to happen,” Goldson said.

Ortiz maintained her stance. To draw money away from other students (like those at Creed) for a new project is to say, “We don’t value your education as much” to those students, she said.

“We need to watch our rhetoric when it comes to certain schools,” she countered. “If someone was saying that about Hillhouse, for example, I’d feel offended — why is my education not as valuable as another school? I’m not against this proposal. I’m for this proposal…. I’m just mentioning we have to have a balance and make sure every educational opportunity is equal here.”

Torre, looking to mend rifts, agreed that the board needsd to “take care of, protect, love all of our children.” He called for the board to “do right by Creed because they have been bouncing around all over the place.” And he (hesitantly) compared the school to an “unrecognized child,” one the district needs to attend to along with the rest.
The uniform.
Kimber then intercepted the debate with Malachi Briscoe (pictured), a seventh-grader at Edgewood Magnet School, who was modeling the blue blazer-and-khakis uniform boys would wear at Cofield.

Kimber then swiftly requested two steps moving forward: for the board to adopt his proposal at its next meeting and put out a RFP (request for proposal) to hire a consultant.

These two steps need to happen, Bartlett later stressed, before any other timelines can be put in place for the project.

Bartlett suggested the RFP may be a formality. The RFP would allow the project and the Board of Ed to formalize a relationship with Eagle Academy, he explained after the presentation, outside of the meeting.

The project’s backers have maintained that a new physical building is not in the works for Cofield. While Creed requires capital funds to construct a new building, the Cofield project would be funded by “repurposing” dollars already in operation for students, Bartlett said. Likewise, the charter nature of the school could allow for fundraising and possible state grants to bolster these funds.

Creed Speaks Out

Mayo stressed that the district should consider Creed’s situation in the long view — that the district has built up 40-some schools and is aiming to get Creed done as soon as possible. His words did not mollify those of the Creed community who’d heard Goldson’s comments.

Creed’s principal, Laura Roblee, took to the podium, saying that the school wanted “clarity on our future location in order to inform decision-making and to enhance our recruitment process.” She requested a meeting with the district’s construction committee. The school rents space in North Haven.

Others were less restrained in their responses. Jennifer Sarja, Creed’s lead English teacher, expressed outrage at Goldson’s claim that “our kids are not a priority… and that they never will be.” Another staff member said the meeting had left her feeling “small and insignificant.” A parent claimed the board had failed her.

Goldson, in response, pointed out that he’d spent a year and 29 days on the board. Creed, on the other hand, has been without a permanent building for 20-some years.

“I didn’t say it wasn’t my priority,” he said, claiming that his observations were just that — observations. His message to Creed? Go to the building committee, and ask to be moved up on the priorities list. He promised to back that quest.
Meanwhile, the board’s other student member remained quiet. Jacob Spell (pictured), a junior at Creed, voiced his disappointment only after the meeting. He pointed to the incongruity of creating a new school instead of focusing in on the ones that already exist.

“We all keep doing what we have been doing since becoming part of the Creed family,” Spell said. No matter the circumstances, he added, students need a future with possibility.