From Tastie Fish

Op-ed: Dr. Carol Birks arrives in New Haven with much to prove

From Tastie Fish

Roughly four months ago I was in a meeting with a high ranking city official in the upper levels of City Hall, and he blasted me for not covering the Carol Birks story, he was so upset that Tastie Fish had not covered Mayor Harp’s controversial appointment of Carol Birks.

He questioned my journalistic integrity, denigrated this magazine,  the situation was a amazing.

The 10 minute rant was pompus, arrogant, and rude.

But I decided to have a look anyway.

I attempted to interview Birks shortly thereafter, and she turned down numerous requests through an assistant.

Dr. Birks was on the board of an Achievement First school in Hartford, and a dual graduate of Columbia University.

She spent time as an assistant superintendent in Hartford, and most recently served as the chief of staff.

Dr. Birks is a decorated educator, her resume is spotless.

Toni Harp’s repudiated decision sent shock waves through the city, and touched off a political firestorm that culminated in one of the most chaotic confirmation hearings the Elm City has ever seen.

Earlier this morning I had the opportuntiy to accompany the new Superintendent as she toured Wilbur Cross High school in East Rock.

From Tastie Fish

Dr. Birks was warm, open, and answered several of my questions over the course of the morning.

She was impressive, there is little doubt that she is prepared to do this job, and to do it at a high level.

She even told a student that her ultimate goal was “to make New Haven the highest performing district in the nation”.

The media gathering was interesting considering the fact that Birks had yet to meet with the media officially, ever since the spectacle that was her appointment, even after the majority of print publications had personally asked to speak with her.

At first glance, Dr. Birks promoted an image of stability, and optimism, despite the uproar surrounding her hiring, Dr. Birks took an extremely positive approach to her first day on the job, and sparkled at Wilbur Cross Monday morning.

Dr. Carol Birks seems excited to be in New Haven.

Birks met with students, teachers, and took a good 10 minutes to meet the press corps,  answering some tough inquiries.

Dr. Birks does have some serious questions hanging over her as she assumes the big seat.

The biggest question is her presumed lack of communication with the teachers, the parents, and the kids.

A question this writer asked her about.

New Haven Residents were already up in arms about the total lack of discussion prior to Dr. Birks being appointed by Toni Harp, the fact that Birks did respond to numerous requests to meet with educators and community leaders did not sit very well either, and still does not.

Especially if you consider the lack of communication when she was voted into the position, the entire process has been viewed as less than democratic.

A working government requires discussion between the elected, and the citizens, and the city of New Haven failed miserably in regards to Dr. Carol Birks.

Birks ties to Achievement First is also a problem for more people than most realize.

An esteemed New Haven resident shared the following sentiment with Tastie Fish this afternoon

“Knowing people who work for / have worked for Achievememt First schools gives me cause for concern. Birks is reported to heavily focus on testing and “data”…. but I see how schools like AF manipulate the sh/t out of data and testing to make themselves look like they’re performing far better than they really are”.

Carol Birks will never be able to outrun her ties to Achievement First, but that does not mean she has to be defined by them, when questioned about the issue she made it very clear to the reporters in attendance that her connection to the charter school giant will not prevent her from doing an effecitve job.

She will be expected to walk the walk on that particular concern.

There is also questions about Dr. Birk’s employment record, files that have yet to be released to New Haven residents despite a FOIA request from our friends at the New Haven Independent.

It seems to me Dr. Birks is being held accountable for the dysfuctional manner in which she was appointed, not to mention her $235,000 per a year package, which makes her the highest paid public servant in the city.

Dr Birks has not helped matters with her lack of transparency, both with the media and New Haven residents, if she hopes to clear up this cloud of uncertainty, she will have to engage the citizens directly.

That is the only way she will truly gain public trust.

We want to hear from her, we want to converse with her, and more than anything, we want to be sure she is willing to listen.

Another New Haven resident told me the following after being informed this article was going to be published

“As a resident of New Haven I hope she actually does well. My concerns are that there are political games afoot that don’t put the kids first”.

Could not have said it better myself.



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