Melissa Spear, Executive Director

Melissa Spear is Executive Director at Common Ground.

I have served Common Ground as Executive Director for four springs and spring is always a busy time. But this spring really feels different. We are being slammed! I mean that in a very good way — although I have to admit we are all living in a state of (hopefully) controlled chaos at the moment.

What is going on? The demand for Common Ground’s offerings seems to have risen exponentially over the past four years and this year we are really feeling it. The number of field trips we are conducting for K-8 schools continues to grow: we are booked solid this spring. Our after school programs for K-8 are reaching more New Haven children than ever. The demand for the services of our newly launched School Garden Resource Center has exceeded all of our expectations and we are working hard to keep up. We took on an additional 10 students this year at Common Ground High School while putting forth a significant effort to implement the Common Core curriculum, launch several new strategies focused on providing targeted academic support, and significantly grow our after school programming. We also have put significant effort into supporting ongoing advocacy to defend charter school funding promised last in last year’s Education Reform legislation.

Meanwhile we continue to raise funds for our new building, even as we finalize the design and work through the intensive Bureau of School Facilities process for accessing the school construction bond funds we have been granted. This construction project is a whole new program in and of itself, one that requires a significant amount of time and attention. The construction project has also generated a number of other programmatic initiatives: for instance, a major Schoolyard Habitat project that we will be running in partnership with Connecticut Audubon, Urban Resources Initiative, the Peabody Museum, New Haven Parks, and the New Haven Public School District. This grant will ensure that the landscape work we do on our own site, especially in relation to the new construction, will both provide valuable wildlife habitat, and serve as a powerful educational resource. It will also allow us to extend the work our School Garden Resource Center is doing with New Haven Public Schools to include installation and support of educational wildlife gardens. This work is part of a larger initiative that Common Ground is a partner in with Connecticut Audubon, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, URI and others to create wildlife gardens throughout New Haven as part of Audubon’s Urban Oasis program. Look for more on this to be made public soon!

In addition to our programmatic work, we continue to be fully engaged in broader community and policy work focused primarily on food justice and sustainable agriculture, with the New Haven Food Policy Council, the Connecticut Food System Alliance, the Governor’s Council on Agricultural Development, and the Working Lands Alliance. In fact tonight (May 16, 5:30 – 7:30) we are hosting Pizzapalousa – a benefit for Working Lands Alliance – on our site. Please come.

I am not trying to make you tired, but with all of this going on we continue to carry out our normal spring work: growing seedlings and preparing for our May 18th seedling sale, planning for our Common Table event on June 9th, getting ready for graduation on June 21st, getting ready for our big Green Jobs Corps season and summer camp. I am constantly amazed at how much is accomplished around here – kudos again to a passionate and dedicated staff, an amazing cadre of partners, volunteers, students, parents, and even spouses. Yes, I do firmly believe in the cliché “It takes a Village” or maybe it is “It takes New Haven”. I am glad you are a part of it.