Analysis of a New Haven Suburb: Branford, CT

Anabelle Marty and Layla Treuhaft-Ali

Introduction

Branford, Connecticut is a suburb that boasts its proximity to Yale University and New Haven. The town sits directly on the water, and access to the beach is one of its major attractions. Of the total population, 92% is White, 4% is Hispanic/Latino, 4% is Asian, and 2% is African-American; although racial diversity is slowly incrementing, the White population has remained above 90% for the past twenty-five years. Branford’s public school district is significantly more diverse than the broader town, however: 78% of students are White, 8.5% are Hispanic/Latino, 7.7% are Asian, and 3% are African-American (United States Census Data). These statistics may suggest that younger parents of color with children are relocating to Branford, while the White population that already existed in the town may, on average, be of older age and/or have fewer children to care for. The median household income is $71,058, and the median home value is $311,000. While these figures suggest that Branford is fairly wealthy, it is also less elite in comparison to other suburbs of New Haven, including Woodbridge, Orange, and Madison.

While Branford is a desirable suburb, particularly the regions closest to the beach, its school systems, while still relatively excellent, are not as competitive as neighboring school districts. For that reason, families who seek exceptionally rigorous and/or prestigious educations for their children may send them to private schools or choose to live in different school districts. About 10%-30% of families in each neighborhood have one or more children under the age of eighteen, suggesting that the town does not cater as widely to families with children (Socialexplorer.com).

Figure 1: Increasing minority populations in Branford Public Schools, 1998-2013

 

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Housing

Branford has very mixed housing options. There is a significant incentive to buy property: many homes are available for sale. The most expensive homes are luxurious beach homes; one such home, according to its realtor’s description on Zillow.com, “appeals to wise investors” (Zillow.com). The advertisement further emphasizes that residents of such homes may join the private association beaches and repeatedly uses descriptors such as “luxurious” and “gorgeous.” The cheapest home costs $59,900, but the majority of homes are in the mid-$100,000 price range. As Figure 2 demonstrates, 75%-90% of homes closest to the water are valued above the median home value; this suggests that wealth is concentrated in this region of the town. The realtor’s appeal to “wise investors” suggests that in Branford, owning a home with rising property values can be a key to wealth.

Figure 2: A map of available housing in Branford (Zillow.com).

Red dots represent homes available for purchase, purple dots represent homes available to rent, and blue dots represent homes being foreclosed. Note that the large majority of homes available are by the water.
Red dots represent homes available for purchase, purple dots represent homes available to rent, and blue dots represent homes being foreclosed. Note that the large majority of homes available are by the water.

That said, only 68% of Branford residents own their homes. Many residents rent apartments at rates ranging from $1,100 to $1,500; the median monthly rent is $1,217. Compared to the average monthly rent in New Haven ($1,097), the median in Branford suggests that renting is a much more affordable option. Luxury housing and more affordable options are spread out across different parts of the town. This suggests that at least some neighborhoods in Branford (and, by consequence, their public schools) are somewhat accessible to lower-income residents.

Figure 3: The distribution of homes over $300,000 in price in Branford.

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Figure 4: Point Map of Demographic Changes in Branford School District, 1998-2013 (link here).

One Public High School: Branford High School

From its 11 Advanced Placement courses to its School-to-Career System, Branford High School presently serves 1,182 students (Branford High School Website). The appearance of students alongside elderly residents in photographs is a fulfillment of the school’s mission to “prepare students to be…in partnership with the community” (Branford High School Website). Despite being able to afford expensive college-preparatory resources, Branford High School students underperform on state examinations, in comparison to students from neighboring districts (Busemeyer and Kauffman, 2015). Such a disparity in test scores may result in displeased families of high school students who relocate to Branford for, what generally is, a high-performing school district. Review Figure 5 below for further details:

Figure 5: Performance of students in the Branford School District in comparison to students from other districts on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

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School Desirability

The most desirable public school in Branford is the Mary Tisko Elementary School. Out of a total of 10, it is given a rate of 10 on GreatSchools.org (Branford High School is rated 7, Francis Walsh Intermediate School is rated 6, and the other schools are rated 6 or below). However, one parent commented that Tisko was overly celebrated: The first time I spoke to a neighbor about school the comment was ‘Tisko is like a private school.’ I don’t see that. Although it is probably very decent in terms of a public school in New Haven county.” Several factors of this comment are worth noting. First, the parent got his/her information from a neighbor, suggesting that social networks played an important role in the parent’s school choice (Holme, 2002). Second, the parent expressed disappointment that the public school did not resemble a private school. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy notes that affluent White parents tend to see themselves as “consumers” at their public school and try to transform it into a private school (Lewis-McCoy, 2014). Although the race and class background of this parent is not disclosed, it is clear that he/she shared the expectation that suburban public schools would resemble elite private schools. Also, on the Walsh School page, student complaints include phrases such as “all of Branford schools is a joke and I left it for private school for a better future.” While such complaints are not to be taken very seriously, it is interesting that several commenters assume that private school is a viable alternative for readers considering Walsh. This may indicate that a significant number of families do choose to opt out of the Branford Public Schools and send their children to private school after elementary school.

Proximity to The Water: Branford’s Food Culture

Branford celebrates its wealth and its physical proximity to the shoreline through its collection of upscale seafood restaurants. Customers’ reactions, such as “hearty, buttery, not soggy, perfectly grilled bun and CHOCK FULL of delicious lobster — with a squeeze of lemon = perfection” and “best sushi we’ve had on shoreline,” capture Branford’s commitment to satisfying the desires of consumers through its array of delectable seafood options (Yelp.com). The slight rise in the racial minority population since the 1990s and the influx of visitors has been reflected in the surge of diverse ethnic restaurants (United States Census Bureau). A consumer at Le Petit Cafe shares that “this is a true hidden gem…every dish is cooked to perfection with a beautiful presentation” and another at Jojoto — a Venezuelan restaurant — expresses that the owner “has blended his passion for food and entertainment” (Yelp.com). Branford’s train station serves as a convenient transportation method for outsiders to visit and experience all that the town offers (Zillow.com). The fact that the town has largely sit-down restuarants, with fairly few fast food or chain options, as well as the “white furniture…green glowing lights” and the luxurious atmosphere in several restaurants, underscore the financially wealthy population Branford seeks to attract (Yelp.com).  

Protecting The Water’s Reputation: Branford’s Latest News

A recent New Haven Register article discloses the controversy surrounding the racially charged name of a specific section of the Long Island Sound (The Associated Press, 2016). Referred to as “Negro Heads,” state senator Ted Kennedy Jr. encourages Branford High School students to propose alternative names. The participation of high school students regarding “Negro Heads” paints their present and future impact on reshaping what has historically been a white, homogenous suburb. Moreover, dissociating “Negro Heads” from the Long Island Sound is representative of Branford residents’ overprotection of the image of The Water, which sits in the backyard of many.      

Concluding Thoughts

Because of its unique location along the shoreline and its welcoming invitation to outsiders, Branford appeals to many individuals and families. Despite the physical features that distinguish it from neighboring towns, the lower performance of a number of Branford students’ on state exams is not immediately obvious to the eye. After navigating a wealth of sites and exploring diverse aspects of Branford, we are left with the following question: due to the overwhelming number of older individuals in Branford, to what extent is the town desirable for younger families, particularly those with school-aged children?

Works Cited

  1. Branford High School (2016). Retrieved from http://www.branfordhigh.org/.  
  2. Busemeyer, Stephen and Matthew Kauffman. “How Did Your School Do On the Connecticut SBAC?” Hartford Courant. Tribune Publishing, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. 
  3. Holme, Jennifer Jellison. “Buying Homes, Buying Schools: School Choice and the Social Construction of School Quality.” Harvard Educational Review 72.2 (2002): 177-206.
  4. Lewis-McCoy, R. L’Heureux. Inequality in the Promised Land: Race, Resources, and Suburban Schooling. Print.
  5. “Quickfacts: Branford town, New Haven County, Connecticut.” U.S. Census Data. Retrived from http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/0900907310,00.
  6. The Associated Press. “Branford Schools Launch Essay Contest to Rename Buoy.” New Haven Register, 20 Feb. 2016. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. Retrieved from http://www.nhregister.com/general-news/20160220/branford-schools-launch-essay-contest-to-rename-buoy.
  7. United States Census Bureau
  8. Websites: GreatSchools.org, Maps.google.com, SocialExplorer.com, Yelp.com, Zillow.com