NORWALK, Conn. – Michael Conner, Ed. D., could be secretary of education one day, Norwalk Board of Education member Artie Kassimis said Tuesday.
“At age 37 he will be the youngest superintendent in Connecticut,” Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said of Conner, who is leaving his post as Norwalk Public Schools Chief Academic Officer to take on what Adamowski and others called a great opportunity.
Board members piled praise on Conner as he sat in the audience at their Board meeting, also taking time to thank Adamowski for hiring Conner in August 2015. BoE Chairman Mike Lyons promised to “poach” Conner back from Middletown Public Schools in three years.
Conner will replace Middletown Superintendent Patricia Charles, who is retiring in November.
“We wish the Middletown Board of Education had not done a search in September… A little bit of Norwalk will go with him,” Adamowski said, calling the moment bittersweet and pointing out that Middletown is half Norwalk’s size but “remarkably similar” demographically.
“He is leaving behind some great infrastructure, great people,” said Kassimis, chairman of the Curriculum Committee. “He has done a lot of work in the season that he’s been here. He is leaving a legacy and I think if anything it’s what you can leave behind is yourself. He has given of himself. He is here early, he leaves late and he cared about Norwalk. … I believe he was never looking for the next gig. He gave it all while he was here; yes, the season is over and he is moving on. I have learned a lot of new words while working with him.”
He thanked Adamowski, saying, “He really knows how to find good talent.”
“When Dr. Adamowski began filling out our staff positions, he said, ‘You know, a lot of what I want to do here is I want to select people for the positions as chief who are ready to serve as superintendent of schools,’” Lyons said. “We didn’t think Superintendent of Middletown, but that is the kind of quality people that Dr. Adamowski has brought in here and when you have quality people like that other people notice, and sometimes they find opportunities that you just can’t turn down.”
Conner is credited as being a major factor in NPS reducing the achievement gap by one-third, and Lyons told him that he did a terrific job here.
“You have left… a really nice legacy of progress that we have made. It is not going to stop when you leave because you have left momentum to those changes behind you. I don’t know, three years from now, maybe we will poach you back from Middletown,” Lyons said.
Adamowski’s contract expires at the end of this school year but he can request a three year extension.
Mayor Harry Rilling, as part of the public accolade session, thanked Conner for the “remarkable talent” that he brought to Norwalk, and then joked, “I have good news for the Board, I have Chief Kulhawik outside waiting to take Dr. Conner into custody so he can’t leave.”
Board member Yvel Crevecoeur said he had been unable to speak on the topic of Conner’s departure at the Curriculum Committee meeting that preceded the full Board meeting.
“I am sad and disappointed. That being said, I am even more encouraged that we had the opportunity to interact with you and you were here for the students,” Crevecoeur said.
“When I think of you, I think of the two words you were presenting all the time, ‘rigor’ and ‘relevance,’ and amazing scores,” Crevecoeur said. “In today’s society, we focus on outcomes in terms of the scores. Education is also about developing the person. I am encouraged for you no matter where you go and the next steps in your life because your focus is also on relationships. So, for me that’s the third ‘R.’ You can’t improve rigor, you can’t improve that relevance connection unless you build relationships with individuals. In your short tenure here you have made that impression on myself to the point where it’s very difficult for me to accept that you are leaving, but I am extremely happy for you.”
Lyons said after the meeting that he was serious about poaching Conner back from Middletown.
Conner will make $190,000 a year as Middletown Superintendent, Lyons said after the meeting. Conner made $171,374.95 here in 2016; a move that would have increased his salary to $189,000 a year was put on hold during the meeting due to state budget uncertainty.
The Board found out two days ago that Conner was likely to be leaving, Lyons said. As far as replacing Conner, “The one good thing that we have going for us is there are a lot of people with good curricula expertise out there,” he said, as opposed to trying to fill the slot for a Special Education department leader.
But, “It’s a weird time for a change like this,” he said.
Most superintendents give their school districts months worth of notice when they retire, he said. Administrators like to start looking for a new position in February, March and April, figuring that they’ll finish the school year where they are and leave for a new district during the summer break, he said.
“Going out to do that in October is weird,” he said. “I don’t know what we are going to do. We may have to appoint an internal person to be an interim while we do a search.”