Dalio blamed loss of superintendent, lack of Norwalk schools’ vision, in pulling $1.1M grant’s second half

A chart outlines the plan of action
A chart in a Norwalk Public Schools mid-year update for the Dalio Foundation outlines the plan of action to deal with less than desired results achieved in Norwalk’s literacy program.

NORWALK, Conn. – The “change in district leadership and the lack of an aligned vision and strategy” at Norwalk Public Schools were the reasons cited by the Dalio Foundation in May when it declared that it was pulling its funding for Norwalk’s curriculum and instruction site directors.

Dalio had committed to spending $1.1 million over two years to support the curriculum and instruction site directors (CISD), a position created by former Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera to replace the assistant principal positions, but pulled out after one year. The email that explained why and the “mid-year update” analysis that precipitated the decision were obtained Tuesday by NancyOnNorwalk through a Freedom of Information request.

Dalio’s grant funded half of Norwalk’s 12 CISDs, one at each elementary school. There is funding at this point for seven CISDs this year, Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said two weeks ago. Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams said Tuesday that more information about how the CISDs will divide their time is imminent.

BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said in June that the grant was lost because some school principals did not follow Rivera’s instructions on using CISDs, but the foundation also cited Rivera’s departure as one of the reasons for the reversal.

Dalio informed NPS of its decision on May 12 with an email from Andrew Ferguson:

“I am writing to inform Norwalk Public Schools the Dalio Foundation will not be extending its support for the Curriculum and Instruction Site Directors (CISDs) at Brookside, Jefferson, Kendall, Marvin, and Tracey beyond the 2014-15 academic year. Quite simply, the change in district leadership and the lack of an aligned vision and strategy require a new approach for the Foundation. When new district leadership is confirmed, we are hopeful district and school leaders will revisit the data from this year to learn from the successes and challenges in implementing the Common Core and aligned assessments in the five Title I elementary schools.

“Notwithstanding this decision, the Foundation’s interest in collaborating with all stakeholders to make a meaningful difference in the lives of Norwalk’s children remains as strong as ever. We will continue to support programs and leaders committed to closing achievement and opportunity gaps in the Norwalk community. For example, we are exploring ways to significantly increase opportunities for teachers to partner with the Fund For Teachers to pursue self-designed professional learning expeditions. We are always eager to find new ways to support Norwalk’s students and teachers.”

Dalio letter

The mid-year update to the Dalio Foundation is dated Feb. 27. Then-Norwalk interim Superintendent of Schools James Connelly, in the report’s executive summary, states that the mid-year assessments at Brookside, Jefferson, Kendall, Marvin and Tracey elementary schools show that students are “not achieving the desired level of success in reaching benchmark on the assessment of early literacy skills. … In general, a higher percentage of White students are reaching benchmark than are Black or Hispanic students. A higher percentage of Black students are reaching benchmark than Hispanic students.”

Former Norwalk interim Superintendent of Schools James Connelly.
Former Norwalk interim Superintendent of Schools James Connelly.

Connelly states that progress has been made but challenges remain, providing the following list:

  • We are in the process of ensuring a clear, consistent understanding of SRBI (Scientific Research-Based Interventions) across the district with outside assistance, via a uniform protocol.
  • Inconsistency exists in provision of differentiated Instruction and tiered interventions across schools.
  • Consistency in management of intervention, including a reported lack of staff. Schools do not have adequate support such as reading specialists or reading tutors/Interventionists.
  • CISDs came to District with a variety of skill sets, levels and experience.
  • CISDs are offering support for reported gaps in teacher knowledge of reading Instruction and intervention.
  • The need for additional training on the use of mClass (assessments), for staff and CISDs, including use of progress monitoring, retraining, and calibrating of users for reliability.
  • Currently addressing inconsistencies in the development and implementation of Individual Reading Plans for substantially deficient students, through professional development and with the assistance of SERC (State Education Resource Center).

Connelly makes reference to a challenge in changing teachers’ beliefs and about reading instruction in the first year of a new reading program.

The CISDs need additional professional development, Connelly states. That would include Literacy How PD two full days a month, with “data team”-like meetings to develop instructional strategies and student intervention plans, Connelly states. The CISDs were also slated to get professional development in the Journeys curriculum. A week-long boot camp is possible, he states.

The mid-year data shows that “students are not currently enjoying the level of achievement and movement towards benchmark goals on measures of early literacy that are necessary to meet Common Core State Standards,” Connelly states. “… additional work needs to take place, as far too many students are performing below benchmark.”

“In addition to the recommendations listed in the Executive  Summary, the District will undertake a mid­year review to focus on the duties and fidelity of the original intention for CISD positions,” Connelly states. “This is necessary to make sure the ‘action items’ listed can be successfully implemented.  After a completed review, a meeting with Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, Central Office staff, Principals and CISDs will take place to collaboratively look at how to meet best meet the needs of our schools.”

Excerpts of the mid-year update:

NPS Dalio report exec summary

Financial report for Dalio

CISD Dalio management plan

K-5 literacy assessment explanations

at risk student report


25 responses to “Dalio blamed loss of superintendent, lack of Norwalk schools’ vision, in pulling $1.1M grant’s second half”

  1. MarjorieM

    Thank you, Nancy on Norwalk for obtaining this information. I believe it confirms what I have been saying.

  2. Notaffiliated

    What percentage of students are here illegally? It’s no wonder literacy rates lag when English is not only a second language but a brand new one at that. Do we believe that the teachers in Norwalk are not as good as Westport?

  3. Sue Haynie

    Kudo’s to the Nancy on Norwalk team.

    There’s hope given the hiring of Dr. Adamowski. The Dalio Foundation says their commitment remains strong and they will ‘support LEADERS committed to closing the achievement and opportunity gaps’ in Norwalk.

    There’s concern given that Interim Connelly’s report refers to ‘inconsistency’ a lot. Inconsistency is a problem in NPS, documented in several 3rd party reports. Inconsistency hurts children.

    What’s been consistent in NPS for nearly a decade?

    Mr. Mellion, the NFT President, Mr. Ditrio, the NASA President and the newly retired Deputy Superintendent Dadonna, three men who held the reins during the Interim after Rivera left.

    This trifecta of ‘LEADERS’ has a history of undermining initiatives, grants and Superintendents through a mixture of gate-keeping, obstruction, delay, sometimes just a wink and a nod, and so on….

    Hopefully there will be more retirements forthcoming, Norwalk needs new leaders.

  4. Oldtimer

    Hopefully, Dalio’s action will send a strong message to the people who have been responsible for the “inconsistencies”.

  5. NPS teacher

    Thank you for this article. As a teacher in NPS I find it frustrating that the funding for the CISD was pulled but I see how principals were not using them effectively. Many were pulled in different directions when their focus should have been on aiding in small group instruction for those at risk students using the progress monitoring activities offered in mclass. I participated In the wonderful workshops put on by the group Literacy How. Site directors were also in attendance. Many of the strategies we learned should have been brought to the teachers during PD and implemented with the aide of the site directors, but I’m sure many of them felt pulled in so many different directions that the valuable strategies we learned there were not shared. The lack of movement for Hispanics is frustrating as well. There needs to be much more money put into ESL and finding more teachers to come into the classrooms to aid teachers who have students known as “newcomers” who don’t speak English. How are these children expected to do well on common core when they don’t even speak the language? We need very competent people to aid our teachers who work hard to teach, manage, nurture- and then have to test our children- every day.

  6. MarjorieM

    I am wondering about all those RedApples who told us that Rivera walked on water. It appears to me that “vision” was his responsibility. Remaining in Norwalk was also promised by him. Did you read the first paragraph?

    “NORWALK, Conn. – The “change in district leadership and the lack of an aligned vision and strategy” at Norwalk Public Schools were the reasons cited by the Dalio Foundation in May when it declared that it was pulling its funding for Norwalk’s curriculum and instruction site directors.”

    Of interest is the fact that New London now claims Rivera got Dalio Foundation money for them.

    Mike Lyons, you have written that it was the principals’ fault for not following directions given by Rivera. As I have heard from many sources, Rivera kept the deputy out of the loop and put Ralph Valencizi in charge. Ralph is in charge of “partnerships,” when all is said and done. (Are there any partnerships that he is in charge of now?)

    What spin we are hearing now from Apples. If there were inconsistencies early on, where was Rivera? Where was his highly paid Ralph?

  7. kate johnson

    Sue – your comments are so “right on”. Let’s hope that we see some leaders who are really interested in our students and not their own political gain.

  8. MarjorieM

    Perhaps I should point out that, very early on, I wrote (on this online media) to Mike Lyons, stating that the CISDs were being used as assistant principals and that simply going”poof” assistant principals are now curriculum specialists, was not a good idea. I stated that when there was no more money, we would lose them. Not a good way to balance a budget! I was told not to be so negative and I was ridiculed by Apples. I am not saying I am right all the time, but I am right about that and the mess Rivera left us in.

  9. Lisa Thomson

    Marj – Guess it’s all about interpretation. I see the key word in the Dalio reasoning as ‘aligned’ since the vision and strategy pieces were there and shared with the community. Rivera just couldn’t get the ‘alignment’ needed by various key players in NPS – for a whole host of reasons and individuals – some of which are public, some not.

    I was disappointed that Rivera left – especially mid year as it allowed more ‘interim’ behavior to continue and run out valuable central office administration. He should have stayed – I wish Rudl and Ruby had stayed but people get hired to do a job – not be martyrs to an entrenched administrative culture of resistance.

    Given it’s been recently reported that the Dalio Foundation is handing over some cash to New London, it would suggest that their problem wasn’t with Rivera, but rather with NPS.

    That is why I am hopeful that Dr. Adamowski’s reputation as a no-nonsense guy, will yield a firmer stance with historically delinquent and insubordinate behavior than the approach taken by his recent predecessors. If he fails – then the next likely step would be a state takeover. What’s that saying… ‘Three strikes…”

  10. MarjorieM

    Lisa, I heard that Adamowski is working closely with Melion. Rivera also worked closely with Melion. Could there be a flaw in your interpretation of what is “wrong” about Norwalk? BTW, every district knows that they don’t “invite” the State Dept. in. It is naive to think there will be positive results. Everything gets audited. Auditors’ findings can cost plenty. I am betting on expenditures from major grants were not exactly kosher, judging from the way Title 1 was being used to fund After the Bell. Be careful what you wish for!

  11. jason white

    So when i asked who was ultimately responsible for administering the grant, i got a runaround answer. When I read the email i only see 2 people it was addressed to; the interim superintendent and ralph v. so i guess i have my answer. The only person who has their fingerprints all over this is ralph.

    Please everyone, stop blaming the deputy super.

    Marj…i may not always agree with your delivery but your information has been spot on

  12. MarjorieM

    Thank you, Jason White. Further proof: Ralph was invited to every Dalio Foundation meeting, and he (Ralph) wrote the mid-year report. The deputy superintendent was not invited to any of the meetings with Dalio and therefore was not present. If you look at the mid-year report closely, and look at the final test results, you would think we are talking about two different districts. Scores were gathered sporadically and there were inconsistencies. Someone had no idea what he was doing. Principals should not be blamed for this one. By the end of the year, goals were met. Once again, someone did not know what he was doing.

  13. MarjorieM

    Also, there should be an independent report that was done at the end of the year. When will that be revealed? Why have these reports been kept from us? Mike?

  14. Joanna Cooper

    Literacy for all should not be a politically charged issue that serves to divide us but rather a shared common goal that unites us. I believe lack of literacy for all students is a systemic issue with plenty of reasons for its cause that have nothing to do with Rivera, any one person, group or entity. Success in teaching literacy to all children is the biggest challenge in American education today across the USA. If we care about our children’s future we are ALL going to have to help to do our part to assure literacy and access to the common core curriculum for each and every student.

    The lesson here is that it takes a village folks and every one of us has a civic responsibility to assure literacy for every student. Students, parents, teachers, administrators, Unions, BoE’s, higher education institutions, community leaders, politicians and corporations all have a stake in helping students become literate productive citizens.

    After reading the documents attached to this article it seems obvious to me that the Dalio Foundation pulled the grant due to lack of leadership in the form of a permanent superintendent. Also, problematic was the number of inconsistancies in its implementation. What is important is that we have another chance to get these type of grants again with stable leadership. The Dalio Foundation is willing to continue to offer support to our students when stable permanent effective leadership is in place. We have a new highly qualified superintendent building a new team and working to improve and stabilize our school system. There is hope. I’m thankful for private corporations like the Dalio Family Foundation that offer support. We are going to need all the help we can get and we need to work together to accomplish the goal of bridging the achievement gap for all.

  15. J Corbett

    A district should also be careful with how grant funds are used – it can be very risky to use grant funds (i.e. that have the possibility of ending, being pulled, or not renewed) from the feds, the state or a private foundation for full-time positions. The district is then on the hook for FTE and firing staff if the money goes away. Grant funds should be used to supplement the general operating expenses of a school. Supplement vs. supplant is a big issue in education, and appears to have occurred with the Dalio grant.

  16. jason white

    Joanna..although I agree with some of what you said, the grant was pulled. Someone needs to be accountable for its loss.

    A program will only work when there is one person in charge who will assure that the requirements of it are being followed, etc.

    I’m grateful that we may get a second shot, but if there isn’t some time put into looking why it failed the first time, history will surely repeat itself.

    Unfortunately, it appears that nobody on the BOE is willing to find out what happened. Instead, everybody is pointing fingers at people who, at least by who was sent the email, were not involved in the administering of the grant.

    This was a horrible loss for nps, and it cannot happen again. The world of “grants” is a small community, and once these foundations find out that we are not following the requirements, they will move on to other systems and find a district that will.

  17. Norwalkparent

    J. Corbett is right, grant funding should be used with care. These funds are not guaranteed and as anyone with a modicum of experience with grants knows it’s all about trust and the relationship between the grantor and grantee. If the people who initially establish the relationship move on and a concerted effort is not made to rebuild the relationship with personal contact, following the guidelines of the grant contract to the letter and showing results they will move on.

    At the end of the day blame can be placed on everyone from the principals who were misusing their Dalio-funded CISDs to the CISDs who didn’t take these issues to the next level to everyone on the BOE who are ultimately responsible for our schools. Hopefully lesson learned and we move forward correcting our mistakes. If we don’t stop the finger-pointing and school yard style blaming and get to work cooperatively there will be no grantors willing to work with NPS.

  18. MarjorieM

    Interesting that Mike Lyons has nothing to say.

  19. Jason, I’m having trouble following your logic. First you say “if there isn’t some time put into looking why it failed the first time, history will surely repeat itself.” Then “it appears that nobody on the BOE is willing to find out what happened.”

    Then, when people point out their views of what happened, you (having pointed your finger at Ralph Valenzisi as the person allegedly responsible), say “Unfortunately … everybody is pointing fingers at people”.

    So is finger-pointing by Jason White OK, but not by anyone else?

  20. Another comment — did some of the commenters fail to read the NON article above? Mr. Connelly in fact did a very thorough review of this situation and provided a detailed report on what he believed went wrong, and how to correct it. That report was requested of him by the BoE (directly contrary to Jason’s assertion that “nobody on the BOE is willing to find out what happened”). Dr. Adamowski is strenuously working to retain as many CISD positions as possible, while returning them to the purposes the positions were created for in the first place. Part of his plan is to make sure that CISDs are evaluated jointly by the Literacy Director at CO along with the principals, directly addressing the issues of inconsistency and mis-use of the CISDs by some principals that Mr. Connelly noted in his report.

  21. MarjorieM

    And most interesting, Mike, it appears that everyone is protecting Ralph, when he is the one on the e-mails, he is the one who wrote the mid-year report, he is the one who was consistently at the meetings with and about Dalio Foundation grant, he is the one who is Chief of Partnerships., he was the one put in charge by Rivera. Could it be that principals were poorly informed about the use of the grant positions? The job description included some very sketchy information, including something about principals utilizing these people as needed. But let’s stick to Ralph for now. Why is he being protected so fiercely?

  22. jason white

    Marj..my children’s teacher said the same thing to my wife in the grocery store this am. She is upset about the principals being thrown under the bus over it.

    This comment was edited for language.

  23. jason white

    Sorry….didn’t realize that the word i used would be flagged

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Jason

      Borderline, I admit. We allow it when used in past tense combined with “off,” which really just conjures up anger, but not, due to the imagery, as an active verb or adverb describing a rather crass contest involving distance and power… 🙂

  24. jason white

    Thanks for the laugh and i understand

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