Lyons defends Rivera, Norwalk superintendent search process

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera, left, and Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons congratulate a student at a 2013 BoE meeting, in this NancyOnNorwalk file photo.

NORWALK, Conn. – There’s some serious “spin” revolving around Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera’s resignation, BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said Saturday.

Lyons, in responding to comments from a NancyOnNorwalk reader, said the transparency of Norwalk’s upcoming superintendent search will be up to the entire Board of Education.

Also, Rivera did more in his 18 months than Sal Corda did in his years as superintendent, Lyons said.

Rivera’s resignation is effective Jan. 31. An RFP (Request for Proposals) is on the agenda for Tuesday’s BoE meeting.

Lyons said the search that netted Rivera in 2013 cost the board $22,250.

“The contract fees were $17,500; expenses were another $4,750,” Lyons wrote. “… To put this in perspective, if we spent the same amount now it would be .00013 (about 1/100th of 1%) of our $166.4 million budget.”

It was the comments from the NoN reader in an off-website digital conversation that drew a hot reaction from Lyons.

“I think Manny, in the end, has done more harm than good. He was in the right track to make real progress but he bailed and in just over a year,” the reader said.  “…I had serious doubts from the jump from the exclusionary process, but he looked like he dove right in to get a handle on the whole system and he did, but he bailed. I personally think we are owed some compensation back, like the housing allowance and bonus which he took.”

Rivera is leaving the district “arguably in more turmoil than when he accepted his position,” the reader said.

“Compared to what?” Lyons asked. “The constant budget turmoils under Marks?  The non-stop ‘Steve vs. Sue’ battles at every board meeting?  The shouting matches between Jack Chiaramonte and John Mosby at many meetings?  I’m not sure an ‘idyllic past’ ever existed here.”

More harm than good?

“That’s ridiculous,” Lyons wrote. “Look at our budgets, strategic plan, Common Core, K-5 Literacy Plan, P-Tech Academy, WiFi in all schools, 5,000 Chromebooks in use, SBAC testing implemented, administrator / teacher evaluation plan implemented, Pre-K programs (e.g., Roosevelt Center for Pre-K SPED), improved union contract negotiations – the list goes on.”

Corda was chosen in a transparent process, Lyons said.

“Did that make for success?  You can argue for or against confidentiality in the search process, but it had zero impact either way on the success or not of past Norwalk superintendents,” Lyons said.

The “spin campaign” is “designed to deflect responsibility for what’s happened away from those actually responsible,” Lyons said.

“The campaign has tried: ‘it’s purely personal, it has nothing to do with certain board members’; ‘Manny was a bad choice from the beginning’; even the weird ‘Manny was micromanaged by Mike Lyons’.  Now we get ‘this is because of the secrecy of the selection process’?  Please; talk about grasping at straws,” Lyons wrote.

Rivera, in an interview with NoN, said that his primary reasons for resigning are “deeply personal” but also said his secondary reasons included the fractious BoE and a Board of Education that does not understand its role. Rivera specifically said he wouldn’t use the term “micromanaging” in reference to Board members, but said, “You don’t run for the board if you want to tell us how to do scheduling, how to do curriculum – it’s not their job.”

“Regarding this search, since I see no evidence at all that ‘transparency’ improves the process,” Lyons wrote. “I see no reason to change anything, but that decision will be up to the full Board, as it was the last time.”


15 responses to “Lyons defends Rivera, Norwalk superintendent search process”

  1. Piberman

    Anyone who has carefully observed the operations of Norwalk’s BOE over the past 4 decades would consider Mike Lyons its most effective and forthright Chairman who brought professionalism to the position. Including its first truly professional search. Moreover, he responds to critics with unusual aplomb. And Norwalk has many critics of its public school system who are never hesitant to express criticism. Those who have carefully followed BOE activities can fully appreciate the extraordinary contributions by made this most unusual “public servant” who continues to demonstrate dedication and energies towards improving our public school system. In short Mike Lyons is a true role model and the most effective and competent public servant Norwalk has seen in many decades. Critics would do well to attend BOE meetings, read minutes and watch the videos of BOE meetings. Even Mayor Rilling would do well to attend BOE meetings and observe the abilities of this remarkable individual who has earned the high respect of so many of his fellow citizens. Including the long hostile Norwalk Federation of Teachers.

  2. MarjorieM

    ….and this is serious spin by Mike Lyons. The system is a mess. The sustainability financially of those Rivera put in central office as well as the Assistant Principals is a real problem. I will not repeat myself over and over here, but time will tell who is spinning. No further comments.

  3. Taxpayer Fatigue

    Mike Lyons is doing a terrific job under very tough circumstances and not just because of issues on the BOE, but from an entrenched administration and unions who seek to preserve their own interests above improving our school system with its poor test scores. It is probably just as well that Dr. Rivera is moving on. It is one thing to have great ideas and plans, it is another to have the fortitude to make the tough decisions, including necessary personnel changes, to implement them. Hopefuly, the next superintendent will move quickly to clean house and be able to just ignore the noise.

  4. Bill

    Marjorie, no further comments would be great because no one agrees with you.

  5. independent voice

    Perhaps Mr. Lyons need not look no further. Why can’t he be the next superintendent? Surely he has the wherewith all and talents to advance the school system.

  6. WOW just WOW

    independent voice
    I don’t know if Mr. Lyons has the background to be the superintendent as I think his area of expertise is the law and not education. However he would make a GREAT Mayor.
    FYI and I am a Democrat.

  7. John Hamlin

    Mike Lyons is doing a great job under heinous circumstances. It’s a war zone on the BOE and he’s handling it well. He deserves our gratitude. We need to make sure we elect a board that can continue the direction this board has been pursuing.

  8. Vigilant

    Mr. Lyons Lyons brings good leadership skills to his position and Dr. Rivera has made significant contributions during his time here. But, in the interests of transparency, confused about why superintendent!’s supposed recent marriage to someone in New London hasn’t been disclosed as at least one of the factors influencing his departure. If true, the omission contributes to yet more unhealthy speculation about why those in the know haven’t told the whole story.. Messy all around.

  9. MarjorieM

    Rivera married someone in New London? Why wouldn’t he say that? So that’s the main reason he is leaving. Why cause the total war against three Board members? Really nasty! All he had to say was he was leaving because he got married.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ ALL

      Manny Rivera’s “deeply personal” reasons go way beyond a marriage. We spoke at length with Rivera, on and off the record. As for three board members, he did not cause the problem, and spin and speculation throughout the community have managed to all but obscured the myriad reasons, and people, who share the blame. Perhaps we will find out more after all is said and done.

  10. Oldtimer

    “supposed recent marriage to someone in New London” ? Now that would be a strictly personal reason for moving to New London that has nothing to do with a few difficult people on the BOE. Sometimes, strictly personal means just that.

  11. LWitherspoon

    Yet again Marjorie contradicts herself in the same thread, promising “no further comments” in her first comment before proceeding to comment a second time.

    I’m still waiting for Marjorie’s answer to why she started another thread by stating that she wasn’t assuming anything, didn’t know PTO racial makeup, and simply wanted to know. Then she contradicted herself and declared that PTOs are primarily Caucasian. Why did she do that? I would love for her to explain, so that we may avoid making assumptions.

  12. LWitherspoon


    Rivera stated on the record to NoN that his primary reason for leaving was personal, but difficulties with the BoE may have caused him to think about leaving sooner. He also stated that it was difficult to envision 8-9 more years of those same difficulties.

  13. Steve Colarossi

    Although I was not particularly happy with the work of the search firm, the choice of Manny Rivera was undertaken after careful deliberations. And, for those who have worked with him, Dr. Rivera is known to be a genuinely kind and compassionate educator who understands the challenges which teachers, administrators and parents face. His reorganization plan (unlike the proposal of his predecessor) articulated revised job descriptions, an improved chain of authority and an attention to both the finer details of daily school department operations and the general need to continue to seek a broader vision that will allow Norwalk’s schools to reach all of our students.

    The critiques some anonymous posters have leveled at him have been unfair– it is a noble calling for Manny to be able to return to his hometown to serve the community that provided him not simply an inspiring education but also a support network that helped him to take advantage of the public education offered him (something about which he has made frequent reference).

    It has, however, also been unfair for many with a political ax to grind to use Manny’s resignation to advance their own personal agendas. Whether people have blamed the Mayor, three members of the current BoE, or some oft-cited “triad”, few seem willing to acknowledge that no single cause (or person) is, or could reasonably be expected to be, the sole cause for an individual making a life-changing career move (particularly when New London might not be able to offer him the same level of compensation as Norwalk).

    No one who attributes his departure solely to the change in the BoE’s composition after November’s election has suggested that he would stay if only Ms. Haynie and I had won re-election. Yet, that conclusion would be the natural correlation to those claims (albeit a conclusion that not even my late mother, who was my biggest supporter, would dare to make). However, if we all appreciate that correlation does not equate with causation, then how can the public (and some current Board of Education members) perpetuate the myth that they somehow know that the “personal reasons” for Dr. Rivera’s departure is related to exclusively to this change in BoE membership?

    The loss of Dr. Rivera deserves far greater reflection than the single-cause advocates would have our entire community undertake. His service, and the future needs of our students, certainly deserve better.

    Manny Rivera was the right choice for Norwalk- and he was a choice made after a thorough review of his background and an appreciation that he had the personal and professional qualities Norwalk needed. Although his tenure was short-lived, he did make changes which will hopefully have a lasting impact. As the father of two current NPS students and a child who will be a part of the Norwalk High School graduating class of 2032, I can only hope that future superintendents and Boards of Education will learn from the successes of his tenure and from the factors that might have contributed to the brevity of his stay.

  14. Vigilant

    Unprofessional and disruptive to leave mid year, initially attribute to “deeply personal” reasons, then decide to provide more detail about Norwalk’s problems, disclosing marriage to a select group including those who now play blame game.

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