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Norwalk Board of Ed names interim superintendent

Norwalk's new interim superintendent of schools, James Connelly.
Norwalk’s new interim superintendent of schools, James Connelly.

Update, 12:46 a.m., Wednesday, full story; 1:14 a.m. resume added

Correction 3:34 p.m. 12/17: The meeting Sherelle Harris attended that caused her to miss part of the executive session was misidentified in the final paragraph. It was the Norwalk Assistants and Supervisors Association.

NORWALK, Conn. – James A. Connelly is Norwalk’s new interim superintendent of schools. He will replace the departing Manny Rivera, whose last day is Jan. 31. Connelly will begin Jan. 19.

Connelly is a graduate of the Teachers College of Columbia University and served from 1982 to 2000 as superintendent and assistant superintendent in Bridgeport.

The appointment was announced Tuesday evening by Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons. The vote, held after an executive session to interview both candidates and discuss the selection, was 6-0, with Shirley Mosby and Sherelle Harris abstaining.  Migdalia Rivas was absent.

Lyons said Connelly has extensive experience serving as interim superintendent, having stepped into the role at Killingly, Putnam, Woodbridge. Montville, Oxford and Naugatuck. He retired before major controversies hit Bridgeport and had nothing to do with them, Lyons said.

Connelly has been everything from a director of pupil services to a special education teacher, Lyons said.

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons explains the decision to hire James A. Connelly as interim superintendent of schools at Tuesday's BoE meeting.
Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons explains the decision to hire James A. Connelly as interim superintendent of schools at Tuesday’s BoE meeting.

Lyons said the Board wanted to publicly thank Rivera and Attorney Tom Mooney for “very quickly providing two absolutely top notch candidates,” but cited confidentiality in keeping the other candidate’s identity secret.

“Every member of the board found the other candidate also fully acceptable as a candidate for interim superintendent of schools,” Lyons said. “Both of the candidates that were brought to us were absolutely outstanding. I would say that they were interestingly different candidates. One was someone I would characterize as a visionary with a tremendous record of experience at innovative management at his school system. Another happens to be the person we have chosen. Mr. Connelly is more of a hands on, get things done type of person.”

Lyons said that for him it was a “very, very close call,” a photo finish on the order of 52-48 percent.

“Part of the reason for the very slight preference on the Board for Mr. Connelly is because of the fact that he has extensive experience as an interim,” Lyons said. “He has gotten comfortable with the idea of going into districts that are in a transitional period, picking up the ball and running with it.”

Connelly understands the need to take the strategic plan developed by Rivera and “keep it moving so we don’t lose momentum,” Lyons said.

After the meeting, Harris said she abstained because she hadn’t been present for the entire executive session in which the candidates were interviewed. She had been at a Norwalk Assistants and Supervisors Association meeting in which an important election was held and made it to the BoE meeting in the middle of the first interview, she said.

 Connelly Resume

Original story: 

Correction, 9:15 p.m.: Sherelle Harris is present at the meeting and abstained.

NORWALK, Conn. – James A. Connelly is Norwalk’s new interim superintendent of schools. He will replace the departing Manny Rivera, whose last day is Jan. 31. Connelly will begin Jan. 19.

Connelly is a graduate of the Teachers College of Columbia University and served  from 1982 to 2000 as superintendent and assistant superintendent in Bridgeport.

The appointment was announced Tuesday evening by Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons. The vote, held after an executive session to interview the two candidates and discuss the selection. The vote was 6-0, with Shirley Mosby and Sherelle Harris abstaining. Migdalia Rivas was absent.

The candidates were recommended by Rivera and Hartford Attorney Tom Mooney, who has worked with the BoE on labor issues.

Lyons said Connelly has extensive experience serving as interim superintendent, having stepped into the role at Killingly, Putnam, Woodbridge. Montville, Oxford and Naugatuck.

A complete story will follow late tonight.

Comments

46 responses to “Norwalk Board of Ed names interim superintendent”

  1. Amanda

    Is Ms. Mosby going to abstain from every vote? This seemed like kind of an important one. Mon dieux.

  2. Yankee Clipper

    Well she messed with the hiring of a search firm for the permanent superintendent hunt … a nice stall tactic!

  3. WOW just WOW

    I guess I now see why they did this in secret..Its called Bridgeport

  4. MarjorieM

    Bridgeport????

  5. Amanda

    Bridgeort 15 yrs ago. Please read. I am hopeful Mr. Lyons and Boe (that voted) made this decision carefully.

    1. @Amanda
      They say it was very close between the two candidates. I will update.

  6. AG

    Why would someone abstain from such an important vote? If she is abstaining from voting, then the people she is representing in her district just got passed over and I’m guessing there are kids and parents in that district…maybe she would like to explain why she abstained?

  7. LWitherspoon

    MarjorieM is right. In fact let’s go a step further. Anyone who has ever heard of Bridgeport should be automatically excluded from Norwalk BoE employment.

  8. WOW just WOW

    LWitherspoon and others
    Before you attempt to make light of the legitimate concerns many have about getting someone from the Bridgeport school system, you may want to check out the facts at this link for 2005. This is just a few years after Connelly left

    http://www.csde.state.ct.us/public/der/ssp/dist0506/dist008.pdf

  9. Kathleen Montgomery

    It’s your duty to vote when you have an opinion about a matter being decided. By failing to vote, you allow others to make the decision, which is the same as having voted for the prevailing side. Whether you vote or not, you’re still in some way responsible for the decision that’s made.

    The abstaining members should explain why they did not vote. If they didn’t believe the candidate was qualified, they should have voted “no”. The logical reason for abstaining is usually because the member has some type of personal outcome in the vote and it is then responsible to abstain. Were they unprepared? I simply cannot think of another reason for abstaining.

    NON, will the abstainers be asked why they did not vote?

  10. @Kathleen
    I did not have the opportunity to ask Ms. Mosby but the explanation given by Ms. Harris is now in the full version of the story

  11. Piberman

    Let’s be positive here and welcome our new Interim Supt. Monday morning quarter backing serves no useful purpose other than to foment dissent.

  12. LW, you and I are usually on the same page, but you shouldn’t write the man off just because he was Superintendent in Bridgeport. Mr. Connelly has also served as interim in small and mid-sized towns and cities, and we received very positive feedback from them. He has managed a nearly 100% minority school system, and nearly 100% non-minority systems. As noted above, the ‘blow ups’ in Bridgeport (e.g., the state take-over and lawsuits) happened years after he retired.

    We all know the issues in Bridgeport, but experience in a tough environment like that can toughen someone who can deal with them. With our own schools being 2/3 minority students, having an interim who has handled a big urban school system should be a plus.

    Mr. Connelly knows that his job is to keep the reforms started by Dr. Rivera moving forward while we line up a new permanent superintendent. We think he has both the experience, and the fortitude, to get that job done.

  13. EveT

    Sherelle Harris had a good reason for abstaining, which I respect. It will be interesting to see if Shirley Mosby offers any reason why she abstained.

  14. NorwalkVoter

    It is my understanding that an abstention is counted as going along with the majority on a vote. It should not be read as a vote in the negative. It is still a good idea to explain your vote. It does not remove you from responsibility for your vote. You can’t say you did not vote yea on the item because you went along with the majority vote. No hiding. Any thoughts on this from parliamentarians?

  15. Farhan Memon

    Mr Lyons —

    You are learning the wrong lesson from Mr. Connelly’s career. Places like Bridgeport don’t “blow-up” overnight. They happen because of policies that were decades in the making finally collapse. Mr. Connelly has to take some responsibility for the mess that Bridgeport is in because a lot of the ground-work was laid on his watch. He did not build a culture of success at Bridgeport. To the contrary he built his career in a culture of failure — and may have even played a central role in perpetuating it.

    I also disagree that with your underlying premise that we need a zookeeper who has been “toughened” by experience in the minority jungle. Rather than someone who has experience in managing the lowered expectations of a community we need someone who will push for excellence — even if he is only here for a few months. Consider when companies bring in interim-CEOs they’re don’t expect profits to drop rather they look for people who are leaders in their own right. Why do we expect that Connelly is going to execute Rivera’s agenda when he was incapable of leading Bridgeport to excellence.

    I would submit to you that the process of selecting an interim super from a bench of retired double-dipping ex-bureaucrats who are parachuted from the outside is in itself problematic. (Remember these retirees are required by state law to take only 45% of the fulltime salary but in practice work 5 months so they can collect full compensation)

    It would have been preferable to appoint one of Norwalk’s own senior principals or administrators in the interim position rather than to select this individual.

  16. Educator

    Ms. Harris does not get a pass for abstaining. Her explanation is that she attended another meeting. Does she not understand her role as a Board of Education member? Selecting a Superintendent (and interim) is their number one priority.

    If I am not mistaken, she frequently abstains from votes. Didn’t she abstain from the vote for the Special Ed director?

  17. LWitherspoon

    @Mike Lyons

    My comment was sarcasm in response to MarjorieM, whose tone and comments often remind me of Chicken Little.

    It seems that Norwalkers of all political persuasions overuse Bridgeport for fear-mongering purposes. I suppose it’s far easier to say “Bridgeport” than to make a cogent and well-supported argument, as Farhan Mehmon does above. Still, I have doubts that we’re better off with an insider, as Mr. Mehmon seems to believe. Particularly when there seems to be so much concern about little fiefdoms and internal roadblocks to reform.

  18. THE TRUTH

    LWitherspoon

    It is beyond me how anyone could dismiss Mr Connelly as the head of Bridgeport s school system. Bridgeport is considered one of the worst school systems in Ct.

    Farhan Memon

    Well said

  19. John Hamlin

    This is an interim superintendent — let’s get behind him and the BOE and keep things moving in the right direction. The meat of the matter will be in choosing the replacement superintendent. Let’s support the BOE, allow a discrete and thorough (confidential) selection process, and strive to land a great candidate.

  20. Dinakorm

    Is the picture from 20 years ago?

  21. WOW just WOW

    John Hamlin
    confidential is just another word for secret.. I don’t trust secret.

  22. Karen

    Still awaiting Mr. Lyons rebuttal to Farhan Memon. Mr. Lyons normally seems to have a prepared repertoire of rapid fire responses ready to post. Guess its tough to defend Bridgeport.

  23. MarjorieM

    LWitherspoon, I guess that makes you Foxy Loxy, as described,
    ‘Foxy Loxy and Goosey Loosey bully Chicken Little throughout the movie and his friends. Although she could in no way be called an ‘evil’ character or a villain, she and Goosey Loosey seem to love tormenting people and are easily considered bullies.’

  24. Wow – interesting observation that you ‘don’t trust secret’ – from someone who keeps his identity secret. And therefore should not be trusted, right?

    LW, agree that “Bridgeport” is being used by posters as a substitute for reasoning.

    Farhan Memon – you’re cherry-picking from my statements; read ALL of them, please. Yes, I said that inner-city experience is important (though I emphasized that Mr. Connelly has experience with urban and non-urban schools). The reference in your post to a “zookeeper” for the “minority jungle” is entirely your own; please don’t try to pawn that offensive statement off on me.

    As noted, I said that “part of the reason for the very slight preference on the Board for Mr. Connelly is because of the fact that he has extensive experience as an interim … He has gotten comfortable with the idea of going into districts that are in a transitional period, picking up the ball and running with it.” His experience is much greater than just with Bridgeport, and our feedback from the towns where he has served as interim has been very positive.

    And as for the statement “It would have been preferable to appoint one of Norwalk’s own senior principals or administrators in the interim position rather than to select this individual.” Why? Just because Farhan Memon says so? Do you know if any of them even meet the bare qualifications? Or have already indicated they don’t want the job? Or, in fact, some are part of the old-line forces that have tried to stall Dr. Rivera’s reforms?

    We do have know – and it informed our judgment.

    Sorry folks, sometimes I get tired of rank speculation on this site masquerading as wise commentary.

  25. Kathleen Montgomery

    NORWALK VOTER: Roberts Rules of Order (11th ed.) says that an abstention is a”meaningless” vote and as such does not count as either a yea or nay vote. Roberts Rules also says that a primary duty of members is to vote. Only yea or nay votes are counted. In an example the author provides, “abstaining is especially egregious when a member is vacating their fiduciary responsibility to the board”. I take this to mean that when the person abstains they are not fulling their responsibility to the taxpayers of Norwalk.

  26. Joanna Cooper

    Farhan Memon
    What a twisted interpretation of Mr. Lyons comment that essentially experience in a tough district is helpful. Dr. Connelly has a wide range of experience serving in districts with different demographics. Experience in a challenging district such as Bridgeport is a plus. Kids are kids no matter what color, shape or size they are. Bridgeport’s biggest challenges don’t come just come from lack of diversity but the high level of poverty. We have our share of kids who suffer in poverty. Knowing the right things to do to help kids is the easy part of the job. Norwalk’s greatest challenge for Dr. Connelly is dealing with the aggressive teachers union, insubordinate administrators and dirty politics that aim to keep the status quo. If he can help put in place the reforms planned by Dr. Rivera without getting derailed all kids in Norwalk will benefit. The same can be said of the next permanent superintendent selected.
    Good Luck Dr. Connelly!!!

  27. Karen

    “Zookepper,” for the, “minority jungle.” Ouch. Farhan, respectfully sir, you know better. As a VP of a large corp and board member to your congregation and an upstanding member of the community, you know better, dont you? Those highly flammable interpretations could have been presented better, no? Your valid arguments are dismissed when terms like that are used. Careful.

  28. GRknight

    Another puppet in the hands of the ( we want to run schools as we please or else ) BOE.

    I don’t think Norwalk voters know the [ REAL people* } voting to run BOE,

  29. Mike Lyons

    GRknight – the BoE is elected by the people to set policy and run the school system. Are we supposed to pick superintendehts who WON’T follow the policies set by the elected Board?

  30. MarjorieM

    Being a puppet and being a leader are not one and the same. I think the Board’s role as “Running the district” should be very clearly defined.

  31. Well, Marj, it is — we set policy, the Superintendent carries it out. Where boards get in trouble is when they try to get into minutia and micromanage the superintendent; we have a few members who have a tendency to do that (see https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/08/fractious-norwalk-boe-argues-over-25k-contract).

    Here’s what the Board properly does – set policy (found in our Strategic Plan and the Board’s Policy book), including things like the annual and 3-year budgets (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/12/school-budget-first-look-2-74-percent-increase), curricular plans (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/03/riveras-literacy-plan-given-go-ahead), staff evaluation plans (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/08/norwalk-boe-approves-teacher-school-administrator-evaluation-process), union contracts (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/09/no-labor-pains-for-norwalk-boe-nfep-contract-approved-nasa-on-way), evaluation of the superintendent (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/06/norwalk-schools-super-given-raise-by-boe) and goal-setting with the superintendent (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/10/norwalk-boe-considering-pegging-rivera-bonus-to-performance-measures).

    Again, with the exception of a few members, the Board understands its role and leaves the superintendent to his. We’ll do that with subsequent superintendents, too.

  32. LWitherspoon

    @MarjorieM

    If someone pointing out that your rhetoric tends to be of the “sky is falling” variety makes them a bully, I guess that’s what I am. Alternately, you might just be overreacting to someone who sees the world a little differently than you do. Whatever the case, thank you for including me in story time and Happy Holidays.

  33. John Hamlin

    Mike Lyons — reading these posts, the posts from so many other articles, and all the ignorant and backward comments, and then reading your measured, thoughtful responses — and seeing the job you are doing on the BOE — you are a true public servant who deserves our support and gratitude. How you do it without going postal is a mystery!

  34. Kevin Di Mauro

    Thank you Mike for another moment of clarity.

  35. C.G.

    There should be a thumbs up botton on this blog 🙂 I completly agree with John Hamlin. God Bless you Mike Lyons!

  36. MarjorieM

    Mike, is that why the Board was pushing for the textbooks (ELA K-5) that went against what the educators wanted? I hadn’t realized that the Board had that much influence over curriculum choices.

  37. Joanna Cooper

    LW
    I agree Marj M is totally negative. People like her and other Union lovers fight progress and accountability at every turn. Who should influence curriculum development? At least some are pushing it forward. Generations have been lost with no research based curriculum in place for students. Teachers making it up as there was little to no direction and books so old they were useless. At least we agree on one thing….the boards role should be clearly defined because a few members are clueless. Mike Lyons is not one of them. His leadership skills are greatly appreciated by many.

  38. MarjorieM

    Well, now we have FoxuYLoxy and Loosy Goosy. This blog is not about me. I thought negative comments that targeted a specific person were going to be deleted, but I guess I now join the others who have been tarred and feathered on this and other blogs. Each person is entitled to their opinion. Too bad if it doesn’t agree with yours. Doesn’t mean I am negative, Joanna Cooper, just means you are not tolerant of others’ opinions. I look for real change…transparency, trusting educators to make textbook decisions, etc. I was negative when Rivera was appointed because he was known to skip out if something better came along. I was right. By the way, are you aware that curriculum was changed around 2005 to match the State Department of Education’s directives? Testing in ELA K-5 changed to running records and all new textbooks were purchased? NORWALK was among the first to comply. Reading Recovery teachers were a part of this move to a new curriculum. Teachers were pulled from classrooms for instruction once a week for many weeks. You call that lack of curriculum for generations? This WAS researched based curriculum.

  39. Joanna Cooper

    Thanks for proving my point Marj M. That was 2005 just short of ten years ago likely forced in under a state directive. An ELA K-5 curriculum. Curriculum development requires looking beyond just a K-5 English Language Arts curriculum, far beyond. How about all the other subjects and grade levels?

  40. Mike Lyons

    Marj, the state statute (CGS Sec. 10-220(e)) says “Each local and regional board of education shall establish a school district curriculum committee. The committee shall recommend, develop, review and approve all curriculum for the local or regional school district.” The Board’s Curriculum and Instruction Committee is that established committee per Board Policy 9301.1 (http://www.norwalkps.org/kr/One.aspx?objectId=3267408&contextId=264228&lastCat=3267407). The Board therefore has direct responsibility for adopting curricula. This is reinforced by state statute 10-229, which gives the Board exclusive authority to select all textbooks.

    And as you know, the educators in the Norwalk schools strongly supported Dr. Rivera’s K-5 Literacy Plan, which he developed after the Board properly exercised its authority to reject the ineffective Pearson reading materials which had been recommended earlier.

  41. MarjorieM

    (e) Each local and regional board of education shall establish a school district curriculum committee. The committee shall recommend, develop, review and approve all curriculum for the local or regional school district.

    Recommend, develop and approve……
    Sounds to me like the intention is to recommend and approve, not to be interpreted as ‘the exclusive right to select all textbooks.’

  42. Mike Lyons

    Marj, you’re only quoting one of the statutes I cited; the second one (10-229) gives the Board the exclusive authority to choose textbooks.

  43. Piberman

    Imagine if our Monday morning quarterbacks actually attended BOE meetings or ran for BOE positions ! We’d have the best BOE in CT.

  44. MarjorieM

    Thank you for the clarification, Mike.

  45. GRknight

    Yes, Mr. Rivera has a doctoral.
    What do you have Mr. Lyons? Nothing.
    Let the superintendent to do their job.

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