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NPS lifts some administrators; one leaves Central Office to work at Norwalk High School

This screenshot of the Aug. 26, 2020 Norwalk Public Schools Reopening Committee meeting shows (from left) then-Director of School Improvement Sandra Faioes, then-Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo and Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella in the bottom row and Brien McMahon High School Principal Scott Hurwitz, then- Chief of Technology, Innovations and Partnerships Ralph Valenzisi (as a posed photo) and Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams in the top row.

NORWALK, Conn. — The look of Norwalk Public Schools has shifted, both online and in Central Office.

NPS has unveiled a new website and Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella has appointed a new cabinet, elevating Brenda Wilcox Williams to chief of staff and naming Ralph Valensizi and Sandra Faoies as assistant superintendents, a job title that hasn’t been in the mix until now.

Frank Costanzo, who has served as Chief of School Operations for nearly six years, has been reassigned to Norwalk High School to support instruction, according to NPS Communications Manager Rachael Chappa.

In late May, Estrella, who has been superintendent for a year, announced a restructuring of Central Office to help achieve the vision of the new strategic operating plan. This would include one deputy superintendent of equity and inclusion; three assistant superintendents—one of schools, one of digital learning and innovation, and one of business and operations; chief of staff and communications, and chief financial officer.

Cabinet level positions eliminated under this plan are chief academic officer, chief of specialized learning & student services, chief of operations, chief talent officer, chief of communications, and chief of digital learning & development. So, six roles were cut to five, “to really build a cohesive structure, and making sure that the work is aligned and interconnected,” Estrella said. “Our expectation is going to be that these three assistant superintendents are working in tandem with one another, and actively collaborating in the support of schools.”

Estrella said that this restructuring would be cost neutral and would aim to increase collaboration in better service of the schools and students.

There are vacancies remaining in Estrella’s cabinet. Valenzisi is assistant superintendent of digital learning and innovation and Faioes is assistant superintendent of business and operations, leaving the assistant superintendent of schools role unfilled. There is no deputy superintendent of equity and inclusion, according to the NPS website.

Tom Hamilton is remaining in his role as chief financial officer.

Estrella on Wednesday told the Special Education Ad Hoc Committee that interviews are underway for both the assistant superintendent of schools position and for education administrator of specialized instruction. She hoped to have a finalist for the latter post by the end of next week and said they’re seeking an assistant superintendent with special education experience.

“Our goal is that no later than mid-July, we will have these roles finalized and ready to present to the parents and the rest of the community and working with them in transitioning the work forward,” she said.

Yvette Goorevitch, who has been chief of specialized learning and student services for four years, has retired but will help the school district with its transition, Estrella said.

Recent retirements include Instructional Specialist for English Language Learners Helene Becker

Special Education administrator Stacy Heilgenthaler resigned recently.

Faioes will make $218,000 a year in her new role. She came to NPS in 2014 as a Norwalk Pathways Academy instructional coach and reading specialist, having previously worked for Boston Public Schools as the interim humanities program director. She became Brookside Elementary School principal in June 2016 and three years later was named director of school improvement. She is fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole and is working toward a doctorate, according to the NPS website.

Valenzisi was appointed NPS chief of technology, innovation and partnerships in 2013, and had served as school system’s director of technology from 2006 to 2009. He has since been chief of digital learning and development and chief of technology, innovations and partnerships.

Wilcox Williams came to NPS in 2013 as the district’s first communications director. In her new role, she’ll “be responsible for planning and executing districtwide internal and external communications, promoting family engagement, and leading the development of a district Family Center,” NPS states on its website. “Williams will also serve as the superintendent’s liaison for monitoring and facilitating the progress of staff-led projects and initiatives, taking responsibility for complex short-term assignments and strategic problem solving.”

She’s supported in the Communications Department by Communications Assistant Jessica Acosta and Communications Manager Rachael Chappa.

Costanzo’s time as NPS COO was tarnished by a lawsuit filed against the New Haven Board of Education in 2017, accusing him of sexual harassment while he was an administrator  there. New Haven spent $150,000 on a legal settlement in early 2019.

Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams repeatedly said he shouldn’t be working for NPS. The BoE Executive Committee responded in early 2019 by saying Costanzo “has given us much needed guidance in challenging situations where we have had to make difficult decisions balancing the needs of students, parents, teachers, administrators and other staff members.”

Costanzo was also a target of criticism in early 2018 when then-West Rocks Middle School Principal Lynne Moore was transferred to Norwalk High School. Parents, in a petition that got 756 signatures, said Costanzo was supposed to evaluate Moore and support her “but his only role seems to be to try and find any reason to reprimand her.”

Moore serves as NHS assistant principal for D House. Chappa did not reply to an email asking where Costanzo falls in the NHS hierarchy. He is not listed on the NHS webpage, although his job there reportedly started Thursday.

As for the website upgrade, Chappa said it went online June 21 and, “This is a soft launch over the summer so that we can receive feedback and make any necessary improvements.”

4 comments

John O'Neill July 2, 2021 at 1:09 pm

Poor Frank Costanzo — If my memory serves me correctly he was brought in by Adamowski to basically push Lynn Moore to the side at West Rocks. In my opinion rightfully so, although some may disagree. West Rocks at the time was a failing school and Moore was the figurative captain of the ship. Anyway, here we are just a few years later, and Estrella puts Frank in a spot where he has to report to Moore at Norwalk High. (The Educational media monitors know I’m right). Does Estrella actually think that’s a good fit, or does she want to get rid of Frank? In either case, I feel this is unprofessional and the public deserves to know the background here.

Thoughts About the Leadership Changes July 2, 2021 at 5:47 pm

I agree that having Dr. Costanzo answer to Dr. Moore seems unwise because of their professional history, and I don’t know who could possibly expect any good to result from it. I have no interest in taking sides with one or the other, but I don’t see how this will help NHS.

I look forward to the announcement of Dr. Estrella’s decisions regarding the rest of her cabinet. While we’re talking about leadership positions, what’s happening with the planned improvements for the HR department? In my estimation, it was a far better department when Mr. Padilla ran it. A few people have left, and they took with them a lot of background knowledge about the district and about how HR can/should support a school system. They also demonstrated that they valued customer service.

Thoughts About the Leadership Changes July 9, 2021 at 4:26 pm

As a follow-up to my last posting, someone has told me that Ms Faioes oversees HR and its director. I know of Ms Faioes’ reputation as a school leader, and I hope that she is able to enact some changes.

The district needs a strong, knowledgeable and effective HR department, and that requires a knowledgeable and effective director, who knows how to be a leader. The effective leader must also demonstrate professional behaviors and attitudes, especially respect toward others.

There has been a revolving door of HR staff this year, and that also makes me question the quality of the leadership. I have heard more than a few complaints, from multiple people, about the way that the director speaks to people outside her department, and so I can only guess at the way she talks to the people in the department. That isn’t a recipe for a department that meets the needs of the school system.

Thoughts About Leadership Changes July 16, 2021 at 2:53 pm

I have been told that yet another HR employee has given notice and will leave soon. What is the message here? What is the atmosphere in that department? Are others looking for employment elsewhere?

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