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Rivera: New IT chief’s connection to Moccia no factor in hiring

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Ralph Valenzisi, Norwalk’s new chief of technology, innovation and partnerships, said he rarely talks about work with his uncle, Mayor Richard Moccia.

(Correction 11:35 a.m.: Mr. Valenzisi’s wife is Mayor Richard Moccia’s niece “by blood,” not his wife’s niece.)

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manuel Rivera on Wednesday dismissed concerns expressed by some residents that his new chief of technology, innovation and partnerships got the job because he is related to Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia.

Ralph Valenzisi, whose contract with Norwalk Public Schools began today, confirmed to NancyOnNorwalk that he is Moccia’s nephew by marriage.

The relationship is a coincidence, Rivera said, and had nothing to do with Valenzisi’s hiring for the $175,000 job.

Valenzisi comes to Norwalk after working for Rivera in a similar role for the past four years at GEMS Education, a Manhattan-based international education company that owns and operates high-performing schools, according to its public relations materials.

“I recruited Ralph in 2009 when I heard about his skills and knowledge” in the technical field from a head-hunter, Rivera said Wednesday afternoon. “I wanted someone (at GEMS) with a strong educational background. I interviewed him two or three times and decided I wanted him on my team.”

Rivera said Valenzisi displayed the same work ethic he embraces, saying he was available “24/7” and is innovative and cutting edge when it comes to technology.

When Rivera, who was the CEO for GEMS from 2008 through 2013, accepted the Norwalk position this summer, he said, “I started to recruit him again.” Rivera said he had no idea about any of Valenzisi’s relatives, and it was “never part of the conversation.”

Valenzisi, whose wife is Moccia’s niece, said Wednesday night he has never discussed work with the mayor and would never consider asking him for a recommendation. That was true as well, he said, in his first go-around in Norwalk starting in 2004.

“I got my first job in Norwalk before he was mayor,” he said. The two don’t see each other often and, when they chat at family functions, he said, they don’t talk shop. “It’s just not appropriate to even talk about work,” he said.

Valenzisi was more concerned with questions about his qualifications.

Valenzisi lists no formal technology education on his resume. The resume does list him as a certified Microsoft Office User Specialist and Certified Lotus R4 and R5 specialist and a member of the Microsoft K-12 National Advisory Group. His professional experience starting in 1992 as a Stamford school teacher includes a focus on technology training, coaching and curriculum development, and two years as an educational consultant to Imperial Software. He was the Educational Technology Coordinator for New Haven Public Schools from 2001 to 2004 and instructional technology specialist and director of technology for Norwalk Public Schools from 2004 to 2009.

Valenzisi said he has a lot more certifications and training, including a stint as an adjunct professor  of educational technology at University of New Haven, but he felt it was not something that would have made a difference for this position.

“I had to take things out” of the resume, he said. “At this point in my career, if I left everything in it would be six pages long.”

“People think this is a box-and-wires position, and it’s not,” he said, adding that he is “very comfortable” with that kind of work. “That’s part of it,” he said, but  “my network engineer is going to do that.””

Valenzisi’s task is more complex and focuses more on the educational integration of technology. Rivera, in proposing a makeover for the position from the former IT director position, said the responsibilities would include “partnership building and management, strategic planning and systems development, driving technology related to innovations and other duties.”

The job involves not only coming up with technology solutions to prepare students for life after high school, he said, but inventing ways to weave the technology into the curriculum in a meaningful way. It is the opportunity to put his training as an educator together with his technology background — and a love of Norwalk, he said — that convinced him to take a “two-figure” pay cut to accept the job.

“I left Norwalk to get the experience on the curriculum and supervisory level,” he said, ” and I did that on the international level” at GEMS.

It was that experience, working for Rivera, that led him back to Norwalk Public Schools and a new position with a new superintendent who is plotting a new direction for Norwalk students.

“He did a fantastic job for me. The service he provided was outstanding,” Rivera said. “I like to hire people I know can do the job.”

40 comments

Norwalk Lifer September 5, 2013 at 6:02 am

175K per year? really? this position carries that much weight which justifies this salary?

The Hayes Report, which is used by every major corporation to set pay scales, probably wouldn’t support this salary.

Seems excessive to me, but then again, it’s Norwalk, right?

Regards
Norwalk Lifer

EDR September 5, 2013 at 7:48 am

My father’s cousin’s next door neighbor’s brother’s uncle’s son is related to Mayor Moccia by marriage too and he applied for the job. He unfortunately did not get it. By the way I suspect that Hayes would support the salary number albeit at the higher end of the range. Like Mr. Rivera we are paying for quality – something that folks seem to have a problem with. I thought we want the best for Norwalk schools? You cannot attract top flight talent without paying for it.

Don't Panic September 5, 2013 at 8:01 am

Nobody has yet explained how weaving technolgy into the lesson plans is going to help the students whose families cannot afford technolgy at home.

More of the same September 5, 2013 at 8:30 am

Spare me the 2 figure pay cut nonsense. Did his private sector job give him 18 sick days a year? 70 of which can be paid out in cash upon leaving the job?

Here now the guy has a chance to give specifics and we get just get platitudes. What is he running for mayor?

Try something like…. I’m going to implement a tool where teachers can upload their class assignments and just like phone apps, students will be able to download. The lessons/homework will have estimates of time to completion and the students mobile devices will be able to schedule their studying time around their schedules. Disadvantaged children who can’t provide their own devices will be afforded one. We will be working with local private companies to fund this effort……

There you see, it isn’t that hard. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now, but let’s see if in a few years this still isn’t just a ‘box and wires’ position. You’d think having access to the press would allow him to articulate his vision instead of defending his existence.

marjoriem September 5, 2013 at 8:38 am

I want to know who else was interviewed for this position? Rivera couldn’t wait to get friends into positions after raising the salary. Just like Rochester!

Mike Lyons September 5, 2013 at 8:50 am

Marjoriem, thanks for the predictably negative comment before even giving the guy a chance.

More of the same, that’s a good moniker, since your comments are usually ‘more of the same.’ For the record, Dr. Rivera specifically discussed exactly the type of uses of technology that you mention in your second paragraph during our meeting. Your assumption that a short article in The Hour or on NON covers every word spoken at a meeting is childish. Instead of just ‘giving the benefit of the doubt’, why don’t you try attending a Board meeting so you’ll actually know what you’re talking about. Just a suggestion.

For an example of technology we’re already in the process of implementing, see http://norwalk.itsrelevant.com/content/15400/Norwalk-Preps-Teachers-on-Tech. For our action this week adopting a related Social Media Policy, see http://norwalk.itsrelevant.com/content/15519/Norwalk-Schools-Adopt-Social-Media-Policy.

Renton September 5, 2013 at 9:17 am

So many comments, so little time.

My wife is an HR Director and one of the first questions on an application is “Do you have any friends/relatives working for the company”. She nearly fell on the floor when she saw the I didn’t know he was related to the Mayor line. Did ya ask? Did you think it may be a good idea to have full disclosure that the Mayor was your Uncle? Guess not and I wonder why.

Nobody gives up money in this economy, so a pay cut (and title demotion) doesn’t make any sense.

He’s available 24//7. Where does he live? Certainly not in Norwalk, so if there is bad weather and an emergency, who ya gonna call? Oh, that’s right, nobody in the local area was as qualified! And if you have IT certifications and you are going for an IT job, most people would put those ON THEIR RESUME unless, you knew you were getting the job and the resume submission was just a formality.

Just another reason why MOCCIA MUST GO. WHAT ELSE IS HE HIDING??????

bill September 5, 2013 at 9:46 am

I doubt this has anything to do with nepotism, but this guy better be worth his weight if he is pulling down 175k

Norwalk Dinosaur September 5, 2013 at 10:01 am

For $175K/year, I think that the City might have found someone with a skill set where the candidate is both cutting-edge “box and wires” and an excellent administrator. I hope he proves us all wrong, but this seems suspect.

Any BOE members have input into his ability to be successful in this role? It’s not fair to judge without all of the details.

Daisy September 5, 2013 at 10:04 am

No idea whether this was related to nepotism or not. Moccia was a “power player” in Norwalk before he was elected, when RV got his original job, which he had no hesitation about leaving 4 years ago.
BUT – his wife is Moccia’s actual niece, the daughter of one of his brother’s, not HIS wife’s niece. So there’s a blood tie there.

(Editor’s note: This has been corrected in the story.)

Mike Lyons September 5, 2013 at 10:13 am

The Mayor has no say in hiring decisions at the Board of Education. He can only vote as an ex-officio member to break a tie at a Board meeting. On the Valenzisi appointment, the Mayor disqualified himself from participating and left the meeting before the appointment was considered.

More of the same September 5, 2013 at 10:15 am

Details are good. Publish meeting minutes or video replays on line so the working stiffs who can’t attend every meeting can find out. The last IT director couldn’t do it. Maybe this one can?

Renton September 5, 2013 at 10:16 am

Nancy, I’m confused now. Did he tell you his wife was the Mayor’s niece or what you stated in the article. There is a HUGE DIFFERENCE

Editor’s note: To clarify, Valenzisi said, “It’s not through blood. My wife is his niece.” She is not the mayor’s wife’s niece.

David September 5, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Since there’s a 50/50 chance that the Mayor won’t be the Mayor in a few months time, I hardly see this as an opportunity to “curry favor”.
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While the salary is indeed a very good one, it’s not excessive for a position of that nature (see link, below).
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This position would typically come with bonus and a good set of benefits. So as far as the salary is concerned, that’s just the market.
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Now, is this gentleman qualified? That’s a question we should concern ourselves with. Lotus R5 certifications are SO irrelevant they shouldn’t even be listed. R5 was released in the late 90’s, an eon ago in IT terms. It’s like listing “typewriter” skills in todays economy.
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I understand where Mr. Rivera is coming from. He has a specific vision and he needs that implemented. If hiring someone who understands that vision gets him to the finish line, then great. Mr. Rivera needs to hit the ground running.
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But, Mr. Rivera is going to need an “implementer”, someone that goes beyond network administration. Someone who’s implemented large scale systems, not in theory, but in practice, someone who’s “been there, done that”. That’s not Mr. Valenzisi.

http://swz.salary.com/salarywizard/Information-Technology-Director-Salary-Details-06851-Norwalk-CT.aspx?&hdcbxbonuse=on&isshowpiechart=false&isshowjobchart=false&isshowsalarydetailcharts=true&isshownextsteps=true&isshowcompanyfct=true&isshowaboutyou=true
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http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/lotus/library/ls-NDHistory/#N1022F

Mike Lyons September 5, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Verbatim minutes aren’t prepared of any board meetings in the City; transcriptions are far too expensive. All meetings are tape-recorded. The good news is that the Common Council Chambers were just re-wired about two weeks ago to allow much higher-quality video recording and transmission of meetings held there. Last year I moved the bulk of the Board of Education meetings from Room 300 (which is cramped and has poor AV equipment) into the Council Chambers, so one of Mr. Valenzisi’s projects is going to be tying the BoE into that City system so our meetings can go out in full video.

CCN September 5, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I think it is horrendous that these people and administrators downtown are all getting raises and high paying jobs when our students don’t have the necessary supplies and technology in the classroom to succeed the way they should be. The teachers pay has been frozen for two years, and are having to spend out of their own pockets. Paper, pencils, and erasers are being rationed in the classrooms, Students and teachers don’t have enough working computers, and the paper work teachers are being asked to do is enormous. What are the administrators and this new Technology director doing really to justify such big salaries? Why are they getting perks of all sorts under and over the table and teachers and students are not getting the same. Don’t get me wrong I don’t begrudge administrators and people like the technology director getting a good salary, but when our students and teachers in Norwalk are suffering something is wrong. If teachers and students are being asked to sacrifice why can’t the people at the top do the same? If this stuff is allowed to continue people in Norwalk are finally going to rise up and stand up for justice. It’s high time people stand up for what is right.

More of the same September 5, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Mike you are doing a great job. Because some of us ask these questions shouldn’t be taken as criticism. If he turns out to be an effective administrator we will all win, but the reality is you can’t dodge the perception here. If this turns out to be a bust, people will point back to this and say how could you possibly have hired someone without a computer science degree, related to the mayor, and pay him above market in this economy? This isn’t some entrepreneurial startup. A little bit of conservatism here is warranted.

Piberman September 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm

The issue is two fold. First, was there a professional nationwide search for a cutting edge public school IT professional ? Second, is the Supt’s former staff member well qualified for the job ? Absent the first we do not really know. HR earns it keep by asking these questions. A national IT search would have likely kept the Mayor’s family connections irrelevant. All in all how this key appointment was handled will not likely dispell doubts about Central Ofice staffing capabilities. Lets hope future appts are done with more professionalism than “I know the guy”. The contrast between the effort involved in hiring the Supt and that in hiring the IT critical staff person is “interesting”. A nationally prominent school IT hire would have demonstrated that its not business as usual at the a central Ofice.

marjoriem September 5, 2013 at 6:20 pm

‘For the record, Dr. Rivera specifically discussed exactly the type of uses of technology that you mention in your second paragraph during our meeting. Your assumption that a short article in The Hour or on NON covers every word spoken at a meeting is childish. Instead of just ‘giving the benefit of the doubt’, why don’t you try attending a Board meeting so you’ll actually know what you’re talking about. Just a suggestion.’ Mike Lyons, what the heck are you talking about? I know you think I am someone else. Wrong!

Mike Lyons September 5, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Marjoriem, read what I wrote. My first sentence in my post at 8:50 am responded to you; my second sentence (the one you quote above) responded to a person using the moniker “more of the same”.

Mike Lyons September 5, 2013 at 9:24 pm

OK, let me address a few more comments.

“I think it is horrendous that these people and administrators downtown are all getting raises and high paying jobs when our students don’t have the necessary supplies and technology in the classroom to succeed the way they should be.”

This is nonsense. We are investing millions of dollars in classroom technology, and millions more on textbooks and supplies. We rank higher in the State (5th) in teacher salaries than we rank in administrator salaries (11th).

“The teachers pay has been frozen for two years …”

The pay freeze for teachers is only for one year (2013-2014); read the contract.

“… and are having to spend out of their own pockets. Paper, pencils, and erasers are being rationed in the classrooms, Students and teachers don’t have enough working computers, and the paper work teachers are being asked to do is enormous.”

Interestingly, it is true that Norwalk spends less on supplies than the State average. It is also true that Norwalk spends FAR more than the State average on teacher salaries and benefits. Perhaps the author of this note would suggest cutting the latter to increase the former?

“[H]ow could you possibly have hired someone without a computer science degree?” I have worked for 21 years for very successful medical device manufacturers that make instruments and other products for surgery. At no time in that 21 years have they ever been headed up by a surgeon. We don’t need a person who works on the backs on computers installing chips, any more than those medical companies needed to be headed by surgeons – you hire lower level people for that work. This position is a much more enhanced role with some very real and essential responsibilities that have nothing to do with circuit boards — this is to lead implementation of our new assessment system, progress monitoring, blended learning, assistance with the development of key partnerships and our overall planning, in addition to IT responsibilities. Valenzisi’s resume shows vast experience in exactly these higher-level activities.

“[W]as there a professional nationwide search for a cutting edge public school IT professional.” No, and we don’t have the time or resources to do this for all of the cabinet positions working for the superintendent. It is standard practice in private industry for a new CEO to bring in trusted people whose ability and expertise he trusts. We are COUNTING on Dr. Rivera doing that here; we don’t have a year to fill all these slots.

“Can anyone on the BOE tell us how many applied for the job?” Since the job applications are confidential, I can’t go into detail, but I can tell you there were multiple applicants. We felt that Valenzisi was well-qualified for the actual job we were seeking to fill, and supported Dr. Rivera’s recommendation.

Mike Barbis September 5, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Hear hear Mike Lyons. Thank you for responding to these anonymous commenters. We could barely find candidates to run for the Board of Ed this upcoming election but we sure can find plenty of Monday morning quarterbacks that love to criticize but don’t have the backbone to reveal their true identities.

RU4REEL September 5, 2013 at 10:24 pm

I’m not buying it Mike, the mayor has history (Adam Blank) when it comes to manipulating board/commission members with phone calls to get what HE wants, how can we be sure?

LWitherspoon September 5, 2013 at 10:25 pm

I have never heard of such a thing as a “nephew by marriage.” Would that be like an uncle-in-law?
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After you marry someone, her uncle is still her uncle. He doesn’t become your uncle.

Mike Lyons September 5, 2013 at 11:18 pm

RU4REEL, if you want to live your life as a conspiracy theorist, I can’t help you. How can you be SURE the Moon landing wasn’t faked, or the United States didn’t itself plan the 9/11 attacks? There are plenty of nut jobs out there who believe both of these absurd theories, and no amount of facts can dissuade them. I never heard of Valenzisi before Dr. Rivera proposed his name, never had a conversation with Moccia about him, and didn’t know he was distantly related to Moccia by marriage until I read it on NON. That distant relationship is so distant it isn’t even covered by the City’s Ethics Code provisions on conflicts of interest. That’s my final comment on this; I’ve addressed the more reasonable questions, but now that the comments are drifting into Area 51 territory, its time for me to sign off.

RU4REEL September 5, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Fair enough Mike, would you agree that on his application or at some point during the process he should have revealed his connection to the mayor or at the very least, ask if there would be a problem with it?
Once it was found out did anyone ask why he said nothing, because it would look like nepotism?
Giving the guy a chance is fine but it is rather deceitful that it wasn’t mentioned at all, did he forget?
Whether a conspiracy or not it is fishy, you should be upset no one told you, the million dollar question is, would you still have chosen him if you knew.
I hope your (board) decision was the correct one, it has started out a bit rocky.

jlightfield September 5, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Unbelievable. The guy worked for NPS not so long ago. Who cares who he’s related to, this is a high level tech position. All you need to know about tech people is to look online: github repositories, tweets, posts, blogs, and discussions about tech-ed issues, books they have written etc. That’s the lingua franca in the digital world.

Momma Bear September 6, 2013 at 12:07 am

Click, turns off power source of the alpha, beta, solar, infrared, UHF, magnetic interference protecting brain insulating cap. Lol, thanks for responding Mike. On another note, summers over, welcome back to all our students and teachers and yes you too Jack.

Tim T September 6, 2013 at 12:54 am

I would like to know if this job was even posted. It seems the city of Norwalk fails to post most jobs that are available. Its time for a freedom of information request ..Odd how everyone at city hall is related to each other.

Joe Espo September 6, 2013 at 1:34 am

I just can’t help but noticing that the picture posted by the editors of Valenzisi, along with the angle of the story, was designed purposefully to trash the mayor and Valenzisi’s credibility.

David September 6, 2013 at 11:50 am

I think Mike summed it up best: If this doesn’t fall under the City’s Code of Ethics, there’s nothing else to discuss, regarding the family connection, that is.
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While I believe Joe Espo misses the mark with his comments, he has raised an interesting point: though, where did this story emanate from? The story starts off stating that Mr.Rivera “dismissed concerns expressed by some residents” about the relationship. Who were those residents, and in what forum were the concerns expressed. Were they public comments or emails to the editor of this article?
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The reader is given a whirl wind tour of the Moccia family tree before finally arriving at a matter of substance: The candidates qualifications.

More of the same September 6, 2013 at 1:38 pm

The more I think about this, the sorrier I feel for Mike.

The fact this glaring item was not disclosed clearly smacks that they didn’t want it known. I do believe that Mike and the board were not made aware intentionally.

What I find entirely plausible to believe is that Ralph’s entire career may be based on connections. Hiding the facts here suggests that even Rivera’s appointment could have been payback for hiring Ralph at GEMS years ago. Maybe Rivera’s appointment was contingent on bringing Ralph on board. Maybe this is why they ended up giving Polselli a letter of recommendation to clear the way.

Conspiracy theories aside people should agree the lack of disclosure stinks.

I would also like to know how many music teachers/directors we have with computer science degrees now that we know educational background does not matter.

Renton September 6, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Mike it was a well known fact to a bunch of people the first time RV worked in NPS that he was related to the Mayor.

Nobody is blaming you, what the issue is would be perception. If RV and the Super and the Mayor all knew that there was any kind of family relationship, it should have been disclosed (and i find it hard to believe that the Super had no idea either). Most corporations (and I know that a municipality isn’t a corporation per se, but that may be part of the problem) consider it a conflict if even by marriage there is a relationship at the cousin, uncle, aunt, parent and grandparent level. Ethically, both the mayor and RV had a duty to inform the BOE as well as the publc that there was that kind of relationship. If it was out in the open, from the very beginning, would there have been some grumbling? Of course, that’s human nature, but to keep it “under wraps” is where the issue is.

Also, he states coming back for his “Love of Norwalk”, please spare me. If you love Norwalk so much, why did you leave the school system and why don’t you live here and if you have children, have them go to the school system you love sooooo much? Nice try but I aint buying what you are selling.

More of the same September 6, 2013 at 5:37 pm

@Renton. Mike looks like he has clearly been backed into a corner here. Lashing out at people as flat earthers wreaks of desperation, but doesn’t wreak anywhere near the foul odor of this clearly underhanded move by Rivera and Moccia. Thanks for asking the tough questions. Mike is in an indefensible position, but hopefully he has learned a lesson and to our benefit will be even more vigilant and not so forgiving of the trust that was clearly broken here.

Mark Chapman September 6, 2013 at 6:43 pm

@David
“Where did this story emanate from? The story starts off stating that Mr.Rivera “dismissed concerns expressed by some residents” about the relationship. Who were those residents, and in what forum were the concerns expressed. Were they public comments or emails to the editor of this article?”

A commentor, screen name Renton, wrote about the relationship in a thread following the story saying who was hired. Then More of the Same expressed concern. We contacted Manuel Rivera and Ralph Valenzisi to confirm the relationship and get their side of the story. According to Rivera, Valenzisi was brought to him by a headhunter for the GEMS job in New York and that was the first time they ever met. He said Valenzisi did a great job for him and was perfect for the job he envisioned creating in Norwalk. He reached out to Valenzisi, who accepted the job. There was no mention of a posting or an application process. According to both men interviewed separately, the family tree never came up.

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