(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.”