Rivera’s bold move appreciated by Norwalk board

NORWALK, Conn. – The parents entrusted with guarding Norwalk’s education system said Tuesday night they were pleased to see the first definitive move by the new Norwalk superintendent of schools, even if it comes with a hefty price tag.

“Really, my one request is a title change, three title changes and a communications officer,” Superintendent Manuel Rivera said at the Board of Education meeting in reference to the reorganization he had proposed, describing them as “not significant structural changes.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the changes after only Steve Colarossi offered resistance.

Board Chairman Mike Lyons said he was “very pleased” to see the plan, and equally pleased that it came so soon.

“Obviously, anybody who thought that Dr. Rivera was coming here to coast should be disabused at that notion at this point,” he said.

Rivera began his assertive push by waving around the profile developed by the board in March to describe what they were looking for in a new superintendent.

“I was hired as your superintendent to come in with a bold vision,” Rivera said.

He went on to quote the board’s profile: “Candidates must be committed to collaboratively establishing and communicating this vision, engaging the entire community to drive a culture of continuous improvement, and executing strategies that support the goals and objectives established by the governance team. The community and school board are looking for a leader with a steadfast commitment to high expectations, accountability, communication and transparency.”

Rivera described it as a tall order.

“It’s one that I’m up for, obviously, but I will also say one of the expectations that I had was being able to form a small team of my cabinet, if you will, that I will be working closely with to lead these initiatives,” he said.

Rivera is replacing the IT director with a chief for technology, innovation and partnerships, and bumping the salary up from $162,590 to $175,000.

“I’m going to look for somebody who is going to bring more to the table,” he said. “Someone who is able to work with me on expanding innovation to other schools. Let’s look at how we revamp or how we rethink potentially our libraries in a number of our schools.”

Other possible technological improvements would include real-time dashboards to track school performance, he said.

“I’m not quite up to speed on all we currently have, but I do have a vision of what I’d like to see operating for us,” he said.

Tony Daddona will no longer be called the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction; he will either be deputy superintendent or assistant superintendent for schools.

Rivera was collegial with Daddona during the meeting.

The chief human resource officer position will be enhanced, with the new hiree beginning Nov. 1. The chief operating officer position will become a chief business officer, and earn  $162,590, a drop from the $175,000 for the previous position. That person will be hired ASAP, Rivera said.

Rivera also requested a communications officer, which he said was in response to the conversations he has had with parents. This position would begin Nov. 1 and is based on an $87,938 annual salary.

The annual salary cost of the new structure would be $1,027,813, an increase of $97,350 over the current budget.

That prompted Colarossi to try to talk Rivera into delaying the hiring of a communications officer until July 1. He cautioned that next year’s school budget is expected to be roughly $6 million more than this year’s budget, due to a 4 percent pay raise coming to the teachers.

“If past is prologue, the first thing that is going to be on the cutting list will be the communications position,” Colarossi said. “It’s just been our history as a board – the first place that we look for cuts are non-classroom areas.”

Rivera assertively said he needs the new communications director ASAP.

“I think with the momentum that I hope to build and the kind of work that I would expect to be unfolding, I think it’s going to be very, very important,” he said. “… I think it’s a critical need. I am well aware of the future with regard to our budget situation.”

Colarossi, who said he is sometimes cast in the role of “board curmudgeon,” demurred. There is a steep learning curve to being a board member, he said, making it a good thing the terms are four years in length.

“Four years ago I think I would have been definitely voting against a communications position just because in my heart I just feel that we have needs in the elementary schools,” he said. “In four years you come to appreciate the roles that we have as managers and one of the roles of a manager is to support the CEO. Might not be the decision I would make if I were in the chair, but there is a very good reasons why I am not in that chair.”

Heidi Keyes said the communications director will be a key position.

“I’m hoping if we (hire a communications director) that more families will move to Norwalk, which is really our ultimate goal, and to get the positive message out about the positive things that are happening in Norwalk schools,” she said.

Both Keyes and Colarossi are running for re-election.

Artie Kassimis said he was surprised at the organization chart for the schools when he was appointed two years ago.

“This has been a long time in the making. I am very pleased at what I see,” he said. “I’m glad you did it right away.”

Kassimis is also running for election.

Lyons said Rivera is in charge.

“There is a point where you have to say this is the guy who we hired to run the school system and this is your judgment on the best way to run your own staff,” he said. “I think that carries a lot of weight.”



2 responses to “Rivera’s bold move appreciated by Norwalk board”

  1. Save Our Students Sorority

    Ding Ding Ding… Looks like we have a winner. This is absolutely no endorsement of any board member or of the process of locating and hiring Dr. Rivera and hopefully did not set a precedent, however, that said, looks like Mr. Rivera has the juice. Only weeks on the job and he already has not just recognized and acknowledged, many of the sorely needed administrative responsibilities that have been mismanaged and all but ignored, he has plans and is already implementing them, as is needed and wholeheartedly welcomed. Fantastic. A communications officer has been sorely needed for a very, very long time which has been documented in numerous studies and the replacement of Briggs depressing confines and dangerous location also is long, long overdue. Now, its up to the community to also replace the long needed replacement of the city administration so Dr. Rivera initiatives wont be hamstrung and blocked by the north end of the buildings politics. Hey Manny, forget getting your feet wet, feel comfortable and motivated to just jump right in. And thanks for coming back and giving back. Finally, we have found a captain to set our course to a brighter future, for all… Welcome home, Superintendent.

  2. Ante Litteram BOE

    What a difference a leader makes!
    Bravo for a superintendent who develops a plan and defends it.
    Three Cheers for the “curmudgeon” Atty. Colarossi for taking his job seriously enough to ask probing questions, but not so seriously so as to lose his sense of humor.
    One must wonder if the remainder on the Board appreciates that a frank discussion about finances is appropriate, even during the honeymoon with the new superintendent. Perhaps we now have a superintendent who will not look for sympathy when asked to answer questions about proposals.

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