Dr. Beth Schiavino-Narvaez is taking a different job, New Haven Superintendent Garth Harries is leaving November 1st, and Bridgeport Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz has been driven out by Board of Education contentiousness. What are we to learn from the current state of Connecticut’s three largest cities?
According to the CT Association of School Superintendents (CAPSS), several factors are at play in what it terms “a crisis of leadership in CT’s three largest school districts”:
- “The root of the problem that has to be solved is a school district governance structure that was developed in the eighteenth century and that no longer aligns well with what school systems need to be in the twenty first century,” CAPSS has stated.
- Specifically, the system needs pillars of the community in Board positions – not a process that allows “for anyone regardless of qualifications, knowledge, temperament, and/or motivation to represent the public,” the organization added.
- Not only should micromanagement by Boards be out of bounds, but the CT law limiting superintendent contracts to three years needs to be changed.
- Finally, whereas teachers on the job have lifetime contracts after four years of service, superintendents serve basically at the whim of their Boards. Sufficient job security is an issue.
Changing the governance structure won’t be easy, but it is presently such an impediment to the welfare of children that all connected with public education in CT need to seriously discuss how to change it, CAPSS contends.
Perhaps the Bridgeport transition of Dr. Rabinowitz is the most disturbing. After enduring Board Member Maria Pereira’s “negative crusade to undermine and discredit much of what we have built for children in this school district,” the superintendent said in a resignation letter, she will leave at the close of the year after concluding that the situation is “impossible.”
The Bottom Line. The dynamics between the superintendent and the Board in Hartford, fortunately, are much more positive – and functional – than those in Bridgeport. Moreover, the hybrid Board selection process, in which the mayor appoints the five-member majority to augment the four elected members, promotes a diverse and knowledgeable structure. At the same time, turnover in the superintendent’s office has created instability for many years in Hartford. The issues raised by CAPSS deserve serious consideration as we here in Hartford set up a superintendent search process just today.