WNPR

Bridgeport And Hartford Hire School Leaders, But Search Process Sparks Controversies

Apr 3, 2017

Two of the state's largest school systems picked new superintendents recently, leaving only one major city -- New Haven -- without a permanent full-time leader. 

Over in Hartford, acting Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez was selected just two days after the public asked her and another candidate questions about their leadership style and what they hope to bring to the city's 47 schools. 

Torres-Rodriguez shared her story about arriving in the U.S. as a child from Puerto Rico, and working her way through school to earn her PhD.

"When I was a little girl I went to school not knowing any English," Torres-Rodriguez said. "And thank God that I met a teacher — my first teacher, she just so happened to be a Latina. And that’s how it impacted my dream of becoming a teacher."

Similar public forums were held in Bridgeport, where the interim superintendent there, Aresta Johnson, also ended up being chosen to lead the district full-time. 

But the superintendent search in both cities has been mired in controversy. In Hartford, the city’s mayor invited some school board members to his house to discuss a potential pick who hadn’t applied, and the school board told the two finalists not to attend the first scheduled public forum, which was organized by a parent group. 

Last year, superintendents from the state’s three biggest cities resigned mid-contract. Over in Bridgeport, one of the finalists dropped out after being bombarded on social media. 

Public input in this process varies from town to town. Some places don’t announce finalists at all and merely present the chosen person at a school board meeting. But even if the public is invited, there are often conflicts over who gets to ask the questions, and how the finalists were even chosen. 

Cities also tend to have major turnover. Hartford has had over 20 superintendents over the last 30 years. One of Hartford's finalists, Tim Sullivan, cited this problem in his public pitch for the job. 

"I hope to be superintendent until I retire," Sullivan said to standing-room only crowd at Capital Community College. "When I do retire, I’m not selling my house. I'm not moving to Okinawa, I'm not moving to Gilbert, Arizona, I’m staying right on Oxford Street." 

His reference to Okinawa and Arizona are jabs at two former superintendents who took jobs elsewhere after only a couple years on the job.