Fischer first year: focused, confrontational

New London The Board of Education's first evaluation of Superintendent Nicholas Fischer focused on his strong leadership skills and sometimes confrontational behavior.

In the 10-page document, released Friday, the school board noted that Fischer arrived in the New London Public Schools last fall at a time of "no small upheaval." They said he was confronted with a district exhausted by school evaluations as well as "politically stormy personnel issues," but he set about refocusing the district on fundamentals of delivering a world-class education.

"In a short amount of time, Dr. Fischer's vision for promoting excellence in New London Public Schools is evident. He has demonstrated a strong commitment to setting high expectations for both students and staff," the evaluation said.

The board said the superintendent has gone about steadily knitting together a fractious community. But "at times, however, his focus on the core responsibilities of the district has been construed to be dismissive or bullying."

The school board praised his handling of the budget process, but criticized his recommendation to close the Harbor School to save money without looking at other proposals that may have been available.

The review slams him for walking out of the City Council's Finance Committee meeting, calling it "inappropriately confrontational," but applauds his efforts to engage a facilitator for a recent joint meeting between the school board and the council.

"Dr. Fischer's progressive thinking to build a bridge was welcome," the document said.

Board members said his strengths are his open-door policy and his ability to be transparent and accessible to the community. They liked how he spends time observing classrooms to understanding curriculum needs better.

They called him a first-rate, effective, highly dedicated and immensely talented professional leader, though they said his management style contrasts with his predecessor's overarching collaborative nature.

"He made it clear that the 'buck stops with him' and brooks no deviation from the course he has set towards excellence. ... This management style has evinced some push back from staff. Therefore, while he is in the team building stage, Dr. Fischer should be wary of alienating his 'team.'"

Reached by phone on Friday, Fischer said he was pleased with the evaluation.

"I thought it was fair. I thought it was balanced," Fischer said. "I always welcome constructive criticism, and I look forward to sitting down with the board for them to help me understand the specific things they want me to work on."

The school board's suggested goals for the superintendent include continuing to improve community and school relations; to review the district website in order to improve communications with the community; to continue to fully implement the Magnet School Plan; to provide more comprehensive reports to the board regarding implementation of the District Improvement Plan; and to provide monthly reports of the status of the district.

From 2003 to 2005, Fischer was assistant superintendent of the 12th-largest school district in the nation, Fairfax (Va.) County Public Schools, with 165,000 students and a $1.8 billion budget.

He then spent the next four years as superintendent of schools in Fall River, Mass., which has a population of 91,000, nearly four times that of New London.

Fischer has also served as an administrator in Delaware, Iowa, Broward County in Florida and Minneapolis, where he last taught from 1969 to 1973.

a.renczkowski@theday.com

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