Sound pick for New London's interim superintendent

The hiring of a veteran superintendent to run the New London Public Schools should provide needed stability while the Board of Education undertakes its search for a permanent replacement.

Last week the board voted 5-1 to hire Stephen Tracy as interim superintendent. Details of the contract are being worked out, though the expectation is that Tracy and the board reached an understanding of its broad outlines before the vote.

Tracy, who turns 70 in October, most recently served in the interim capacity for Fairfield schools, far removed both economically and geographically from New London schools. He has also served as superintendent in New Milford and Derby.

From 2012 to 2015, Tracy was superintendent for Unified District 2, a state Department of Children and Families operation responsible for supporting the public education of roughly 4,000 children in foster care who attend local public schools.

All this should provide Tracy the necessary experience to manage the school district following the pending departure of Superintendent Manuel J. Rivera. The out-going superintendent surprised the New London community with his announcement in July that he was retiring. Rivera steps away from a contract that runs through 2021, an extension he sought.

Board member Jason Catala cast the lone “no” vote. He wanted an interim superintendent named who has existing ties to city schools. This is no time, however, for on-the-job superintendent training. Going outside the school system provides a clean slate as the board turns its attention to finding a permanent replacement. An internal pick could have raised the expectation that he or she had the inside track on the job.

Retired with a pension from his prior work as an administrator, Tracy said he has no intention to apply for the permanent job.

Catala also did not like that Tracy came by way of Rivera’s recommendation. Tracy and Rivera worked together at Edison Schools Inc., now Edison Learning, a for-profit and at times controversial operation (critics see the industrialization of public education as a threat) that provides education management to public school systems. Given his abrupt decision to leave, Catala feels the school board should not be following Rivera’s lead. But the majority of board members correctly saw Rivera’s ties to Tracy as an asset, not a liability. Communications between the two should be good, which ought to make Tracy’s job easier and help assure a smooth transition to a new school year for the city’s public schools, despite the changes at the top.

As noted in prior editorials, New London again faces a critical decision in finding a permanent replacement for Rivera and continuing the transition to an all-magnet-schools district. That process involves school building construction and continued revamping of the curriculum, while working in a fiscally challenging environment at both the state and local level.

Adding to the challenge is a school board also in flux, with only two of seven board members seeking re-election in November. With an experienced administrator in place, the school board has the time to get this decision right.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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