New principal hired for New London's newest magnet school

New London — The city's school district has hired a longtime educator with expertise in dual-language immersion and bilingualism to lead its newest magnet school.

Jose A. Ortiz recently was named the principal at C.B. Jennings Dual Language and International Elementary Magnet School. He replaces interim Principal Jaye Wilson and will lead a school in transition.

Jennings already has a well-established dual language program but, for the first time next year, will open up kindergarten and first-grade classes to students statewide as part of its new magnet program. The school also is seeking candidacy as an International Baccalaureate World School.

“I’m honored to be a facilitator in this process. It’s really exciting,” Ortiz said in a phone interview earlier this week. “It’s going to become the flagship school of New London — a fantastic journey for the whole community."

Ortiz has two decades of experience in a variety of roles at Connecticut schools, including time as the supervisor for the bilingual and English as a Second Language (ESL)/English Language Learners (ELL) programs for New Haven Public Schools.

He currently is working in Puerto Rico as the chief academic officer for Scholastic International, where he is spearheading academic and school improvement efforts at more than a dozen schools there.

After years working at the corporate level, Ortiz said, “something was calling me back to work at the ground level.”

“I saw the posting at Jennings and New London sounded like a perfect fit,” Ortiz said. “The new efforts of the district are great. This is the right time for me to get back.”

School Superintendent Manuel Rivera said Ortiz was among a pool of highly qualified candidates to apply for the position.

“I’m thrilled that an individual with his experience, knowledge, character and passion will become the new principal,” Rivera said. “And I’m thrilled to hear him say he wants to see Jennings become the flagship school of New London. I think he can do that.”

The dual language program at Jennings teaches students to speak, read, write and understand both English and Spanish. Ortiz said part of the school’s role is to ensure students become bilingual and have an understanding of another culture. The idea is to have a balanced mix of native Spanish and English speakers with instruction in both English and Spanish.

“Students will be able to function academically in both languages — not just speak both languages,” he said. “Dual language programs recognize that both languages have equal status in the academic and instructional model.”

As part of its new magnet pathway theme, Ortiz said instruction at Jennings will focus on inquiry-based, multicultural and globally minded learning. The dual language and international education pathway eventually will be expanded into all grade levels — kindergarten through fifth grade — at Jennings and become one of the four magnet schools as the district converts into an all-magnet district.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Ortiz earned an undergraduate degree in accounting and finance from the Catholic University of Puerto Rico. In a change of course from his area of study, Ortiz said he landed his first job in Connecticut at the age of 24 at a time when the state was in desperate need of bilingual teachers. He hasn’t left the field of education since then.

From his teaching position in Waterbury, Ortiz moved on to become an associate principal at a Windham middle school and at one point headed an intradistrict dual-language immersion magnet school in New Britain.

Ortiz earned a master’s degree in education, and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with a concentration in bilingual and bicultural education from the University of Connecticut. Prior to his job in Puerto Rico, he served as the executive director of professional learning and a senior fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education.

The dual language and international education program at Jennings will join established visual and performing arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) magnet pathways in the school district. The district plans to add a Future Leadership pathway in 2018. Construction of one of two new sixth- through 12th-grade schools is expected to start next year on the grounds of New London High School.

A district spokesman said Ortiz’s salary still is being negotiated.

For more information on district magnet options, visit http://newlondon.org/choosemagnet.

g.smith@theday.com

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