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Education chief eyes troubled New London schools

New London - The state education commissioner is scheduled to speak at Thursday's Board of Education meeting.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor is expected to address the school board for about an hour, but the city's superintendent of schools said Monday that he is unaware of the contents of Pryor's address.

The state has been watching the school board closely since last year. Last week, members of the state Board of Education met to hear a briefing on a recent school board operations audit. At that same meeting, Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer pleaded for state intervention.

On Monday, Pryor met for an hour with Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio and Mark Ojakian, the chief of staff for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, to discuss a variety of topics that included the current status of education in the city and "various methods for improving education in New London," Finizio said.

Finizio described the conversation as a "preliminary" but also said the conversation was "productive and open."

"Methods for improving education through both internal reforms and external assistance from the state were discussed," Finizio said. "This is the beginning of the process, not the end and not even the middle of the discussions. This is not something two people or one person is going to unilaterally do. It will be a process and one that involves numerous community partners here in New London as well as the state."

He declined to specify what options he and the commissioner discussed for New London but said that he is looking forward to a full cooperation on behalf of the city, community partners and the state.

The Governance and Management audit of the school board was conducted by the state Bureau of Accountability and Improvement and included interviews of 55 community members, school and city officials and business leaders. The audit analyzed school system leadership; district and school organizational arrangements; and school district governance structure and functions, including the relationships among administrators, city officials and community members.

The state Board of Education has intervened on different levels in Hartford, Windham and Bridgeport. While the commissioner has yet to issue a set of recommendations for New London, possibilities include appointing a special master, removing the superintendent or the reconstitution of the school board or the entire district.

Before a full reconstitution, the state is required to order school board members to attend mandatory training.

Thursday's school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the Science and Technology Magnet High School.


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