Rivera unanimously appointed next New London superintendent of schools

New London — The Board of Education on Thursday night unanimously appointed Manuel J. Rivera as the city’s next superintendent of schools.

Rivera, a city native who announced earlier Thursday that he will resign from his job as superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools effective Jan. 31, 2015, will take the reins in New London on Feb. 1, pending the board’s ratification of his contract.

Rivera was present for Thursday’s meeting and said he was excited by the opportunity to return to New London and serve his hometown.

“I absolutely fundamentally believe that the future of the city of New London depends on having a highest quality of schools,” Rivera said Thursday night. “And that is what I intend to work towards in collaboration with the board, with our community, with the various agencies and organizations that serve children and families, with our local colleges ... because I know in order to transform the public school system here and to build on some of the great things that are already happening, is going to require a community effort.”

Rivera said his decision to leave Norwalk was “bittersweet” because he enjoyed working with the teachers, school leaders and parents there.

“During the past several weeks, I have been wrestling with the most difficult decision of my personal and professional career,” Rivera wrote in a message posted on the Norwalk school district’s website Thursday afternoon.

Thursday night, he added, “Ultimately, for personal reasons, I took the opportunity to come back home and make a difference in the community as New London becomes the state’s first all-magnet school district. I would love nothing better than to bring my expertise and passion for children here.”

Board President Margaret Mary Curtin said she is “delighted” that Rivera accepted the position and looks forward to working with him.

Rivera, a 1970 New London High School graduate who was named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators while serving in Rochester, N.Y., in 2006, was hired to run the Boston school system in 2007 but made a last-minute change and went to New York, where he served for a couple of years as the state’s deputy secretary of education.

After his tenure working for the state of New York, Rivera became the chief executive officer of GEMS Americas, an educational consulting firm.

In 2011, Rivera served as a pro bono senior education policy adviser for Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who is also a distant relative by marriage. Finizio’s partner, Todd Ledbetter, is Rivera’s cousin’s son. Additionally, Board of Education Vice President Elizabeth Garcia-Gonzalez said she and Rivera are distant cousins.

“The city of New London is embarking upon one of the most significant educational reforms that an urban community could attempt, to become the first all-magnet regional school district in our state and perhaps the first all-magnet regional urban school district in the nation,” Finizio told the board. “To make that successful, we need the best possible leadership in our school system and you have just selected the best possible leader for the New London Public Schools.”

Rivera began as superintendent in Norwalk in July 2013. With an enrollment of about 11,000 students in 19 schools and an annual operating budget of roughly $168 million, the Norwalk district is about four times the size of New London by all three metrics.

According to the most recent information available on the district’s website, Rivera earns an annual salary of $250,000.

The appointment of Rivera marks the second time this year the board has chosen a new leader for the city’s schools. In June, the board unanimously appointed Terrence P. Carter as superintendent, only to revoke its offer to him after revelations of plagiarism and misrepresentation came to light. Carter filed a lawsuit against the board and Curtin earlier this week.

According to a city official, Rivera applied for the New London superintendent job when it was originally advertised last spring. He ultimately withdrew himself from consideration during the finalist stage to prevent his interest in the job from becoming public while he still held the superintendent’s post in Norwalk.

Until Rivera takes control, Miriam Morales-Taylor will serve as the district’s interim superintendent. Morales-Taylor, who two weeks ago was named assistant superintendent, previously served as New London’s director of student services and as assistant superintendent in Hartford.

She will take over Monday from Richard Foye, who has served as the city’s interim superintendent for the last three months.

c.young@theday.com

Twitter: @ColinAYoung

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