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Why can't everyone give as much back to the city as Ed Sweeney?

New London — This was the part of New London schools nobody sees. Or wants to. A teacher reaching into the community, reconnecting with a successful alumnus, all to help the kids. Because he wanted to. Because it’s the right thing. Because he cares.

This was Wednesday, the end of the day at Camp Rotary/Summer Summit, a city-based summer endeavor that introduces roughly 150 kids from the city with mentoring programs, community partnerships, academic programs and other fun summer activities.

And so the kids gathered as Ed Sweeney, the camp’s co-director (and former head football coach at New London High) made an announcement. He introduced his nephew, Matt Fiano, a product of New London schools and founder of the wildly successful Ivory Ella, the Westerly-based clothing company well known to kids. Ivory Ella donates 10 percent of its profits to “Save The Elephants” and other charitable organizations.

Fiano, eminently relatable to the children of the 06320 — he used to be one — spoke briefly about his story. Then he added a postscript: Every kid in the place would receive a free backpack and T-Shirt from Ivory Ella.

The looks of hope and wonder on their faces — the faces that so perfectly illustrated the city’s diversity — told the story. Soon, the kids were awash in new backpacks, trying on new T-shirts with floods of smiles and laughs.

“We had a promotion saying for every backpack people bought, we’d donate one,” said Fiano, whose company that began in his basement in Waterford 27 months ago has swelled to a 45,000-foot warehouse in Westerly. “Ed and his staff work so hard with these kids. I know they’re always looking for ways to stretch a dollar. Plus, this helps me connect with my roots. We love to do this stuff. It’s one less thing for parents to have to worry about.”

Sweeney, ever popular, was all but giggly. And good for him. His diligence made 150 kids really happy.

So much of this happens frequently in New London schools. Teachers and building administrators caring beyond their pay grades. It goes unnoticed or unappreciated far too often. Know what the public sees instead? The bickering, backbiting and boorishness of our elected officials, who just don’t channel their inner Ed Sweeney enough.

And so I ask: What if our Board of Education members cared about the kids as much as Sweeney does? And many others like him who live quiet lives of desperation within the system?

The looks of wonder on the kids’ faces Wednesday underscored the dizzying levels of responsibility entrusted to the Board of Education, whose members have swung and missed thus far in the search for an interim superintendent. Secrecy and sniveling have replaced transparency and inclusion. It’s about party affiliations and being right instead of accepting the responsibility of serving the kids.

It’s unacceptable.

Know why? You owe the kids, folks. You owe them your best effort. You owe the kids the same above-and-beyond Sweeney showed in reaching out to Ivory Ella. You owe the kids the same above-and-beyond that happens in the school system now with partnerships that include Coast Guard, New England Science and Sailing, Rotary, Connecticut College and many others.

You owe them.

What you’ve given them thus far is rhetoric, whose rhetorical usefulness may keep the conversation flowing at Muddy Waters every morning, but does zippo for the people who count the most: the kids.

Can someone explain why it took the Board of Education nearly a month to meet formally about outgoing superintendent Manny Rivera’s interim replacement? Rivera told the Board on July 13. First meeting: Aug. 8. What, you’re all busier than Times Square?

Moreover, has anyone else noticed the contrast in the city’s handling of the vacant police chief position and the Board of Education’s clown act with the interim superintendent? The city’s job posting for police chief was carefully written, included details that highlighted issues with the past administration and illuminated a future for the department. The process for which the next chief will be chosen was included in the posting and was inclusive of all aspects of New London’s community, including members of the department, administration and the public.

Meanwhile, the superintendent search has urgency and specifics of a bake sale.

Again: why?

And maybe, you know, the current board members can delve into the replacement’s resume as to avoid another “Dr.” Carter debacle?

Sorry, folks. I’ve had it. The kids of this city mean too much to me. In 25 years here, they’ve not only educated me, but have saved me. They’ve made me a better person. Telling their stories, mostly through athletics, has been joyful. Seeing the happy looks on their faces Wednesday was near cause for a Hallmark Moment.

And that’s because Ed Sweeney tried. Really hard. And cared. Very much. About time the Board of Education got off its ascots and accepted its responsibility with some urgency. Bad enough this school system has too many six-figure do-nothings in Central Office. Now we have no Superintendent and a group of people picking the new one whose track record on the subject is a punchline.


But least the kids have backpacks.

Well done, Ed.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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