Upheaval in New London school system

Challenging times lie ahead for New London Public Schools and its Board of Education.

With no state budget in place and Connecticut’s continuing fiscal woes, there is significant uncertainty about the state’s commitment to assist New London in the planned transition to an all-magnet-schools district.

At the same time, the superintendent is exiting and the school board faces a dramatic changing of the guard.

In July, Superintendent Manuel Rivera, whose contract was set to run until 2021, made the surprise announcement that he will be retiring around the end of this month. Seeing a superintendent depart, with relatively little notice, just as a school year is about to begin, always presents a significant challenge.

This is more so for New London, an “Alliance District,” so designated by the state because it faces major academic struggles. New school construction, focusing curriculum around study paths intended to peak student attentiveness by centering on their interests, and diversifying the schools by attracting students from around the region, are all part of the plan to improve performance.

The Board of Education, which has been working with Rivera in implementing this vision, will likewise look far different come 2018. This week board President Scott Garbini, who had accepted the nomination of the Democratic Town Committee, announced he would not seek re-election after all. Garbini called the decision personal and cited health reasons. There is no doubt president will be a pressure-packed position as the board navigates big changes.

That leaves only two of the seven board members seeking re-election. One faces an uphill battle.

Mirna Martinez, whom this newspaper highly respects for her attention to detail and dedication to city schools, will run on the Green Party label. Two years ago, Republicans cross-endorsed Martinez, but citing principle, she did not seek the GOP’s support this time. Martinez said Republican Town Committee Chair Shannon Brenek unfairly and inaccurately criticized student performance in a guest commentary The Day published June 11.

Winning as a third-party candidate is difficult.

Veteran board member Jason Catala, a Republican turned Democrat, appears a shoe-in.

The first order of business in providing some stability is for the sitting board to name an interim superintendent. Then it will be up to voters to choose carefully in November, for those they elect will decide whom to hire to continue Rivera's work.

This situation shows the need to amend the charter to provide staggered terms for school board members — four elected in one cycle, three in another — to avoid such major shifts.

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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