New London school board gets its guy

It is hard to argue with the selection of Manuel J. Rivera as the next superintendent of New London Public Schools, and we won't try.

Dr. Rivera is by all accounts an effective and experienced administrator. His past record shows an ability to work with the community, the teachers and school boards to improve the education systems where he has worked.

As an added bonus, Dr. Rivera knows New London, having grown up in the city. He is a 1970 New London High School graduate.

After leaving New London, he worked his way up through the Rochester, N.Y., school system, beginning his career there as a teacher, later moving into administration and was named superintendent in 1991, holding that position until 1994.

He left to work in the private sector for a consulting firm advising public schools. In the process, he had to take a critical eye in assessing and working to improve public education. In 2002, after a national search, the Rochester Board of Education again named him superintendent of schools. So successful was his work there, that in 2006 the American Association of School Administrators selected him National Superintendent of the Year.

In 2007, he was offered the job of leading the Boston school system, but opted instead to stay in New York as the governor's senior education policy advisor and deputy secretary for education. In 2013, he returned to public education, taking the job as superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools, a mid-sized Connecticut city of about 88,000 people. With 11,000 students, the Norwalk school system is about four times larger than New London's.

Based on his public comments, accepting the job in New London is a personal decision for Dr. Rivera. Rather than a steppingstone in his career, he sees the chance to help his native city as a capstone to a successful career.

Voters recently approved a $168 million project to complete the modernization of all New London public schools through both new construction and renovation. This sets the stage for the ambitious plan over the next several years to transform the city into an all-magnet-schools district, bringing racial and economic diversity to city schools, as they essentially become regional schools. Dr. Rivera has the background to effectively lead this transition and he appears eager to do so.

Yet, while applauding the results, we express disappointment with the process.

Recall that when the search for a superintendent began in January, the New London Board of Education appointed a 14-member search committee, including its seven members and seven appointees representing parents, city educators and the greater community.

"We will have the input of all the board members, some parents and other people who have experience with these kinds of searches. I think we have a really good, well-rounded search committee," school board President Margaret Mary Curtin said at the time.

Except that in this instance the larger search committee was largely ignored, as the school board and Ms. Curtin took it upon themselves to try to land Dr. Rivera.

After being burned in its last attempt - its selection in June of Terrence P. Carter as superintendent, only to revoke the decision after revelations of plagiarism and misrepresentation of his record surfaced - the board, rather than renew the search efforts, focused on Dr. Rivera. He had expressed interest during the prior search, only to withdraw his name.

It is understandable. By moving quickly, the board hopes to improve its chances of ending state oversight of the system in 2015, a change this newspaper considers premature. Reopening the search and including the larger search committee all would have taken time.

Yet an extended search with wide community involvement using a broad search committee is what the school board promised to do. While Dr. Rivera is a high quality candidate, he should have been measured against other available candidates.

The board, however, opted for another course. In doing so, they got their man. We are confident he will do a great job when he begins Feb. 1. All can agree that it will greatly benefit New London if he does.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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