Process leading to Rivera's coming to New London as superintendent was fast and fortuitous
New London - On Aug. 28, the Board of Education found itself with nothing to show for a six-month, nationwide search for a superintendent to lead the city's school system through its metamorphosis into the state's first all-magnet school district.
That night, the board's attorneys had released a report concluding that Terrence P. Carter, the man the board unanimously had chosen as superintendent in June, had misused the title of "Dr." before completing his doctoral studies, plagiarized sections of his job application and did not disclose that he had filed for bankruptcy in 1999. The board rescinded its offer to Carter that night.
"That's when it started; we had to decide what we were going to do next," board President Margaret Mary Curtin said.
Finding itself back at square one, the board moved quickly to recruit former national superintendent of the year and current Norwalk Superintendent Manuel J. Rivera, a city native.
Rivera had applied for the job during the first round of the search but withdrew from consideration before the search committee began interviewing candidates, Curtin said.
"Rather than go out for a full-blown search, which probably would have taken anywhere from three to six months to do, we decided to go back to the list the (McPherson and) Jacobson firm had, and we chose Manny to interview," Curtin said.
Less than three months later, on Nov. 20, Rivera announced at 5 p.m. his intention to resign from his job in Norwalk on Jan. 31. At 7 p.m., the Board of Education in New London unanimously appointed him the Whaling City's next superintendent, effective Feb. 1.
Publicly, the second round of the superintendent search began Sept. 11 when, after scrapping an agenda item to go into executive session that did not comply with the state's Freedom of Information Act, the board voted to establish itself as the search committee, which exempted the group from adhering to Freedom of Information Act laws, and then adjourned the meeting. The newly formed committee then met for about an hour in closed session.
For the initial superintendent search, the board established a committee made up of the seven board members, the heads of the teachers' and administrators' unions, parents and community members.
Curtin said that night the board "may expand the committee in the future if we decide that it is necessary."
Just over a week later, on Saturday, Sept. 20, the Board of Education interviewed Rivera for the superintendent job, Curtin said. It was the only interview the board conducted as part of its renewed superintendent search, and Rivera was the only candidate interviewed during either search process who had previous experience as a superintendent, she said.
On Oct. 1, Curtin told a reporter from The Day, "I think we had some people who applied before, and we can look at them. I'll be calling the search committee together sooner rather than later."
But by that point Curtin and the rest of the Board of Education had already interviewed Rivera, without ever convening the larger search committee.
One search committee member said he was left out of the process until after the Board of Education had made its decision to hire Rivera.
"I heard nothing as to the post-Terrence Carter search until I was informed that they had made a selection the day before they actually voted on it," said Adam Sprecace, a former city councilor. "I traded some texts and voicemails with Peg Curtin and was provided (Rivera's) application materials the day before the vote. I went through them, had no issue and really wasn't going to sound any alarms because I think they made the right decision."
Sprecace said he never interviewed Rivera and did not meet him until he was introduced the night the board voted to appoint Rivera to the position.
Curtin, though, said the expanded search committee did meet with and interview Rivera. "I preferred to have the whole search committee interview him before we made our decision. We met with them the morning of our appointment and had them interview Manny," she said. "At that point my thought was that if any other board members or search committee members were not in favor of him or had questions we would hold up and probably interview other people. They all seemed to be in agreement, that's why we voted on him that evening."
It is unclear whether search committee members other than Sprecace interviewed Rivera before his appointment. Sprecace was the only search committee member The Day could reach for comment.
Likewise, Curtin is the only Board of Education member who accepted an interview request from The Day.
"I think it would have been beneficial to have the full search committee involved right through the end," Sprecace said. "I understand the timeliness requirements that the Board of Education had imposed, and re-engaging the search committee could have taken more time than they had."
In September, Sprecace wrote an op-ed column in The Day denying that Carter was the unanimous selection of the search committee, as the Board of Education had announced in June.
Sprecace said he accepts that it is the board's prerogative to conduct the search itself, but would have liked to have been given a debriefing to identify just where the first search went haywire.
"Considering all the effort we put in, I think it would be worthwhile for all those involved to understand the details and intricacies of what happened," Sprecace said. "I am concerned about exactly how that all went down and want to understand how we could have been dragged along to such a degree."
Despite his desire to have been part of the decision making process, Sprecace said he supports the board's choice to appoint Rivera as superintendent of schools.
"Once I went through his curriculum vitae and application, it was clear that he had all the specifics and all the criteria to be a very good superintendent for the city of New London," he said. "I felt comfortable with what the board had done."
The board's appointment of Rivera is contingent upon the ratification of a contract, which Curtin said has been "approved and awaiting my signature."