New London selects new director for arts magnet school

New London — The Board of Education voted late Thursday night to appoint Maureen Bransfield as the new director of the New London Magnet School for the Visual and Performing Arts, a decision some said was difficult following emotional pleas to put Kate Fioravanti in the position.

Bransfield has served as principal of New Horizons High School, an alternative school in New Haven, since July 2010 and previously was principal of the Collaborative Alternative Magnet School for leadership.

"I was very interested in the concept of growing a program," Bransfield said Friday. "I have been in a couple different schools where I have kind of been a change agent in morphing programs and transforming them, so I find that a wonderful challenge, and the visual and performing arts are something that move my soul."

Bransfield said she has built New Horizons to stand on three pillars: trauma-informed services, restorative practices and mindfulness, "all in an effort to increase students' ability to attend to their learning and to ultimately increase achievement."

Bransfield, a Guilford resident and mother of a 15-year-old, holds a master's degree in counselor education and a sixth-year degree in educational leadership.

At the Board of Education meeting Thursday, 11 people got up to advocate for keeping Kate Fioravanti, who has served as interim director of the Arts Magnet Middle School for two years, in the position.

The board later went into executive session, returned at 11:36 p.m. and voted to appoint Bransfield, with board members Susan Tierney and Rebecca Amanti voting against.

Jefferey Hart said there was no option presented to the board to hire Fioravanti, and that he believes incoming Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie has the right to build her own team.

Regina Mosley said the decision was "very difficult" but "it is our responsibility as a board to support the superintendent interim and superintendent elect," the ones who recommended Bransfield to the Board of Education.

Fioravanti advocates angrily left the meeting after the vote, with admonishments like "You should all be ashamed" and "The integrity of the [arts] pathway is over."

Renee Dunn called The Day on Friday to say she was "livid" and that she will now be sending her fifth-grade daughter, who currently is at Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School, to Cutler Middle School in Groton.

She said of Fioravanti's relationship with her students, "I know she takes their safety, both emotionally and physical, very seriously, and I know nothing about this incoming person."

The selection process

Human resources director Taryn Bonner said 19 people applied for the position and the interview committee sat with six candidates before forwarding two names — Bransfield, and another candidate who is not Fioravanti — to interim Superintendent Stephen Tracy and Ritchie.

"I'm confident that her leadership experience and her commitment to student success will enable her to move our Arts Magnet program to the next level," Tracy said in a news release Friday, in which he also praised Fioravanti for the "spirit and energy" she brought to the development of the program.

The interview committee included Bonner, board members Mirna Martinez and Jason Catala, Chief Academic Officer Evie Velazquez, literacy coach Eileen Schindler, New London Education Association President Richard Baez, STEM Magnet Middle School Director Lawrence Washington, counselor Tedman Martinez and community member Migdalia Salas.

Martinez was the only parent of an Arts Magnet Middle School student on the committee. Velazquez said that "there were calls to many parents," but some parents who were going to serve couldn't make it to the interviews.

Velazquez said the decision to select Bransfield "is definitely about high school experience — the years of experience, having done it before. That is what we were looking for in a candidate, and we got that."

The arts pathway is extending to ninth grade in the fall, and Bransfield's position eventually will oversee the program for grades six through 12.

Catala works in New Haven Public Schools but stressed that the first time he met Bransfield was at the interview. He noted that "the data at the arts magnet school is not good" and said the "committee felt that Maureen would bring a fresh face."

He also was impressed that at New Horizons, Bransfield worked on a music program with Michael Bolton.

Catala said this wasn't the right position for Fioravanti but the district will be creating arts coordinator positions, and perhaps she could be in one of those roles.

Fioravanti has administrative seniority and will be able to stay with the district but she said parents and teachers were "disappointed and confused" on Friday.

e.moser@theday.com

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