New London school district sees openings in top administrative positions

New London — With just weeks before the start of the new school season, the New London school district has lost at least three top administrators.

Some school board members say that while it creates a bit of a scramble to find qualified candidates, it also represents an opportunity for new school Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie to help build a team that shares her vision.

The district has posted a job opening for the position of director of bilingual education, English as a second language and world languages. Daisy Torres had served in that position and reportedly has left the district.

Ivelise Velazquez, the district’s chief academic officer since 2015, was hired Monday to serve as the deputy superintendent in the New Haven public school system.

C.B. Jennings Dual Language and International Elementary Magnet School Principal Jose A. Ortiz, hired by the district in 2017, announced his departure in a letter to parents this week. Ortiz accepted a new position elsewhere but did not detail where.

Jennings is in the early stages of transitioning into a full magnet school and in the candidacy phase of an International Baccalaureate program.

Ortiz, in his letter to parents, said that Jennings Assistant Principal Carol Paldino will serve as interim principal. Assistant Principal Leah Burdick will remain as an assistant principal. Ortiz said he would expect a permanent replacement by Nov. 1 and has encouraged staff and families to contact the district to share their interest in serving on an interview committee.

Board of Education members acknowledge that Jennings presents some future challenges.

In its first year as a magnet school, open to out-of-district kindergarteners, the school did not hit enrollment goals and lost out on an estimated $800,000 in state magnet funds. But school officials have said that not reaching goals in the first year was expected and were counting on improved numbers when it opens the first grade to outside students this year.

In order to qualify for a boost in state magnet school funds, the school must have 25 percent of its students come from outside the district for each grade level that is open to outside students. The school reported that 14 percent of kindergarteners came from outside New London.

Ortiz in the past has expressed confidence in the district attracting more students from outside New London, in part because of the school’s dual language immersion and world language programs.

The school also has the district's highest population of English language learners, at 36 percent, and the racial makeup of the school is not in compliance with state standards. State standards dictate that at least 25 percent of a student population in a magnet school must identify as something other than black or Hispanic/Latino.

Only 11 percent of the school’s population of 568 students identified last year as something other than black or Hispanic/Latino, according to the state Department of Education, which has the authority to impose penalties or pull magnet funding but has not done so.

“There is a concern of performance and equity across the system, no question that’s an issue,” said Board of Education member Manuel Rivera, a former superintendent.

“We lost an exceptional principal and it will be hard to replace him,” Rivera said of Ortiz. “I’m sure that with a good search, we can find someone willing to take on what is perhaps our most challenging assignment and key to our overall performance.”

School board member Jason Catala agreed the loss of Ortiz was a tough one for the district. He called Ortiz a “kid-centered” educator and a professional who was treated unfairly. Catala said Ortiz had sustained “unfair criticism” during at least one board meeting.

“I just feel like if he was appreciated, he would have stayed,” Catala said. “He wasn’t given the opportunity to do what he should have been able to do from the curriculum office.”

Catala said he also was frustrated by the fact both Ortiz and Velazquez had attended a training forum in San Diego, something he said should not have happened if they had intended to leave the district so quickly after.

He said he sees an opportunity with a vacancy in the chief academic officer position to combine positions that involve both curriculum and magnet school development and save the district money. He said he would suggest as much at a future school board meeting.

Catala said that, unlike hires that have occurred under previous superintendents, he expected the board to be involved in the hiring process and approve the final choices.

Rivera said he agreed with some school board involvement in the hires but was wary of micromanaging selection of staff under Ritchie.

The school district administration did not immediately respond to questions about the job openings, which most recently included an internal posting for the job of director of adult and continuing education, a position now held by Maria Pukas.

g.smith@theday.com

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