New London school board elects former Superintendent Rivera as president

New London — The Board of Education elected former school Superintendent Manuel “Manny” Rivera as its new president on Thursday.

Rivera replaces former President Mirna Martinez, who unsuccessfully challenged Rivera for the presidency. Rivera praised Martinez's work over the past year.

“Anyone that knows Mirna knows she’s devoted countless hours of each week to the district, to our children, to our parents and to our community,” Rivera said.

Martinez was one of only two members, along with Jason Catala, who had served on the seven-member school board prior to the election in 2017 and led the group through the selection of the new superintendent and a trying budget process.

Rivera said his aim over the next year is to continue working with and supporting Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie. Rivera said Ritchie is moving “100 miles an hour” in her effort to provide greater accountability and improve student achievement. He said one area where he would like to focus over the next year is “how we’re able to connect with our community partners,” such as the Community Foundation of Southeastern Connecticut.

“I look forward to doing the best job as I possibly can as your board president,” Rivera said.

He won the presidency in a 4-2 vote with support from Republican Susan Tierney and Democrats Catala and Rebecca Amanti. Martinez, a Green Party member, gained support from Democratic board member Regina Mosley. Jefferey Hart, also a Democrat, initially supported Martinez but abstained from the final vote. Hart was elected to be vice president and Tierney, secretary.

Rivera retired as superintendent in 2017 after two and a half years as head of the school district, during which time he led the school system out of state supervision. He surprised many when he tossed his hat in the ring to fill a vacant spot on the Democratic slate of school board candidates.

Catala, a longtime school board member and Rivera critic, admits there was awkwardness when Rivera joined the school board but said he has since come to see Rivera “as someone who wants to move our district forward.” He said Rivera, who had served as vice president over the last year, had the ability to help move meetings along at a quick pace. Catala said having a Republican on the executive committee also helps lend some diversity to the group.

“I think we’re going to have a good year,” Catala said.

Rivera, in his first move as president, attempted to change next year's meetings schedule and eliminate the twice monthly meetings in favor of one business meeting and one workshop meeting. After some debate, the move was tabled to a later date.

Rivera said having a workshop as opposed to a voting meeting would give board members an opportunity to ask questions and have more in-depth discussions on certain topics without the pressure of having to vote the same night. The intention, he said, is to have business meetings run more efficiently.

g.smith@theday.com

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