Vacancies high in New London school district

New London — The New London school district, plagued by scandal even as it builds a reputation for its magnet school offerings, is busy this summer filling some of its 76 vacancies.

The vacancies were reported to the Board of Education at its June 27 meeting. At least 20 of those vacancies, a mix of certified and noncertified positions, are at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, the school at the center of a controversy that has led to three arrests and multiple staff suspensions. There has also been a restructuring of the top administrative positions there.

Former middle school climate specialist Corriche Gaskin — who faces charges related to the alleged sexual assault of two former students — is the focus of an investigation that has caught the attention of not only police but the Office of the Child Advocate.

A list of the positions provided by the school district shows 18 vacant middle school teaching positions ranging from math and music to social studies and special education.

There were 23 resignations districtwide between May 18 and June 21, including six from the middle school. The district’s list of 76 vacancies does not distinguish between certified and noncertified positions or between unfilled, new or already vacant positions. Requests to the district for further information was not immediately answered.

There are a total of 634.57 full-time equivalent positions funded in the current school budget: 356.6 certified and 277.97 noncertified, school budget documents show.

The task of filling staff vacancies is not abnormal, said Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie, who declined to acknowledge any connection between the scandal and the vacancies. Ritchie, hired by the district in 2018, said there were more than 70 vacancies to contend with last summer.

“We are continuing to actively recruit and hire and many schools have already completed their processes to fill their open positions,” she said in an email. “Normal procedures are happening and are meeting success.”

School board Vice President Jefferey Hart said the board has received regular notices that interviews are underway and progress is being made filling the positions.

Board of Education member Jason Catala, however, said the number of resignations, particularly at the middle school and Harbor Elementary School, raises a red flag for him.

“In a district like ours, we shouldn’t be losing over 70 people. There’s no way to sugar-coat it. It’s a high number,” Catala said.

He said he is pushing for information to be released related to exit interviews from the resigning employees.

“We’ve never seen one piece of exit interview information for at least four years,” Catala said. “The Board of Education should have been informed of anyone who resigned because of the scandal.”

The number of New London school staff vacancies far outpaces neighboring districts of Norwich, Groton and Waterford.

Groton, with about 649 employees, reported two teacher vacancies, two administrator vacancies and 20 paraprofessional vacancies. Norwich, with 688 staff positions, reported eight vacant certified positions and three noncertified.

Waterford School Superintendent Thomas W. Giard III said that on any given year there are typically between 10 and 12 certified position vacancies. There were just four this year and hires have already been made to fill those positions.

“This has been a quiet summer for us,” he said.

In addition to normal hires, Ritchie has restructured the administration throughout the district, shifting top administrators into new roles and posting positions for directors of both the New London High School Multi-Magnet Campus and Multi-Magnet Campus at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School.

The district has posted an online survey asking for input on assessing the competencies and qualifications used in selecting the new directors. The district also is looking to hire a new human resources director. Current director Taryn Bonner has accepted a job in the New Haven school district.

Both the middle and high school — referred to as the north and south campuses — are at the beginning stages of a $150 million school construction project that will transform the campuses to accommodate three magnet programs focused on art, STEM — or science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and an International Baccalaureate program.

The school board was presented with a bit of good news at the June 27 meeting. Magnet enrollment was on track to satisfy state requirements for additional magnet funding. An early compliance review showed that enrollment of out-of-district students at each of the four different magnet schools or programs exceeded the 25 percent needed to trigger state magnet funding.

The schools range from the 27 percent of out-of-district students enrolled in the sixth through 12th grades arts program, 35 percent in the sixth through 12th grades STEM program, 33 percent in the Nathan Hale Arts Magnet Elementary School and 35 percent at the Winthrop STEM Magnet Elementary School.

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