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New London schools looks to 'get it right' with new human resources director

New London — With a new human resources director on board, the school district has now filled two of three vacant top leadership positions.

The Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved the hire of Robert Stacy as the executive director of human resources and talent. He will lead a department that has come under scrutiny after the arrests of three employees and firing of a former administrator.

Stacy has more than two decades of experience in the field and previously worked as an HR director in Greenwich, Stamford and New Britain, among other school districts. He additionally holds a Juris Doctor degree in law from Albany Law School.

“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Stacy told the school board Thursday. “There’s a lot of energy around the leadership and the direction of the district and I’m excited to be part of a team that really seems to be focused on kids first, which is really important to me.”

“I know if I do my job well, the kids get a better education and that’s the priority I have in terms of the work I will bring to the district,” he said.

Stacy is expected to start work on July 1 along with longtime New London educator Michael Podeszwa, who earlier this month was appointed as the principal of Winthrop STEM Elementary Magnet School.

Podeszwa had been serving as Winthrop’s interim principal since former Principal Michele Han left the district in August for a position in the Guilford school district. He was the top recommendation of a committee vetting candidates for Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie. He has spent more than 23 years working in New London, where he has served as an elementary teacher, a summer school director and assistant principal.

“I am honored and excited to begin the next chapter of my career as Principal of Winthrop STEM Elementary Magnet School,” Podeszwa said in a statement. “I remember my first day of teaching as if it were yesterday, and I have the same passion for our students and families as I did 23 years ago. I could not imagine working anywhere other than New London.”

The district has yet to find a new high school principal, a position being advertised as the director of New London High School Multi-Magnet Campus. Former New London High School Principal William “Tommy” Thompson was moved out of the top spot at the high school during a restructuring last year and chosen to serve as the director of secondary-level curriculum, instruction and assessment.

STEM Magnet High School Director Laurelle Texidor, in the meantime, serves as the interim director at New London High School.

Stacy’s appointment fills a vacancy left after the departure of Taryn Bonner last June, when her contract expired. She has since taken on a job in the New Haven school district. The vacancy came at a time when the district was still reeling from news of the arrest of former middle school behavioral specialist Corriche Gaskin on charges he sexually assaulted two middle school students in 2017.

Gaskin was one of four school employees fired over the past year, two of which were hired with felony arrest records and a third, Jevon Elmore, who previously had been suspended for alleged physical abuse of a child and later charged with sexual assault of an underage teen.

In January, Ritchie fired former STEM middle school director Lawrence Washington for working with an expired state certification.

Ritchie last year ordered an audit of the human resources department and enlisted DeLuca Advisory Services. The audit was being performed simultaneous to an investigation into the district by the state’s Office of the Child Advocate.

The audit revealed a human resources department with issues that included missing or misplaced paperwork and certifications. The child advocate's investigation is on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The human resources department has been run by a team that includes Ritchie, two attorneys, a consultant with DeLuca Advisory and school employees Elizabeth McCaffery, Grace Sanchez and Danielle Henderson.

“We had gone month by month, combing through folders, rewriting policies for HR, ensuring all trainings are in place, fingerprints are in place and only the best of the best comes before our students,” Ritchie told the school board on Thursday. “We purposefully waited to fill the position until we got everything right in HR.”

Ritchie has said publicly that the new personnel director will earn a $147,000 annual salary.

In a statement, the district said Stacy “will guide the district’s ability to attract, hire, and retain a highly qualified and diverse staff in addition to leading collective bargaining agreements, employee benefits, positive staff and community relations.

A representative from the school district did not respond to inquiries about Podeszwa’s salary.

g.smith@theday.com

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