Citing Stress's Toll, Henry Decides Fate Before Board Can
February 16, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Robert Henry, Hartford's superintendent
of schools, had spent weeks worrying about whether he should resign
or wait for the school board to decide his fate in March.
But Wednesday, Henry woke up and decided
to make the decision himself.
After more than a year of uncertainty
about whether the board - and its new chairman, Mayor Eddie A. Perez
- would keep him on, Henry decided it was time to leave. The stress
was taking a toll on him personally, distracting him and, he said,
the entire district.
"I wanted to take control of the
situation rather than have it control me," Henry said shortly
after announcing his decision. "I wanted to reduce the speculation
- `Is he staying or is he going?' You can't be a slave to that.
I had to manage that piece."
Henry will continue in the job until
his contract ends on June 30. Perez said he hopes to do a national
search and have a permanent replacement in place by then.
"He made his decision and we need
to move on," Perez said Wednesday. "I've been very supportive
of the work he's done."
While Perez and Henry have rarely clashed
publicly, the mayor's indecision over Henry's contract has fueled
speculation that Henry's tenure in Hartford could soon be coming
to an end.
As recently as Wednesday, Perez said
he still hadn't made up his mind about whether he wanted to extend
"When an individual is given only
a [six-month] contract extension, in many respects, there's already
handwriting on the wall," council member Kenneth Kennedy said.
"Does that mean to say that there was a forced resignation?
I don't know."
Henry has struggled in his effort to
improve test scores of Hartford's 24,000 students, though the district
has seen gains in the past few years. Those include federal recognition
of several schools for excellence and the accreditation of all city
"I think Bob did a nice job as
superintendent, but he had a lot less resources than his predecessor,"
Kennedy said. "The problems with the Hartford school system,
I don't know if you can lay them all at Bob Henry's foot."
Henry appeared to have Perez's support
when he took over in 2002 for outgoing Superintendent Anthony Amato.
Henry was hailed as a man to soothe
teachers and principals who had become frazzled under Amato's hard-driving
reforms and brittle personality.
But midway through his second year,
Henry's relationship with the school board began to deteriorate
as he and the new board chairman, mayoral appointee I. Michael Borrero,
struggled for power. Perez stepped in, asking Borrero to not run
for a second term as board chairman. Borrero resigned.
But Perez fired a warning shot at Henry,
saying publicly that he expected improvement in student achievement
now that a major distraction was gone. The mayor also scoffed publicly
at Henry's statistics on graduation and drop-out rates and the percentage
of graduates enrolling in four-year colleges.
As changes in the city charter gave
Perez increasing power over the school board, it became clear that
Perez, through his appointees, had a major say in Henry's contract.
When the board extended Henry's contract by only six months, it
sent a message that Henry was being watched closely, his future
And when Perez appointed himself chairman
of the school board in December, it underscored that Henry's fate
rested squarely with Perez, though Perez remained mum.
Board member Andrea Comer said Perez
had kept quiet as to whether he would endorse a new contract for
Henry. "I tried to broach the subject with him a couple of
weeks ago and I didn't get an impression one way or the other,"
But Hyacinth Yennie, one of the district's
most vocal parents, raised the subject with Henry at a PTO council
meeting Tuesday night.
"I told him last night, `I know
you and Eddie are not going to make it,'" Yennie said Wednesday.
"He told me that he wasn't looking for another job. I observed
something at the last meeting: Robert was not happy. My observation
was that things weren't right. It is sad. Here we go again."
The uncertainty Henry felt was evident
to many who worked with him. This school year, Henry has reconstituted
his top cabinet twice. A couple of his top people who fell out of
favor found themselves dropped to a second tier cabinet that met
with Henry monthly rather than weekly.
And while Henry did not spar with the
new board members the way he sometimes did with former board members,
the fault lines were still present.
After making his decision Wednesday,
Henry called Perez and asked for a meeting. The pair met around
"He was surprised. He didn't see
it coming," Henry said.
There was some negotiating about who
would announce the departure. In the end, Perez beat Henry to the
punch and put out his own press release first.
Henry, 57, of Canton, said he's going
to start looking, too. He hopes to stay in the area. "Connecticut
is home," he said.
Henry gathered his cabinet for a private
meeting and told them his decision Wednesday. Then, at a previously
scheduled monthly conference, he told the principals.
"If I waited until March 15, it
may have been somebody else's decision," he told them.
The principals took it hard. Some left
the room in tears. After a standing ovation to celebrate his years
of service, others hugged him and thanked him for believing in them
and for "humanizing" the administration.
"It's a great loss,"
said Norma Neumann-Johnson, principal at Breakthrough Magnet School.
"The principals are so devoted to his leadership and would
do anything for him. So much of what we've accomplished is because
of the trust we have for him, and him for us."
Courant Staff Writer Jeffrey
B. Cohen contributed to this story.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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