Mayor Pedro Segarra moved Wednesday to stamp his own imprint on the city's schools by selecting five new members to the board of education -- including himself.
"I need to come up with a group that I believe can work together in synchronicity," Segarra said from Washington, D.C., where he was attending a conference. "I don't think it's an issue of cleaning the slate as much as making use of an executive power."
Joining Segarra will be Jose Colon-Rivas, the city's director of families, children, youth and recreation who is one of the mayor's top associates in city hall. Colon-Rivas is a former head of early childhood education in the school system and a former principal of Hartford Public High School.
The mayor's office said the other nominees were Matthew Poland, CEO of the Hartford Public Library; lawyer Richard Wareing, a partner at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter; and Cherita McIntye, a director of executive learning and development at ESPN.
If the city council confirms Segarra's appointments, possibly on Monday, the new members will begin their four-year terms on Feb. 1.
The current board appointees whose terms are expiring are Chairman David MacDonald, who is now on the city council; former Chairwoman Ada Miranda; Secretary Sharon Patterson-Stallings; Vice Chairwoman Pamela Richmond; and Israel Flores.
Segarra's appointments remove the last vestige of former Mayor Eddie A. Perez, who had appointed all the departing members except Patterson-Stallings. Perez was convicted in 2010 of felony corruption charges.
Miranda, Patterson-Stallings and Richmond applied to remain on the nine-person board and interviewed with Segarra. Superintendent Christina Kishimoto also told the mayor that she wanted "continuity" on the board and urged him to reappoint the three women.
Reform advocates believe that the city schools are in a critical period: Kishimoto's first year as schools chief and the start of a new, five-year plan to raise test scores and the graduation rate. The effort includes Kishimoto's promise to have children reading at grade level by third grade, bolstering academic programs in the middle school grades and focusing on "college readiness."
The Perez appointees have steadily supported her recommendations. Kishimoto said, however, that she believes that Segarra supports the reform's direction.
"What the mayor has said to me consistently is that he is fully committed to the reform work and to maintaining the progress," Kishimoto said. "No matter what, I'm going to have to work with my board."
Paul Holzer, the interim executive director of Achieve Hartford, a reform group supported by the business community, said that replacing five of nine board members would require a transition period but that his organization was happy that Segarra appointed himself.
"It shows the level of priority he's giving education in his administration," Holzer said. A mayor serving on the city's board of education is not unprecedented -- Perez did it for years, thanks to a city charter revision that changed to a strong mayor form of government.
But Segarra said he does not intend to appoint himself as the board's chairman, as Perez did: "That's a little bit too much."
Segarra said that "I just want to be a good connection between the city and board of ed," and that he aims to establish "clear communication and maximize the city's resources." The majority of the city's $545.9 million budget this fiscal year goes toward education.
Segarra said his appointees have different fields of expertise that could benefit the board when dealing with issues such as school funding and developing partnerships with the private sector. He "generally" supports the reform efforts, he said, and made a point of complimenting the current board.
The board includes four elected members whose terms expire in 2013: Robert Cotto Jr. and Elizabeth Brad Noel of the Working Families Party, and Democrats Lori Hudson and Luis Rodriguez-Davila.
Cotto, Noel and Rodriguez-Davila have often pushed against the board majority. When Kishimoto was appointed superintendent last March, Cotto and Rodriguez-Davila cast the opposing votes. Noel abstained because her son-in-law applied for the position.
About a week before that vote, Segarra and Kishimoto got off to a tumultuous start when the mayor hastily convened a press conference advocating a national search only hours before the board was scheduled to appoint her. The board called off the meeting. Kishimoto, then an assistant superintendent, considered the actions "a slap in the face."
Both Segarra and Kishimoto say they now have a good working relationship.
On Wednesday, Poland said he supports the school reform and hopes that the city's other educational institution -- the public library -- can take a larger role in initiatives such as Kishimoto's Third Grade Promise.
"I think they've made strong moves in the right direction to help stabilize a district that had gone through decades of very shaky and very limited progress," Poland said. "And because we continue to have difficulties with the achievement gap here, it's going to take an approach that knits together the community, that is more inclusive."
Wareing, a Republican who served as chairman of the city's charter revision commission a few years ago, said he admires Kishimoto and favors school choice.
"You're encouraging competition and innovation among the schools," Wareing said. "But the qualifier is, the kids who are not in school choice have to get the same quality of education."
Richmond has served on the board since 2005 and said that Segarra "has the right and the prerogative to take whatever direction he wants with the school district."
But as a departing member, Richmond said, "I know that we served the city well. ... The data supports that."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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