Mayor Criticizes Superintendent Search; School Board Calls Off Appointment Vote
Meeting To Name Kishimoto Canceled
Vanessa De La Torre
February 23, 2011
Christina Kishimoto woke up Tuesday morning believing she would be appointed the city's next schools superintendent.
The board of education had the votes for her and planned a public reception, with cheese and crackers and maybe fruit, later that night at Hartford Public High School. A press release announcing her appointment was polished and included a quote from the mayor.
"That was all ready to go," board Chairman David MacDonald said.
Kishimoto's mood would soon disintegrate to a seething shock.
Just three hours before the board's scheduled 5:30 p.m. vote, Mayor Pedro Segarra held a press conference calling for a national search to find Steven Adamowski's successor. He criticized the board's selection process — only Kishimoto, an assistant superintendent, and one other internal candidate were interviewed — and said it lacked "transparency."
Before Segarra was done with his speech, MacDonald shot a one-sentence e-mail to other board members canceling their special meeting to promote Kishimoto to superintendent.
MacDonald later said that the board has yet to decide whether to conduct a national search. Adamowski has said he plans to retire this summer.
"I'm pretty disgusted," said Kishimoto, 41.
Kishimoto said she found out at 3:30 p.m. that Segarra had held a press conference and learned at "the last minute" that the board meeting was canceled after she called MacDonald.
"It's just a slap in the face and I'm not going to deal with that professionally," Kishimoto said.
"Two weeks ago the mayor could've spoken up. … The process went on as is. The search committee made its recommendation," said Kishimoto, who oversees secondary schools and has developed some of Adamowski's key reform initiatives in the past five years, such as school choice. "You can't wait until … hours before a board meeting to invalidate the search committee's decision."
It was too soon for her to say whether she'd be interested in taking part in a national search after Tuesday's implosion, which she called "politics." That Segarra made a point of describing her as "very qualified" to be superintendent and an "educational expert" who is "highly credentialed" proved little consolation.
"They can't speak from both sides of their mouth," Kishimoto said. "How can you say that I'm a good candidate and then go ahead with an expensive national search process at a time of fiscal crisis?"
At the press conference, Segarra said the field of two candidates, Kishimoto and Tim Sullivan, principal of the Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School, was too narrow and the selection process too quick.
When asked why he waited until the afternoon of the board's appointment to speak his mind, Segarra said he didn't know until recently how the search would conclude.
The board had not commented publicly on its choice for a leader to replace Adamowski, but it had been an open secret for at least a week and a half that Kishimoto, a policymaker who grew up in the projects of South Bronx, was the 13-member search panel's recommended candidate.
The board confirmed that Friday when it released an agenda for Tuesday's meeting with one item for consideration: the selection of Kishimoto as the next superintendent. Last fall, the board approved a succession policy stating it would launch a national search only if no internal candidate was recommended.
The search panel was composed of eight board members and five people from the schools and community.
MacDonald said Tuesday afternoon that a "whole cloud" would have hung over the board's appointment of Kishimoto had he not canceled the meeting; he had feared "a circus atmosphere because of the mayor's comments."
And while "very disappointed" in Segarra, MacDonald added that "the mayor is the CEO of the city and his opinion does matter. We have a strong mayor form of government."
MacDonald sounded sad when asked whether the board folded too quickly.
"All I can say is the mayor put us in a very difficult situation and it was all happening very fast, and I reached out to [Kishimoto] as quickly as I could and I apologize for not doing it sooner," he said.
"She should be upset. I'm upset," said MacDonald, who later released a statement calling Kishimoto a "reform leader." He also defended the integrity of the search process.
On Tuesday night, Segarra reiterated that he considered Kishimoto qualified to be superintendent but said there was the impression among some in the city that the search was "predetermined." Kishimoto is a top deputy of Adamowski's, and the board has sought to continue his reform plans.
"There were people who expressed to me that they would've applied, but they were fearful," Segarra said. "They didn't want to seem like they were 'getting in the way.' … There was a big perception from the beginning that she was going to be the candidate."
Segarra said he worried that the selection process would be considered "marred," which he believed was unfair to Kishimoto.
"What is the damage of having the competition?" the mayor said of a national search. "If you're the best candidate, ultimately you'll be the best candidate. I'm sorry she feels disgusted."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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