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Hartford School Board Picks Kishimoto As New Superintendent

Vanessa De La Torre

March 03, 2011

The board of education appointed Christina Kishimoto as the city's next schools superintendent during a meeting Wednesday night that at times appeared like a pep rally, and occasionally like a tense family reunion.

More than 160 people politicians, parents, potential rivals and the Bulkeley High School drum line waited for nearly an hour in the Hartford Public High School media center as the board first deliberated in a closed executive session.

Kishimoto moved through the crowd, accepting hugs from supporters "You know we were all here behind you, right?" one woman assured her and extending handshakes to the teachers union president, Andrea Johnson, and Tim Sullivan, principal of Greater Hartford Classical Magnet School and her one-time competition for the top job.

When the board finally cast its 6-2 vote, with one member abstaining, cheers erupted.

Later, Kishimoto talked about "the work that lies ahead of us," and she wasn't just referring to test scores.

"We need to focus on the kids," said Kishimoto, 41, an assistant superintendent of secondary schools. She is expected to replace her boss, the retiring Steven Adamowski, sometime this summer.

The board had planned to appoint Kishimoto and hold a public reception in the same media center last Tuesday. That meeting was canceled only three hours before the scheduled start time when Mayor Pedro Segarra who did not attend Wednesday's appointment held a press conference to criticize the selection process and request a national search. Kishimoto, stunned and angry, blamed "politics."

The ensuing days were marked by finger-pointing around the city. Some questioned Segarra's last-minute timing; others defended his argument that the search process was flawed, in part because only two internal candidates were interviewed and Kishimoto, a top Adamowski deputy, was long perceived as the board's favorite.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the board announced that its 13-member search committee declined to pursue a national search and would proceed with its recommendation for Kishimoto.

"Am I relieved? Of course," Kishimoto said after the board's vote.

In a speech, Kishimoto also touted the reform initiatives under Adamowski, which are "just getting started," and said her duty as head of schools will be closing the achievement gap.

But the rifts were laid bare by two votes against her: Luis Rodriguez-Davila and Robert Cotto Jr. Elizabeth Brad Noel abstained from voting because Sullivan is her son-in-law, and she had recused herself from the search process over the past several months.

At first, it appeared that the board would offer no public discussion before its vote. Board Chairman David MacDonald called for comments from members, and heard only silence.

Then Rodriguez-Davila tapped on his microphone. "What you're getting into, you don't deserve," he told Kishimoto, sitting next to her husband and daughter in the front row.

"You come into a situation where the city is divided. You have nothing to prove to me. Your resume says it all," Rodriguez-Davila said. But he criticized a lack of "consensus," which he said former Mayor Eddie Perez was able to achieve when he led the school board.

Cotto called for more communication. "You've got to listen to parents. When they say 'don't close our school because we like it,' you've got to listen to them. You've got to support our educators. When they say they need help, we need to support them," Cotto said, "not shut their school down."

Board member Ada Miranda later said to laughter, "I hope we're not scaring her away."

After the board adjourned, Adamowski, breaking his self-imposed silence on the topic of his successor, said Kishimoto proved her "resilience" in moving past the drama.

"When you're superintendent," Adamowski said, "you have to have a very tough skin."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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