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Motley Quits Schools, Cites Frustration

External Affairs Director Clashed With Superintendent, Hierarchy

May 2, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

John H. Motley, who left the private sector a year ago for a job as the Hartford school district's executive director for external affairs, resigned Monday, expressing frustration with the pace of reform in the schools, but leaving open the possibility of returning under a new administration.

Motley, 63, joined the district in April 2005 after 16 years at St. Paul Travelers Connecticut Foundation. As the foundation's president he had worked closely with the Hartford schools, donating money for programs, school uniforms, a Playscape and even a "white board" for every classroom at Dwight Elementary School. When he worked for St. Paul Travelers, he was warmly embraced by district administrators and teachers and was able to control how the money he donated was spent.

He found working as an insider to be a different experience.

"I underestimated the difficulty of getting things done on a quick basis," he said Monday, his last day on the job.

The decision-making in the school system is more "hierarchical" than he was accustomed to in private industry, he said. Budgets and hiring are tightly and centrally controlled. He said he thought principals should have more control over who was hired to teach in their schools.

"Who's in better shape to know a great teacher - human resources or a principal? I would say the principal," he said, explaining that the human resources department has tremendous power in hiring. "It's a big difference than the way I'm used to."

Motley wasn't shy about questioning policies and procedures.

Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry, who is resigning June 30, said the school district is complex and that outsiders are often surprised by the way things work.

"From the inside, it's a different view," Henry said. "We spend a lot of time trying to help people understand our school system so they can understand the complexity of it."

Neither Motley nor Henry would say exactly what went wrong between them, but the tension in their relationship became apparent around the beginning of the year. When Henry reorganized his inner cabinet over the winter, he moved Motley from the powerful inner circle to a less powerful group of administrators who meet with him less frequently.

In a comment about Motley's departure, Henry made reference to better days between the two men. "John has been a great help to the school system, particularly in his previous position as president of the Travelers foundation," he said.

Andrea Comer, an elected school board member, said Motley's departure is a loss, particularly because of his close ties to corporations.

Comer called him a visionary. "Think about the things he was able to do before he became part of the administration," she said. "He didn't change; his circumstances changed. Once he became part of the administration he could no longer be that visionary, and people should be questioning why."

Motley said he will be busy moving his collection of black military items to the new American Civil War Center in Richmond, Va., where he is serving as chairman of the museum's board. He is looking for a job in Hartford, perhaps consulting for nonprofit agencies who need to raise money, he said.

When a new Hartford superintendent is hired, Motley said, he would consider a position if one were offered to him.

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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