December 7, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
As Eddie A. Perez took the oath of office as a member of the Hartford Board of Education and then voted with his colleagues to elect himself chairman Tuesday night, insiders and observers were wondering whether the hands-on mayor will be able to keep his hands off the day-to-day operations of the school system.
"You know he's a controlling person - that's why he took the job," said Hyacinth Yennie, a member of the districtwide parent-teacher organization. "I'm not sure whether that will suit him in this job or bring him down. Time will tell."
Perez said he has no intention of micromanaging and that he will undergo the same training offered by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education that the other board members go through. He pointed to his experience running the school building committee as illustrative of his leadership style.
Marcus Rivera, the monitor appointed by the state Department of Education to report on Hartford schools, attends all of those building committee meetings. He gives Perez high marks for differentiating between the role of the school board in dictating educational needs in school design and the role of the building committee in executing those designs.
"Using that as an example, he gets it," Rivera said.
The election of officers was the sole item on the board's agenda aside from the swearing-in. The board's first order of business was to elect Perez as its chairman. The vote was unanimous.
When Perez addressed the large crowd packed with principals, relatives of the new board members and a few parents, he looked at his wife, Maria, and thanked her.
"I wouldn't have done this without her support," Perez said.
Perez said he wants the district to celebrate its successes under his leadership, but also to try harder. "We're not pushing ourselves hard enough," he said.
Although the meeting was brief, the positioning of a top Perez adviser, Kelvin Roldan, in a seat behind the mayor stood out as a symbol that it will not be business as usual while the mayor is presiding. No school board member has ever positioned an aide behind the board, and while Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry's top advisers attend meetings, they sit in the gallery with the guests.
Perez's five appointees - constituting a majority on the nine-member board - will serve two-year terms, and Perez has indicated that he may step down once the board has a solid plan for the future in place. He didn't say when he might leave, but the board will determine by March whether or not to extend Henry's contract as superintendent.
Perez has cited the superintendent's evaluation as a priority. Because the superintendent is the most important player in the school system, the most important decision the school board makes is who to put in that post. Perez could step down after that if the board decides to keep Henry or, if the board decides to let Henry go, after it hires a new superintendent.
There won't be any more standardized test scores coming in before Henry's evaluation. But newly elected member Andrea Comer said the board would closely monitor the progress of the district's effort to include thousands of special education students in regular classrooms and new policies designed to lower the number of suspensions and increase school safety.
The program to absorb the special education students into regular classes hasn't gone smoothly. Around 100 teachers picketed a recent school board meeting, asserting that the district has not done enough to train teachers how to manage classrooms with students who have behavioral problems and how to teach students who have learning disabilities.
The other members elected to offices Tuesday were Elizabeth Brad Noel, vice chairwoman, and Pamela M. Richmond, secretary. Noel was elected to the school board and Richmond was appointed by Perez.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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