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Education Commissioner Resigns; Says He Saw Handwriting On The Wall

By STEVEN GOODE

December 22, 2010

Less than 24 hours after abruptly resigning and saying that his job had become too stressful, Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan maintained that his decision to step down was something he had been considering for weeks.

McQuillan, 62, said two key points led to his decision. The retirement of his wife, Margaret, as principal of Button Ball Lane School in Glastonbury took effect Wednesday, he said, and Gov.-elect Dan Malloy had decided to embark on a national search for an education commissioner.

"I didn't want to drag it out into March and then find out that the governor didn't want to keep me on," McQuillan said. "It makes sense to make the move now." McQuillan's resignation takes effect Jan. 5.

McQuillan, who was named commissioner in Jan. 2007, said there were no hard feelings about Malloy's publicly stated intentions, just a recognition of the nature of politics.

"I'm supportive of what the governor wants to do," he said. "When a new administration moves in, they have a right to appoint their own people. You have to see the handwriting on the wall."

McQuillan, in a letter to employees Tuesday, said the "stresses of my job are more than they should be and more than I am willing to accept." He sent the letter a day after a meeting at which, according to the CT Mirror website, he expressed irritation and frustration with participants and abruptly adjourned the meeting.

McQuillan said Wednesday that he was frustrated because people who should have been present at the meeting were not and that those attending were intent on making decisions without them.

"People were not happy when I said we needed to wait," McQuillan said, acknowledging that those missing from the meeting were taking part in a Malloy transition meeting that was being held simultaneously. "I didn't want to continue until they were there."

In his letter, he said the politics of the commissioner's job were not his favorite part. "The politics side is not necessarily what I relish. I'm a policy guy," he said, adding that both aspects of the job were needed to achieve the educational accomplishments of which he was most proud.

McQuillan said the idea of spending more time with his wife in retirement is appealing, as well, but added that he has other opportunities to pursue. "I've been invited to apply for commissioner positions in other states," he said.

Malloy said Wednesday that he was surprised by McQuillan's resignation, but that if McQuillan felt it was appropriate to step aside, it was the right decision.

Malloy said he would work with the State Board of Education to find a replacement. He said he's looking for "someone who thinks outside the box, someone who will stress collaboration and change, and those things are not mutually exclusive."

Among his accomplishments, McQuillan mentioned passage of school accountability legislation, a new mentoring program for teachers and passage earlier this year of a wide-ranging school reform bill. The bill increased requirements for graduation from middle school and high school and gave parents more power to affect change in failing schools through governance councils.

Roch J. Girard, chairman of the Connecticut Coalition for Public Education, praised McQuillan for his efforts. "Under your leadership, education in Connecticut has progressed in many positive ways," Girard said in a statement Wednesday.

McQuillan said his biggest disappointments were the elimination of about 150 jobs in his department and the state's failure to win funding from the federal Race to the Top school reform competition.

"Race to the Top was really quite a disappointment because of all the energy and time we put into it," he said, adding that Connecticut's applications for funding were not well-received by the decision-makers in Washington, but helped the department define and focus the reform legislation that was passed in May.

"It was a mixed bag. We did a lot of work and I got strongly criticized," McQuillan said. But, in the end, McQuillan said he was proud of his accomplishments and had no regrets. "We have moved forward as a state and I hope that's the story people will remember," he said.

State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature's education committee, said Wednesday that he was surprised by McQuillan's decision.

"I hadn't expected that he'd be heading out the door," Fleischmann said. "I thought he was interested in staying on or working with the transition team."

Fleischmann praised McQuillan for his reform efforts and said that he expected them to continue under his successor.

Asked whether outgoing Hartford Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski would be on the list of candidates to replace McQuillan, Malloy demurred.

"I don't personally recall the names on the list and rather than speak about any one person who may or may not be on the list [we'll] share some information in coming weeks."

Sharon Palmer, president of the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said Wednesday that she would miss collaborating with McQuillan. "If the state wants to move forward in a collaborative way, I don't think Dr. Adamowski is a candidate," she said.

McQuillan said he thought that Deputy Commissioner George Coleman could be counted on in the interim.

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.
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