Bridgeport School Board members clash over search for superintendent

BRIDGEPORT — The deep divisions within the city’s board of education were on full display last week when the board clashed over who should temporarily lead the district in the search for a permanent superintendent.

In an abruptly scheduled special meeting, the board ultimately voted 6-3 to appoint longtime district employee and Paul Laurence Dunbar school principal Alyshia Perrin as acting superintendent for next year. .

But the decision came at the end of a heated row in which some council members yelled at each other and leveled accusations at their colleagues, raising questions about the ability of the restive council to agree on a replacement. standing for the recently deceased Superintendent Michael Testani.

The explosion erupted after board chairman John Weldon decided to appoint retired Norwalk superintendent Steven Adamowski to the temporary position, surprising some members who felt a majority had already agreed to select Perrin.

In response, board member Christine Baptiste-Perez accused Weldon of going rogue while board secretary Joseph J. Lombard suggested he was blindsided by the action of the president.

“We shouldn’t even have to take this vote because it’s totally wrong,” Lombard said.

Baptiste-Perez and Lombard’s comments were echoed by Vice Chairman Bobbi Brown and board member Joseph Sokolovic, who also said a majority of the board signaled support for Perrin during the talks. a meeting held in camera one week before the public meeting.

“We came out of there, five of us, supporting an African American woman and again we step back and throw a white man into the mix,” Sokolovic said. “That’s the definition of institutional racism.”

In a statement, Weldon disputed that account and denied abusing his authority. He said the board found itself evenly split after narrowing a field of nine nominees to Perrin and Adamowski.

“It was my obligation as president to make sure that the voice of one side was not drowned out by that of another, which is why Dr Adamowski and Ms Perrin (were) presented for a final vote,” he said.

Weldon also took issue with the comment that his support for Adamowski, who is white, instead of Perrin, who is black, was racially motivated. He said he simply believed Adamowski, the former superintendent of the Cincinnati and Hartford public school districts, was better prepared to take on the role.

“At the end of the day, the reason I and others were in favor of Dr. Adamowski over Ms. Perrin was that we thought he was the most technically qualified to walk through the door and take the reins, no learning curve to follow had – especially in light of the fact that it was Mr Testani’s last day and there would be no transition opportunity and we needed someone who could get down to business,” Weldon said.

The contrasting accounts reflect a philosophical divide within the nine-member council. While Weldon and others urged the council to choose a school leader with years of superintendent experience, other council members said they were looking for someone who knows the city intimately and which represents a district made up largely of blacks and Hispanics. students.

Board member Erika Castillo, who voted for both finalists but said she preferred Adamowski due to his long experience, defended Weldon’s recollection of the private meeting. She said she believed the council left the meeting divided over the decision.

Still, Castillo described the search for an interim superintendent as a learning experience and suggested the board should do more to involve the public in the search for a permanent superintendent.

“Once we hire a recruiting firm, they will be responsible for setting up a schedule and sequence of events, which of course will include community forums where the community can weigh in,” Castillo said.

Parents, students and district staff members have repeatedly urged the board to involve them in every step of the superintendent search process. Ana Batista, president of the Bridgeport Education Association, told a board meeting last month that she was disappointed that teachers were left out of the selection of an interim leader.

“As the largest union in the Bridgeport School District and as representatives of the nearly 1,500 people who work directly with our students every day, our perspective on the qualities needed in a superintendent must be considered unique and essential. “, she said.

The Reverend D. Stanley Lord, president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP, who called on the board to appoint a person of color as the district’s top administrator, welcomed the decision to appoint Perrin, calling her qualified. But he also said he was appalled by Weldon’s decision to back Adamowski.

“The president may have to step down because he seems to have his own agenda which is not the City of Bridgeport’s,” Lord said. “These types of actions are not working in the best interests of our children.”

Lord also said he wants Weldon and the board to stop relying on closed meetings to conduct business related to the superintendent’s research. The board briefly heeded that advice after the public declined earlier this fall, but later reversed the decision due to privacy concerns.

While Sokolovic acknowledged the road ahead is likely to be long and bumpy, he said he was confident a majority of the council would eventually be able to choose a qualified full-time headteacher.

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Twitter @RichChumney.

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