Published October 26. 2013 4:00AM
The next couple of years should be a time of tremendous change and opportunity for the New London Public Schools. The current Board of Education, having decided not to renew the contract of the existing superintendent when it ends this school year, left it to the incoming board to choose a successor.
Intervention in the school system by the State Board of Education will continue, as will the involvement of Special Master Steven Adamowski to assure the efforts to improve the city's academically underperforming schools continue. It appears the state will be much involved in the selection of a superintendent, including setting salary parameters to attract top-level candidates.
Most significantly, the transition to the state's first all-magnet-schools system will continue, bringing in increased state revenue, providing more choices for students and families in New London, while attracting students from outside the city.
This is the backdrop for the Nov. 5 election, when New London voters will seat a new seven-member school board. What follows are The Day's recommendations, based on interviews, records, backgrounds, achievements and ideas, of the candidates best able to work cooperatively and progressively, while also bringing healthy doses of skepticism to their tasks.
Mirna Martinez, Green Party (cross-endorsed by Republicans). Knowledgeable, committed, enthusiastic are some of the adjectives that describe Ms. Martinez. A dual-language teacher who has set her career aside to raise two children, she remains active in youth programs in the city.
A co-founder of New London Parent Advocates, her priorities include working to better involve parents and families in city schools. With a teacher's eye, she wants a superintendent who can balance the need for core educational standards without inhibiting the creativity a teacher needs to be effective. Martinez would be a great asset to the board.
Aracelis Vazquez Haye, Democrat. Another exciting choice, this Christian youth minister and hospital chaplain is tuned into the struggles and challenges many of the city's families and children face. She, too, will put a priority on finding new approaches to involve parents throughout this diverse city.
New London will need a superintendent with a demonstrated ability, in an urban setting, to create an educational environment that makes school exciting for children, she said. Too many of the children she works with see it as only a burden.
Robert Funk, Democrat. A corporate accountant, Mr. Funk recognizes that adequately funding city schools will remain a challenge in this city with its limited tax base. The board must allocate what money is available efficiently and effectively, he said, and that requires detailed and transparent accounting. Right now that's lacking, said Mr. Funk.
While focused on budgeting, Mr. Funk, with two children in the New London High School, is also committed to making sure the state's involvement is effective in helping improve city schools, but short lived because the board demonstrates the ability to keep moving forward.
Reona Dyess, Democrat. Executive director of New London's Drop-In Learning Center, Ms. Dyess has a long history of civic involvement, much of it involving young people. She will insist that channels of communication are available and working, from the administration to teachers, from the schools to the parents, between the board and the administration.
"We have to have a buy in," she said of the conversion to a magnet-school philosophy, "or we will have problems."
Scott Garbini, Democrat. Mr. Garbini has a strong background in education, including in urban settings. He holds a Master's Degree in Education and served as a mentor with the innovative YearUp in Providence, a one-year, intensive training program that provides low-income young adults, ages 18-24, with a combination of hands-on skill development, college credits, and corporate internships to break the cycle of poverty.
He would come to the board well versed in the current academic trends influencing education and approaches under debate for closing the achievement gap.
Jason Catala, Republican. A teacher seeking his sixth two-year term on the council, no one could ever question Mr. Catala's enthusiasm and dedication to city schools and students, but his methods often failed him and the board. But he appears to have benefitted significantly from the training the state board provided to help New London board members better understand their role vis-à-vis the superintendent.
Mr. Catala voices a new found appreciation about the board's need to focus on strategic planning and policy implementation, rather than bogging down in relatively trivial matters or overstepping its policy-making authority. Some continuity is important, one reason to return Mr. Catala to the board.
Margaret Mary Curtin, Democrat. In large part in the interest of continuity, we also recommend Ms. Curtin for a second term. Peg Curtin is a long-time veteran of local and state politics, but her methods chairing board meetings have caused consternation - texting, sidebar discussions and lack of detail for policy decisions among them.
But under her leadership the board has moved forward with development of a strategic plan and she is committed to the magnet-school conversion. We also back her support for the eventual merger of the education and city finance departments.