Just eight days before school starts, new principals are stepping in Tuesday to take over Co-op High and King/Robinson schools.
Nadine Gannon, an energetic assistant principal at James Hillhouse High School, was named Monday as the new leader of the King/Robinson International Baccalaureate School. She starts work Tuesday at the K-8 magnet school, which this year is growing to serve 600 New Haven and suburban kids.
Gannon replaces Iline Tracey, who is credited with turning around King-Robinson over the past six years. Tracey is being promoted to an administrative job where she’ll help other failing schools in the district follow suit.
Another fresh face is replacing a dynamic leader at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, where Principal Dolores Garcia-Blocker has earned a promotion to a job in the school district’s central office as guidance supervisor. Co-op Assistant Principal Frank Costanzo, who’s 31, will take Garcia-Blocker’s place when she starts her new job Tuesday.
The last-minute shuffle was announced at Monday’s school board meeting at 54 Meadow St., the last scheduled session before classes begin next week on Wednesday. Also announced at the meeting: the school board probably won’t need to proceed with a feared 150 layoffs. Meanwhile, a third school, Roberto Clemente, has a new principal, as well, a charter school recruit from Florida.
In the usually quiet board room Monday night, dozens of principals and teachers gathered to be the first to hear which staff would be leaving and joining their schools.
They found out around 5:40 p.m., when Chief Operating Officer Will Clark walked in with an armful of “blue sheets,” biweekly personnel reports printed on colored paper.
School officials grabbed them off of a table at the rear of the room.
One big question—how many teachers, administrators and central office staff will leave the district as a result of new job evaluations—remained unanswered. Assistant Superintendent of Schools Garth Harries said the district is still going through termination hearings with some staff members and won’t have a final report on that process until another two to three weeks.
Meanwhile, schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo announced some late-game changes to the lineup at two schools.
In Good Hands
He commended Tracey for doing a “marvelous, marvelous” job at whipping King/Robinson School into shape. Tracey took charge of King/Robinson in 2005 when it had been newly merged from the Martin Luther King and Jackie Robinson schools. When she took over, student scores on the Connecticut Mastery Test were in the single digits, Tracey said—less than 10 percent were scoring “proficient” in basic math, science and writing skills.
Under Tracey’s leadership, the school posted double-digit gains for four years and rose off the federal watch list for failing schools. In her new job, she’ll supervise some of the schools on that same list. Her new title is “director of instruction/school improvement.” As such, she’ll focus on schools that qualified for federal School Improvement Grants because they ranked in the bottom 5 percent of the state on tests. That includes the city’s two biggest high schools, Wilbur Cross and James Hillhouse, as well as Brennan/Rogers and Hill Central Music Academy. The $137,829-a-year position is being paid for SIG money, Mayo said.
Tracey, who’s 56, started her career in New Haven schools in 1984 as an elementary school teacher at the Dwight School. She taught at Dwight for 13 years, taught reading at the now-defunct Jackie Robinson School, then returned to Dwight as principal before joining King/Robinson.
She called her tenure at King/Robinson “rewarding and exciting,” most of all because of “a very hard-working group of teachers” she worked alongside. She said “relationship-building” and collaborative leadership have been the keys to the school’s success.
After her new job was announced, teachers and administrators from Tracey’s leadership team bestowed her with flowers and hugs.
“Don’t cry for me, Argentina,” said Tracey in a warm Jamaican lilt as she hugged a teary-eyed teacher.
Tracey called her replacement “very energetic and enthusiastic,” qualities that will make her a good fit for the next challenge: To keep up a sense of urgency in boosting kids’ learning even after the school left the “failing” category.
While Gannon may not have much time to get ready for the school year, she is going into a school with a “solid team” in place, Tracey said. The school has 49 teachers. All of last year’s teachers chose to return in the fall, except for three who relocated, Tracey said.
Gannon will oversee the school’s expansion from 542 to 600 students, including more from the suburbs.
Tracey said she’ll stay on at King/Robinson for a week or two to help Gannon through the transition.
Gannon, who’s 41, served as assistant principal at Hillhouse for five years after teaching at Middletown High School. Monday night she met with King/Robinson’s leadership team and fielded congratulatory phone calls.
“I’m official,” she announced into her cell phone amid the crowd at the school board. “Thanks, Dad.”
In an interview, she called herself “extremely fortunate” to have Tracey by her side for the beginning of the year.
“I’m in good hands,” she said.
Costanzo, a native New Havener, starts his job at Co-op with a little more lead time. He’s already gotten to know the school for the past two years as assistant principal alongside Garcia-Blocker. Garcia-Blocker replaces guidance supervisor Cynthia Beaver, one of four administrators who gave the district six months’ notice that they planned to leave the district this year.
Costanzo got a dose of experience as an interim principal in the final five weeks of last school year, when he stepped in to lead Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy. His task was to get control of the school, which was on the brink of a transition into a turnaround school. He enforced a clear discipline code and brought some order to the halls after the outgoing principal went out on medical leave. Mayo said he did a good job filling in.
As principals, Gannon and Costanzo will each make just over $128,800 per year. They both took part in a “high potential leaders” development program the district launched this year. A group of 10 assistant principals shadowed experienced principals, were paired with mentors, and underwent training designed to prepare them for a top school job.
Two other members of that leadership group, Medria Blue-Ellis and Michael Conner, also landed jobs as principals for the upcoming year.
In other news, the district hired Corey Jackson as an assistant principal to work alongside Principal Keisha Hannans at Celentano Music Academy. Jackson taught at Jackie Robinson before leaving to work in the New Britain school district.
And a laid-off assistant principal regained her administrative post when a vacancy popped up. Michelle Bonora, one of three assistant principals at Hill Regional Career High School, was laid off on Feb. 17. Because of a clause in her labor contract that insulates administrators from layoffs, she was hired back one day later as a teacher with only a $1,000 pay cut, bumping a classroom teacher out of a job. She’ll regain her post as assistant principal starting Wednesday. She replaces Francisco Soto, who left the district, according to Mayo.
Floridian Recruit To Lead Clemente
Another new principal started work Monday without any fanfare at the Board of Ed. Pam Franco will lead the Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy as it enters the first year of a “turnaround” school with a 50 percent turnover in staff. Franco wasn’t on the blue sheets Monday because she’s not a district employee. She works for Renaissance School Services, LLC, which is taking over management of the school.
Renaissance recruited Franco from Florida, where she has started and been the principal of two charter schools, according to Renaissance CEO Rich O’Neill. O’Neill said the school still has to fill one of three administrative positions, the “achievement specialist.” The company is interviewing two people this week for the job, he said.
Teachers who worked at Clemente last year had to reapply for their jobs if they wanted to stay. They were guaranteed jobs with the district if they didn’t want to or were not asked to stay. Monday’s personnel report showed another seven teachers transferring out of Clemente to other district schools. One teacher transferred in from Conte/West Hills. Clemente now has nearly all of its teaching positions filled, O’Neill said. Monique Brunson, who served as Clemente’s assistant principal last year, starts work Tuesday at Edgewood Magnet School.
No More Layoffs
The district originally warned it would have to make up to 150 layoffs this school year due to a budget crunch. Chief Operating Officer Will Clark shared some good news Monday: He said attrition combined with cost-cutting and grant money appears to have saved the school system from that fate.
After February’s round of layoffs, and a slew of resignations over the summer, the district is close to closing its budget gap, Clark said.
As of Monday, Clark said, “I would not expect to have teacher layoffs” in the upcoming school year.