Schools Pick 5 New Administrators

Melissa Bailey PhotoA fast-rising star became principal of her own school within Hillhouse High, another principal got a promotion, and a Baltimore budget chief signed up to tackle New Haven’s schools budget, in a new round of Board of Ed appointments.

The school board approved five appointments of school administrators in all at its meeting Monday night at Hill Regional Career High School.

Zakiyyah Baker, an assistant principal who runs the Freshman Academy at Hillhouse High, became principal of one of two new “academies” there; Barnard Principal Mike Crocco got bumped upstairs to oversee a new “talent office”; Victor De La Paz became the city’s new chief financial officer; Donna Aiello obtained a permanent post as human resource and labor relations director; and Alissa Levy became principal of the Elm City Montessori School.

The board approved the new hires by a unanimous vote.

Board member Che Dawson approved the promotions with one note of caution: “While I trust your judgment, I note a lack of experience” among the candidates, except for the CFO. Baker was an assistant principal for just one year before becoming a principal; Crocco earned a top job in the district after just six years as principal.

“I have a huge amount of confidence” in these candidates, Harries replied. He said he stacked up their resumes next to the resumes of some candidates with more experience, and they won out.

“Experience is a big part of it, but so too is ability, and so too is potential,” he said.

Baker has made a quick rise to leadership since she started out teaching 10 years ago. At age 30, she was named the 2011 teacher of the year for her work teaching social studies at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. Baker then entered the principal training program run jointly with the school board and Achievement First charter schools. Last summer, she became assistant principal of James Hillhouse High School.

In her new job, Baker will start this fall with 120 freshmen and 120 sophomores and build her own school within Hillhouse High, according to a plan released last week. She will no longer report to Hillhouse’s current principal, Kermit Carolina, according to the plan. Carolina (at right in photo) showed up Monday to cheer her on.

Baker earned high praise from the superintendent and teachers union president Monday. Superintendent Garth Harries credited Baker with raising expectations and motivating those around her.

“Every environment we have put her [in], people’s jaws have dropped,” he said.

Dave Cicarella, the teachers union president, said he has received “nothing but positive feedback about Zakiyyah Baker and the work she’s done.”

“All of my interactions with her have been incredibly positive,” Cicarella said. He said she is taking an important role in “a place where we’ve needed to do some work.”

“I’m just excited to take it to the next level of revolutionizing the way that kids are educated,” Baker said.

Baker starts July 1 with a salary of $121,526.

Crocco (pictured), the new talent chief, got his start as a paraprofessional at summer schools during college. He landed his first full-time job in New Haven public schools 14 years ago, as a paraprofessional at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School. He taught at Helene Grant School for a half-dozen years, served as assistant principal at Hill Central School for two, and has led Barnard School for the past six years as principal.

Crocco took over Barnard at a time when the school needed help. The staff was “somewhat fractured,” Crocco recalled.

In 2009, when the school district was launching a reform effort, Crocco begged higher-ups to “let me try something new” to dramatically improve the school, he recalled. Barnard became the first “Tier III improvement school,” a low-performing school in which teachers were not forced to reapply for their jobs, but had to agree to different work rules if they wanted to stay. Teachers signed up for a longer school day with extra time for teacher collaboration and lunch with students.

Through that plan, Crocco “has created a new culture” at Barnard without replacing staff, Harries said. The plan is based on a distributive leadership model, in which Crocco entrusts teachers with decision-making power.

In his new job, a new district-wide position called “talent supervisor,” Crocco will oversee the implementation of a five-year, $53 million federally funded plan to improve the way New Haven attracts, retains and develops educators. Crocco will work in four main areas: developing teachers to take on leadership positions; an “innovative professional development” program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the city’s teacher evaluation program; and the retention and recruitment of top talent.

That’s a big job, Harries noted: The teacher and principal evaluation system has been the main reason New Haven has gained national kudos for its school reform effort.

Crocco won’t be “overseeing” staff in those areas, he said. “I see it as pulling a team together” in a “circle.”

That’s how Crocco has led Barnard, Cicarella said: “In terms of empowering teachers, that is exactly what Mike has done in that building. It was a really easy choice for us” to support his appointment.

Crocco, who’s bald, of North Haven, pledged to work hard. “I came to New Haven 15 years ago with a full head of hair,” which now has disappeared due to hard work, he quipped. “The one thing I think you get from me is a passion for the work I do.”

Crocco starts July 1; his new salary was not listed.

Crocco will work alongside Aiello (pictured). Aiello stepped up as interim human resources chief after James Prunty resigned last October. She was promoted Monday to director of human resources and labor relations with a salary of $135,114

Harries tapped Victor De La Paz (pictured) to become New Haven schools’ “chief financial officer,” a new position Harries created during a central office reorganization that took place after he became superintendent last July.

De La Paz will start work on July 14—after the school district has dealt with a remaining $1.8 million deficit for the current fiscal year; and after it has navigated unfriendly political waters to arrive at a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

In a phone conversation Monday, De La Paz said he’ll start the job with two top priorities: Making the budget more “transparent,” and making funding more equitable between the schools. His salary will be $151,000.

De La Paz, who’s currently the CFO of the Baltimore public schools, cited three reasons for switching to a district four times smaller than the one he serves: There’s a leadership transition in the school system in Baltimore. New Haven offers “an opportunity to build something new,” to define what the CFO position will be. And New Haven is close to Hartford, where his wife’s family—the grandparents of his 1-year-old daughter—live.

Born in the Dominican Republic, De La Paz said he came to the U.S. at 4 years old. His mom, a widow with a 5th-grade education, raised him and three older sisters on her own in Union City, N.J.. He attended Rutgers University; spent a few years in the corporate world; got an MBA from the University of Virginia; worked in mergers and acquisitions at The Hartford and Aetna, two Hartford-based insurance companies; and then became a senior manager at Capital One bank. He left corporate finance in 2008 to become special assistant to the superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, according to an online biography at the Broad Residency, an educational leadership program which he (and Harries) attended.

De La Paz said he met Harries while he was working for the Hartford schools. As he returns to Connecticut to take over New Haven’s school finances, he enters a tough political climate. De La Paz said he has been following news coverage from a distance about budget battles between New Haven’s school system and city legislators, led by Alder Michael Stratton.

There’s a “narrative around New Haven public schools being somehow funded at a level that is higher than it should be,” he said. “All of the data I’m seeing, New Haven is pretty underfunded. I’m not really sure how that narrative is so loud. That’s concerning to me. I don’t think everyone is using the same language when they talk about school funding.”

De La Paz pledged as CFO to examine “funding equity gaps” between schools and to make the budget process clearer to the public.

Levy, the new principal of Elm City Montessori, was not present at Monday’s meeting. She recently was teaching in California; she has already started work at the Montessori school, which is set to start up this fall. She’ll make a salary of $100,000, which is on the lower end for school principals, Harries noted.

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posted by: Noteworthy on April 29, 2014  10:31am

De Fa La La Notes:

Did we hire a choir director or a chief financial officer who will take a cold, hard look at BOE funding and budget? The chorus for more money has never waned but there has been an unholy silence between the BOR and the BOE. There has been zero accountability for all that money and the lack of transparency about how much we really pay to educate our kids should be criminal. There never was a master plan for all that school construction; never a utilization plan or needs assessment - the BOE under DeStefano just started building, quadrupling the size of the schools, escalating the costs and running the debt service up so high it is drowning taxpayers in the irresponsibility.

Maybe De La Paz should actually show up for work, go through the books, look at attendance records and costs and gross number of assistant principals at Cross, Career and Hillhouse - and then tell us what a freaking bargain we’re getting and how we should be spending millions more on the NHPS. Is that too much to ask?

posted by: citoyen on April 29, 2014  10:54am

“De La Paz . . . cited three reasons for switching to a district four times smaller than the one he serves.”

I’ve noticed this kind of wording in TV commercials in recent times.

Surely it would be getter to say “one-fourth the size of” rather than “four times smaller than.”

“Times” means multiplication, means bigger.  This is about multiplication versus fractions.

posted by: Webblog1 on April 29, 2014  1:45pm

Even with the BOE floating a 1.8 to 3.5M deficit, the board hires five new administrators without debate or decent, all paid through the general fund supplied by the city and without input from the BOA.

1. Baker- starts July 1 with a salary of $121,526.( Carolina will stay on at $136,000

Aiello- salary of $135,114.

Crocco - Crocco starts July 1; his new salary was not listed.(lets just give him $139,999).

De La Paz -His salary will be $151,000.

De La Paz will replace Will Clark(Clark is not mentioned here)who will stay on at

Speak of excesses! ...Moving ON…

posted by: Senior Lady on April 29, 2014  2:21pm

When i went to school we had one principal.what do all these assistant principals do and at what expense. All this expense at the cost to taxpayers. I volunteer at a local school and teachers need us and they love their paraprofessional help. The school board could hie eight paras for the cost of one of these people. Put the effort into the classroom and assist the teachers and the children. Hiring high budget personnel and making new positions wont trasfer into the classroom.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on April 29, 2014  2:30pm

It amazes me how many schools there are in our district. It really amazes me how many different high schools we have. It is also amazing how many new school buildings we have erected over the past two decades with state funding and local taxpayers making up the differences in costs plus the expenses for administration, management and maintenance.
One would think that there has been an influx of new school-aged residents coming into New Haven. There has not. Has there been a major boom in new babies being born in the Elm City? No, there has not. Yet we go ahead building and planning for more schools and more administrators. Some of these multi-million dollar schools have 250 or fewer students.
We do have a boom in the creation of new charter schools in the city which will increasingly compete with the New Haven public schools for students. This will result in a decreased number of students in our public schools.
There is too much haste and too much waste and too little accountability in many decisions made by the BOE. Who is looking to the future? We are spending increasing sums of money for new schools, new administrators, new plans, strategies and curricula only to have fewer students and little measurable educational improvements.
Upon close inspection and a little research of the track record of the BOE’s past educational experimentation with our students, we will find that a lot of what is promoted as “new” is really old. We have had schools within schools, house masters, block schedules and variations thereof, semester schedules, and numerous different and sometimes conflicting educational philosophies and teaching strategies before.
Many people running our school system may be “smart”, but I question their wisdom. What we need are wise men and women at the helm who will be deliberative in their actions and decisions and who will consult the collective wisdom and experiences of the teachers, parents and the community.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 29, 2014  3:48pm

Snake oil being sold.Teachers,Parents.This a Corporate Takeover of Public Education.Note his back ground.

Born in the Dominican Republic, De La Paz said he came to the U.S. at 4 years old. His mom, a widow with a 5th-grade education, raised him and three older sisters on her own in Union City, N.J.. He attended Rutgers University; spent a few years in the corporate world; got an MBA from the University of Virginia; worked in mergers and acquisitions at The Hartford and Aetna, two Hartford-based insurance companies; and then became a senior manager at Capital One bank. He left corporate finance in 2008 to become special assistant to the superintendent of Hartford Public Schools, according to an online biography at the Broad Residency, an educational leadership program which he (and Harries) attended.

The Broad Residency.Look at where the money is coming from.

Gates Donates $3.6 Million to Broad Residency

Record Number of Broad Residents Take on Local, State, Federal Roles Managing Education Reform.

The trend for appointing CEOs to the top jobs is symptomatic of a declining commitment to public education and social justice

by Paul Thomas

Check out who is on the board of Broad Residency.Load with corporate vampires.Notice Michelle Rhee.

Peace & Justice |  People Power

Why Corporations Want Our Public Schools

Where’s the big money in privatization? Take it from the teachers.

As someone said.Education has become a business and those that are affected most are not the ones profiting the greatest from it.

posted by: NewHavenPublic on April 29, 2014  8:40pm

Disruptive “School Change” marches on.

School leadership claims they want to improve student engagement and achievement.  Please explain why this requires more 6 figure appointments and (increasingly unfettered) power for school district management?

Stressed New Haven children truly need more help.  But they need it from real people who are willing to directly work with them: teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, mental health care workers, and all school staff.  Instead, they have been cutting teaching staff positions, cutting hourly worker hours and overworking those who care for our children every day.

The changes the power brokers are implementing are not be good for our children.  The shift to private operators will continue to be a $$$ bonanza for some at the top.  I worry for those who got into education for the right reasons.

The squeeze is on. 

American greed seems to know no limit.

Public schools are their cash cow.  Don’t get in their way.

This is here.  Now.  We are going to be cleaning up a REALLY big mess if we let this continue.