Last-Minute Shuffle At 2 Schools; Layoffs Averted

Melissa Bailey PhotoJust 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.

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: baile27 on August 23, 2011  10:13am

King-Robinson School has gained a thoroughly competent and caring principal who sincerely pushes children and their parents to succeed.  Congratulations Mrs. Gannon!!! You’ll be missed at Hillhouse, but you’ve been called to impact the lives of young people…and you will!!!

posted by: Oh boy on August 23, 2011  12:29pm

NHPS at its best….supposedly no money, but positions are crested, They tell their employees there’s a trajectory in place to move into administration, but from what I read, the new AP at Celentano DID NOT come from within the district which means he did not come through the trajectory.  I’m so glad I’m no longer a part of this district and its blatant nepotism.  Good luck to those who still work in this failing district.

posted by: dana b on August 23, 2011  3:16pm

“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.”

Why do I get the feeling that the New Haven School District was crying crocodile tears about its terrible budget crisis?  150 layoffs suddenly avoided?  Clearly, this district has had some fat it could cut.  Makes one wonder how much more could be cut while still delivering the same quality of educational product to the students.

posted by: mikeys on August 23, 2011  7:51pm

New Haven doesn’t seem organized. Where is the planning? One week before the school year begins and new placements are being assigned?!How are 150 jobs saved? Out of state people hired? more administrators?

posted by: teachergal on August 24, 2011  9:13am

Oh Boy states: the new AP at Celentano DID NOT come from within the district which means he did not come through the trajectory.

Not only that, but the principal received unsatisfactory ratings on the school’s climate survey for 2 years in a row and is still running the building. What are those surveys for anyway? Seems like nothing but smoke and mirrors! Nepotism is a big problem in NH, always was and continues to be!

posted by: brutus2011 on August 24, 2011  1:52pm

In response to “mikeys” post:

NHPS is not dis-organized. Senior management is very organized.

And that is the problem; everything is smoke and mirrors with a dash of outright prevarications when necessary. 

If there is a mayoral change this November, the new mayor should begin a formal investigation as to the hiring practices and fund allocation of NHPS.

It just might be a bombshell akin to the Madoff scandal-so blatant and so far-reaching as to be almost beyond belief.

posted by: Hmmm on August 24, 2011  2:05pm

Hopefully Co-op will work on more AP classes, less bullying, stronger discipline, and teamwork among students and staff. The new building, inter-district status and new principal are a giant step in the right direction. Good-luck for a bright future!

posted by: Last minute at Wilbur Cross? on August 25, 2011  1:55pm

Why aren’t student schedules done?  Cross has 8 principals, consultants, and federal money up the wazoo, but they can’t get ready for the beginning of the school year?  How does this happen?

posted by: LOL on August 26, 2011  8:33am

posted by: teachergal on August 24, 2011 9:13am

Not only that, but the principal received unsatisfactory ratings on the school’s climate survey for 2 years in a row and is still running the building. What are those surveys for anyway?


That’s a great question.  One I’ve asked our USELESS union “leaders” only to receive an angry reply of “we’re the most progressive teachers union in the country.”  Puh-leeze. The NHFT is weak, doesn’t even enforce to downtown the protocols and mandates established in the contract.

For example:  Keisha Hannans, the principal at Celentano has taught only HS math (and for less than 10 years) YET is trying to fire first- and second-grade teachers.  These are teachers, who per the contract, were observed by and received satisfactory reviews from a third-party evaluator.  Yet, Celentano’s principal is still pushing their termination.  Laughable considering the principal has no expertise whatsover in the primary grades, never mind the fact the third-party evaluator gave these teachers satisfactory reviews.

Downtown apparently has pointed to the slight increase in Celentano’s scores under Hannans as the reason for taking no action against her for the climate surveys.  Which is laughable because what downtown doesn’t tell the public is of Hannans’ predecessor, George Wells, a man who was tight with the superintendent and in his late 60s who had never before been a principal. Wells was appointed principal in August 2007—despite the fact the district and he knew he would retire the following June. Pay hike = bigger pension.

Wells was a gentleman but Celentano was an absolute mess under his direction; junior high kids made fun of him to his face and ran wild.  Which is exactly what downtown wanted so that it could bring in Hannans “clean up” the school (except she does so by bullying teachers). Scores and behavior were bound to improve. 

What the public must know is that Celentano had a great principal in Laura Russo.  She was a true advocate for her kids and teachers; she worked tirelessly for the school and wasn’t afraid to challenge downtown if she thought something was detrimental to the welfare of her students and staff.  That got her in hot water because downtown doesn’t like to be challenged, so they nitpicked her apart and gave her less and less support before transferring her.

Brutus is absolutely right:  The upper management of NHPS is very organized.  They are calculated and cunning and expert window dressers.  Problem is, they wouldn’t last three minutes in TODAY’S classrooms.  That much is evident by the fact that they put on good shows for the press and public, yet haven’t finalized important details such as teacher placements. But, hey, why would placing good teachers in their expertise be a priority? (wink) Kids LAST.

posted by: teachergal on August 26, 2011  1:03pm

LOL has it right! If you don’t believe it spend a time teaching in New Haven. Too many bullies administrating (LOL) in our lovely new schools. 

Where are the teacher voices? It seems that only a few contribute to this blog, when I know from experience their are many out there who do not support how principals are doing their jobs. Yes, it is a hard job just as teaching is. Collaboration is a word thrown about but not visible in most schools. It is still a top down administration and don’t dare question the rules or you will be DISMISSED QUICKLY!!!!

I think that our union is being sucked in by the superintendent and his cronies. Speaking around the country and making a name for himself. Believe me, I won’t be filling out my climate survey this year as it means absolutely nothing. Yet, my evaluation determines if I keep my job or not! How fair is that???

posted by: Stephanie R on August 30, 2011  4:53pm

Best Wishes Mrs. Gannon

posted by: Manners on September 2, 2011  6:12pm

Why is the former failing principal of Clemente a” Principal on Special Assignment” at Hillhouse after running Clemente into the ground?  So ... let me get this right,  Renaissance gets the big bucks and so does the former Administration team of Williams and Brunson. And we New Haven tax payers get to pick up the bill and also pay for the damage of $70,000 to the new building after ten months occupancy. Did any one read the school climate surveys? Read the CMT scores? Speak to the educational stakeholders? No?...didn’t think they did or cared! At least the reign of incompetance for the students possibly is over. But then again…

posted by: Kathy Hart-Jones on September 6, 2011  6:39pm

Congratulations Nadine!  King/Robinson is lucky to have you!  You Go Girl!