Principals Leaving 4 Schools

Melissa Bailey PhotoA star principal plans to end her 46-year career—leaving the Board of Ed another important vacancy to fill.

Lola Nathan (pictured), who has been principal of Davis Street School for a whopping 20 years, announced Monday she plans to retire on June 30.

Nathan was one of five administrators Monday who gave the district early warning that they plan to retire on June 30. The others are: Principal Denise Coles-Cross at Mauro/Sheridan Magnet School; John Vigliotti, a “principal on special assignment” who deals with districtwide athletics; and Leroy Williams and Andre Dupree at Hillhouse High School, who were “principals on special assignment” working under Principal Kermit Carolina.

They all took advantage of a program that awards a $10,000 bonus to administrators who give the district six months’ notice of their departure. The deadline to do so is the end of the year. (This is the last year of the $10,000 bonus; the new administrators contract drops that bonus to $7,500.)

In December, two other principals also announced their departure: Adult Education Principal Alicia Caraballo is retiring on June 30; and Edgewood School Principal Raeanne Reynolds left abruptly in December to take a job in Branford.

So the city now has four vacancies at principal jobs for the fall: Davis Street, Mauro/Sheriden, Adult Education and Edgewood School.

There are four vacancies due to departing assistant principals: two at Hillhouse; Sarah Rosner at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet; and Mary Sorrells at Strong School.

The school board Monday approved one short-term fix: It promoted Edgewood School Assistant Principal Monique Brunson to fill out the rest of the year as interim principal. And it moved Andrea Sauerbrunn, a teacher leader a Co-op High School, to Edgewood to support Brunson as her assistant principal, effective Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Garth Harries announced the district aims to stick with its new, more aggressive timeline for putting new leaders in place. The plan calls for filling all new principal jobs by May 27 and assistant principal jobs by June 23. It also calls for involving parents in the process—click here to read more.

In remarks Monday before the school board, Harries thanked the retiring staff. He said Nathan’s departure will leave a big hole.

“I cannot believe she is doing this to me,” he said with good-natured humor. “Thank you for your contributions over the years.”

Nathan started out working in New Haven schools 46 years ago, teaching special education at the former Woolsey School on Fair Haven’s Woolsey Street. She later taught at Welch Annex, Jackie Robinson, served as New Haven’s special ed coordinator, became assistant principal of Truman School, became principal of Isadore Wexler School—and then landed at Davis Street School, where she has been principal for 20 years.

“I think it’s time to try something new,” she said.

When she took over Davis Street, she said, it was a K to 5 school with a half-day kindergarten. Nathan oversaw its growth into a full-fledged pre-K to 8 in a sparkling, renovated building at 25 Davis St. Among her accomplishments: Bringing in a library to the school 12 years ago, before the renovation. And recruiting and developing talented staff.

Under Nathan, Davis Street became a virtual advancement-track factory that took in teachers and turned out leaders who rose in administrative ranks.

People who teach at Davis Street tend to get involved, Harries said—as literacy coaches, as assistant principals, or in other leadership roles.

He said Nathan knows “how to inspire people.” “She creates the community that people want to be part of.”

Harries praised her as “entrepreneurial,” “creative,” and “totally irreplaceable.”

Nathan said she always had an eye out for talented people whom she could bring on as staff—people like part-time drama teacher Sharece Sellem.

“I’m constantly recruiting people,” she said. Take Rosalyn Bannon, the new principal of MicroSociety Magnet School, for example: “I hired her right off the street,” Nathan said.

Nathan was known as a tough-as-nails educator with a big heart. She worked hard: She hasn’t taken a sick day in 14 years, she said. In recent years, the school district began to rely on Nathan as a regular mentor to teachers who struggled in “turnaround” schools as well as top-performing teachers who aspired to be principals.

Under her leadership, Davis Street School rose up as a top-performing school in the city’s new grading system. Staff at her school defied the odds: In 2009, Davis Street became the first New Haven public non-charter school to see its African-American fifth-graders do as well as all Connecticut fifth-graders on standardized tests, obliterating the achievement gap.

“I don’t have plans at this point,” said Nathan, who lives in Hamden, but “certainly not sit in a rocking chair.”

As part of the district’s transition plan, Nathan will help train her replacement in June. She was asked what advice she has for the next principal.

“Continue empowering the staff, students and parents alike,” she said. And “don’t become the status quo.”

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posted by: robn on January 15, 2014  9:43am

Incredibly inspiring. I wish people like Principal Nathan would run for public office.

posted by: Semi Semi-Dikoko on January 15, 2014  2:02pm

Ms Nathan has been the exemplary hard working, caring, knowledgeable, bright, smart and street smart administrator! From the time I first met her in 1998, (taking my late nephew to Kindergarten at Davis), she demonstrated to me and my family that a great principal is more than just an educator and administrator. She is someone who can quickly counsel and guide, refers to needed resources and intervention if needed in a timely empathetic and effectual fashion!

Great job Madam and thank you for your dedication and above all for setting the bar where it belong: High!

posted by: Mary Brown on January 15, 2014  8:55pm

Congratulations Mrs. Nathan! You have done an awesome job and I am sure you will continue to educate in some fashion!

posted by: Bill Saunders on January 15, 2014  9:49pm

Maybe a show of ‘good faith’ for this BOE would be for them to figure out a way to fill these vacancies with their existing resources, and treat this episode as an experiment in ‘managed downsizing’.

posted by: True that on January 16, 2014  6:28am

Principals Nathan and Coles-Cross are among the best school leaders in the state.  Both their schools are economically integrated and high performing at the same time - a tremendous accomplishment that speaks to their leadership and commitment to children.  Both principals have impeachable reputations throughout the district and will be sorely missed.  Instead of the so-called leadership pipeline led by an administrator with no teaching or school leader experience, perhaps these two principals - if they wish to - could lead an administrator training program.  Best of luck to the both of them, and may they receive the send off that two outstanding educators deserve.  Best of luck.