Bridgeport BOE sets new goals for superintendent
BRIDGEPORT — It was an overall positive rating for a freshman superintendent who oversees what arguably is the toughest school district in the state.
Still, Bridgeport Schools Superintendent Aresta Johnson had things to say about the school board’s 70- page assessment that gave her a grade of 2.98 out of a possible 4.
During a special meeting of the school board this week, Johnson took strong exception to Board Chair John Weldon suggesting in the document that it was “borderline insubordination” for her to seek funding for a district after- school program without his knowledge.
She also said she has been led to believe that the evaluation was purposely stalled so as to occur after Mayor Joseph Ganim’s gubernatorial primary bid, that input from a former board chair was improperly included in the document and that some board members confused some of the areas they were grading.
“From the initial time of my appointment as superintendent in spring of 2017, I have made concerted effort to improve outcomes for all children,” Johnson said, reading from prepared remarks. “I am asking for a level of fairness and respect. I did not see that over ( the) 2017- 18 ( school year).”
The candid exchange — which qualified for executive session — was conducted in public at Johnson’s request, as was the bulk of her late August evaluation process.
The session ended with three goals set for Johnson in the current school year: Better her relationship with the board, increase parent engagement and focus more on bully prevention and record keeping. The board has faulted the district’s low verified bullying tally.
After the session, Weldon said it was unfortunate the superintendent had been made to feel that her evaluation was politicized, or that it was negatively influenced by anyone.
“For her own peace of mind, I hope she can find a way to re- adjust her views of the process and come to see that it was followed with integrity and with the best intentions of simply providing her with constructive information that she could use to refine herself as the professional public schools executive that she is,” Weldon said.
The evaluation included input from eight of nine school board members, with board member Chris Taylor choosing not to participate. Board members individually rated her in eight separate areas on a scoring scale of 1 — beginning — to 4 — exemplary.
Following the evaluation process, Johnson met with eight of nine board members. Her efforts to have a one- on- one with Dennis Bradley failed.
On Monday, Johnson was given the chance to respond to the evaluation to the full board, although only six members attended the session.
“What I need is trust, respect and to make sure everyone is keeping our kids front and center,” Johnson told them. “There are times I have turned around and have not felt the board is behind me. They have been behind others.”
Her evaluation called Johnson a strong academic leader, but she was given low marks by several members in the area of board relations and communications.
Weldon even lowered his score in that area from 2 to 1, he said, based on remarks made by other board members during the one executive session held on the document. At the same time, he said he raised her score in another area for the same reason.
Weldon said the mayor’s office did not ask for any slowdown in the superintendent’s evaluation process. Instead, he said, the delay was linked to board members who turned in their evaluations late.
The mayor’s office, through spokesman Av Harris, denied any involvement whatsoever in the superintendent’s evaluation or the timing of it.
Weldon said he did ask former board chair Joe Larcheveque about his communication with Johnson to see if his experience was similar.
“I didn't want to rank the Superintendent poorly for something that really had nothing to do with her,” he said.
Johnson said her office keeps a log of correspondence. She said she sometimes gets three or four calls a day from the chair.
“I respectfully request that this is considered when seeking a returned phone call, email or text request. I currently have 450 emails in my inbox,” Johnson said, adding that to have in her evaluation that she is not responsive is offensive.
As for stating her actions with respect to the Lighthouse program were "borderline insubordinate," Weldon said he has no regrets. He said they needlessly jeopardized the continuation of a valuable and long- standing citywide program.
Johnson said her efforts to start a new after- school program was shared with city officials and that board policy does not call for her to gain board permission to apply for grants. She said she co- signed the city’s grant application — even though she said it contained inaccuracies — at the direction of the board.
“Yet the board chair chose to include my attempts to provide our children with high quality programing as being borderline insubordination,” Johnson said. “If I want to introduce a new afterschool program, maybe the board should say, ‘ You know what? Our kids deserve it.’ ”
Johnson said given the district’s financial situation and having cut staff and programs to keep within budgeted dollars, she is being asked to do more than any other superintendent.
“There is only so much push, push, push,” she said. “At some point, things will break.”