Bridge­port BOE sets new goals for su­per­in­ten­dent

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - News - By Linda Con­ner Lam­beck

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.”



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