UPDATED: Fischer Says School District’s Leadership 'Is Being Disemboweled'

Board members upset at New London superintendent's request to the State Board of Education to take over; board secretary plans to call for superintendent's resignation.

Some members of the Board of Education are asking that their governance be given a chance after Superintendent Nicholas Fischer recommended a state intervention in the today.

Fischer made the request to the State Board of Education as well as Stefan Pryor, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Education. The board met in Hartford this morning, and its agenda included the .

The audit was critical of the Board of Education, saying the board has not placed significant focus on student achievement and that its meetings are hindered by political disagreements. The report also said there is not enough interaction between the city and school governments and that the board is sometimes hostile to Fischer and other district administrators. The audit was based on confidential interviews with 55 people as well as observances of board meetings and documents.

Mayor Daryl Finizio said he has had preliminary discussions with Pryor as well as Mark Ojakian, Gov. Dannel Malloy’s chief of staff, and Allan B. Taylor, chairman of the State Board of Education, about a possible state intervention. Finizio said no definite plan for such an intervention has been implemented, but that he plans to meet with Dr. Manuel Rivera—his education policy advisor—on Friday and Ojakian and Pryor on Monday.

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Superintendent statement

Fischer cited a new teacher evaluation system based on the Connecticut Common Core of Teaching, an , and as positive steps the district has taken. He said the district has “made significant progress in improving instruction, holding students and staff accountable, and we are starting to see substantial improvement in student achievement.”

However, Fischer said other actions have been harmful to the district. Following the release of the audit, Fischer wrote an executive summary saying governance issues are a core problem in the district. Fischer recommended that the Department of Education bring in special masters to create a district improvement plan and give training to board members. He also said the department should inform the board about the consequences of failure to implement the audit’s recommendations, including possible reconstitution of the board; work with the district to create a plan to hire more minority teachers; and issue a statement on the efficacy of the board’s decision to to the city’s budget in an effort to free money to be used elsewhere in the district.

Fischer said the business office transfer is one sign that the district’s leadership “is being disemboweled.” He described Maria Whalen, the district’s business manager and chief financial officer, as a person with “an impeccable record of financial management and balanced budgets, on whom I depend in difficult financial times.” He said Whalen is “seriously considering retirement” as a result of the funds transfer and proposed consolidation of city and school finances, and questioned whether the merger would result in significant savings.

Fischer also said that Assistant Superintendent Christine Carver out of concern that her job in New London would be eliminated. Although some board members have , the full board has to take Carver’s place. Fischer said Carver was “a key leader in improving instruction, curriculum, teacher and principal training, and human resources.”

“It is no secret that that the finances of the City of New London are in a precarious state. Due to flat funding for the fourth year proposed by the city of New London, we are on the verge of needing to reduce a staff of 420 by 60, nearly all of them instructional,” said Fischer. “The time of observation, analysis and evaluation must end. The state must intervene in New London.”

Response from board members and mayor

Finizio agreed that major changes are needed.

“The New London public school system has reached a critical point in its history and significant reforms will be needed to bring our schools to where they need to be,” he said. “The city administration will work closely with the state and will communicate closely with community partners throughout New London as we chart a new course for the New London public school system.”

Fischer informed the board by e-mail on Wednesday that the district would be included on the State Board of Education's agenda. His statement was sent by e-mail to New London Board of Education members and state representatives on this morning.

Board President Bill Morse said he was not surprised by the request, and said he would welcome state assistance in the district.

"We’ve been expecting some form of assistance in the form of mandated training for the entire board," he said. "I welcome that because I think all of us could use some additional training in terms of running more productive meetings and working better with the administration, City Council, and the mayor.”

Other board members were dismayed by the decision. Elizabeth Garcia Gonzalez, vice president of the Board of Education, said she was disappointed and surprised by Fischer’s statement. She said the board was not informed of the State Board of Education meeting until Tuesday. Gonzalez said four members, including herself, have only been on the board and that the board should have more time to work on improving student achievement.

“Really, I think we should have had a meeting all of us together…we should have a meeting between the local board, somebody from the state board, and discuss this,” she said.

Gonzalez said she disagreed with the audit’s assertion that the board has at times been hostile, saying she thinks the board has worked in a civil manner. However, she said some members feel intimidated by the state observation of the board.

“We don’t mind them telling us, ‘This is how you’re really supposed to be working as a board,’ but at the same time we’re reminded that there could be a state takeover,” she said.

Secretary Jason Catala said he was offended by the superintendent’s remarks and will seek a special board meeting on Wednesday to demand Fischer’s resignation.

“I’m think he’s bad for New London and bad for our kids, and today he finalized any opinion I had of him,” he said.

Catala said he thinks the current board has made improving student achievement one of its top objectives. He said he believes the members have the students’ best interests at heart, but felt differently about others in the district.

“I just don’t know if our top administrators really care about our kids, and that’s what really bothers me,” he said.

Delanna Muse, who was also elected in November, attended the Hartford meeting. She said she agreed with some recommendations of the state audit, including state training, but also felt the board needs more time to work toward improving the district.

“I don’t understand his reasoning behind making that request,” said Muse. “I know there’s a problem as far as student achievement in New London, but I think they should allow this current board to come together and work on policies and strategies to continue the progress we’ve made so far. And I feel that’s not being done.”

Board member Barbara Major said she will continue to make decisions based on what she thinks are the best interests of the students and community.

“I think Dr. Fischer jumped the gun," she said. "I think this is a new board. You’ve got new members who have only been on since January, and I think it’s unfair that they’re being blamed for the last board’s mistakes.”

District issues

One of the most pressing issues facing the district is the proposed funding level for the 2013 fiscal year. The board to $42,999,270, saying it was necessary to preserve the current level of services in the schools. Finizio , while the City Council ultimately .

This figure includes $809,001 in additional Education Cost Sharing funds expected from the state as part of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s education reform. The council’s Finance Committee also , which the board approved over the . Several parents and school employees for the schools at a recent public hearing.

The city is also considering how to proceed with upgrading , which in . The options for the school include fixing the ADA issues, renovating as new, or constructing a new building.

Last month, the board renewing Fischer’s three-year employment contract through 2015. Fischer's contract is currently set to expire in 2014.

New London schools have also been following poor and results last year. Dr. James Mitchell has been attending the Board of Education meetings as an observer since last year.

Other state takeovers

According to the Connecticut Mirror, state interventions occurred in 2011 in the Bridgeport and Windham districts. Both interventions occurred due to circumstances similar to those existing in New London.

According to the Norwich Bulletin, the Windham intervention occurred as a result of slipping student performance. The state’s actions included the appointment of a special master to oversee the budget, professional development, and student achievement.

Bridgeport requested a state intervention and reconstitution of the board as a result of lagging student performance as well as the concern that continued flat-funding of the budget would result in hundreds of layoffs and the closing of a school, according to the Hartford Courant. Critics of the request said they felt it was politically motivated.

Morse said a state intervention would not involve an immediate reconstitution of the board or other takeover, but would rather involve steps such as board training and more active oversight of board meetings by representatives from the state.

“The state is not interested in taking over any school board unless it’s a last result and all other options have failed," said Morse. "Intervention does not mean takeover. Intervention means help, guidance. It doesn’t mean replacement.”


Original breaking news:

Dr. Nicholas Fischer, superintendent of the , has asked the state to intervene in the district.

The Connecticut Mirror reports that Fischer made the request today to the State Board of Education and Stefan Pryor, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Education. The board, which met in Hartford this morning, was scheduled to discuss a recent status report on the district.

completed by the Department of Education was critical of the New London Board of Education, saying members have not made taken sufficient steps to improve student achievement and that progress has been inhibited by political disagreements. Fischer's recommendations after the report's release included having the Department of Education appoint special masters to implement training for board members and create a district improvement plan.

Other challenges facing the district in recent years have included poor scores on state and tests and an . The City Council's includes additional state funding expected under Gov. Dannel Malloy's budget and money freed up by a decision to transfer business office funds to the city budget, but some parents and school employees have .

More information on this story will be posted this afternoon.

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VMuck May 17, 2012 at 06:51 PM
It seems to me this is something the state of CT was going to do anyways; Fischer is just making it look like it was voluntary. Fischer's contract is also on the line for 2014. Interesting. All the best to NLPS. I truly hope the state can help turn the district around.
Stephanie James May 17, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Of course dr. fischer would ask for this. The Board of Ed didn't renew his contract and now he's trying to bring the state in to save his own hide! The best thing the board could ever do was not renew that mans contract!
NewLondonSource May 17, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Even withthe report, iT was not a guarantee the state would do ANYthing except spew more rhetoric and throw money at it. It truly is amazing how many Commenters are misinformed; Dr. Fisher is asking the state to take over the board of Ed, not the schools themselves. For those that continue to deride Dr. Fisher, have you actually talked to him or even met him? Judging by the comments, I think not. He is dealing with a school board that is mostly made up of blithering, bickering souls, and is more concerned with the brand of bread being served in the cafeteria than what education initiatives they can implement. Also keep in mind that, given historical precedence, the New London public at large rarely welcomes an outsider as superintendent and gives them a fair shake. Sad but true.
Ken May 17, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Even if it is necessary for the State to take-over, that is never a good sign. I would like to see the statistics concerning how many state take-overs of education districts are successful. Also, how long do districts under state control typically remain that way? I have a feeling the answer is a decade or more. NL's education problems seem to stem from a difficulty in getting the BoE, superintendent and staff, and the faculty on the same page. I don't know if the problem has to do with egos, political gamesmanship, or a general inability to work towards a common cause. But, there will be no improvement in the district until those three entities work in concert and increase parental involvement with each of them.
Elissa Bass May 17, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Posted on New London Patch Facebook (www.facebook.com/NewLondonPatch) by Mark Anthony Battista: I think that this is some sort of retribution by Dr. Fischer since the Board decided on not renewing another year onto his contact, which is probably the smartest move the board has made in quite some time. Posted by Heather Flynn: I think it's been needed for a long time and I don't care what the motivations are, hopefully with the help of the state our schools can provide a decent education for our children. Posted by Sherry Allen Pardy: In the end, its not about politics but about doing what's right for the kids. This is a positive move, I think. Posted by Michele Lucas: NL schools have been a mess long before Fischer ever thought about NL.. Bottom line is we need help and we need it now, correction we need it YESTERDAY
Thomas Cornick May 17, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Why wait until 2014 ? Fischer has failed New London.
Dirk Langeveld May 17, 2012 at 10:00 PM
The update has been updated! I just included additional comments by Bill Morse and Barbara Major.
Jim May 18, 2012 at 12:25 AM
I find this very sad. Just another nail in NL's coffin...Why would anyone buy a home in NL. There is not one thing that is GOOD about NL
Michael Casteel May 18, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Nothing but a desperate attempt by a failed Superintendent to keep his job. Fischer was a stupid hire, yet another idiot Educrat, who was at war with the BOE in his previous job. However with the departure of his supporters from the Board his time in New London was nearly over. I wonder just what financial shenanigans he is obviously terrified will be exposed by the combining of the school financial office with the city. A state takeover would be a catastrophe to taxpayers, as the state will take its usual approach - more spending. They will simply impose a huge tax increase on the city to pay for it. Which is what Darryl and Fischer have wanted all along. Citizens need to turn out en masse at the next Board meeting and City Council meeting and demand the boy Mayor and Fischer resign and get out of town.
Alan Green, Jr. May 18, 2012 at 11:00 AM
Mr. Casteel - And here's another 'get outta town' message. Time to change out of your pajamas and put your outside-facing face on.... the saturday morning westerns are over. Or is it fright night and you're one of the town folk with the torches going for the 'monster'? You're inventing a boogie-man, sir.
Lisa Beth May 18, 2012 at 12:01 PM
If it's such a horrible thing, why are 48% of people in favor of it on "The Day's" poll? Speaking as a 1984 graduate of NLHS and a mom of two kids who went through the NLPS, this is way over due. WAY over due. What passes for an 'education system' in this city has been...malfunctioning (that's a nice way to put it, huh?) for decades. Whether or not this fixes anything or even has a positive impact remains to be seen. All I do know is that *something* had to be *done* because it just couldn't keep going on the way it was and be anything near effective at educating the children and young people in the city.
Debbie May 18, 2012 at 03:55 PM
State will offer training programs to Board Members (new or old) for their ongoing efforts to gain knowledge to become the effective leaders we voted for, and the poor rated educational system they inherited from previous terms. New London has much to gain with State intervention and assistance in regards to improving not only the education of students, but improving relations between adults as well. Peace and blessings.
Henry May 22, 2012 at 06:18 PM
The elected BOE members have failed the schools. Simply getting elected does not magically bring you the knowledge necessary to operate a school system. Try welcoming all the help you can get. It is quite obvious to me that you all do not respect those that you hire. If you keep the same attitudes and behavior the only thing that will change will be the hired professionals that you will continue to bring to NL and then ignore. Best of everything to you becuase you owe everything to your students not to those that elected you.
Dropping the ball May 22, 2012 at 07:17 PM
New London Board of has been in a rut for a number of years now. Nothings changed its still the same. Going threw New London school system When I was growing up seeing one child go threw it and now another child. Something Truly needs to be done. The city and the board of ed have never played nice together I welcome the state stepping in. Their dropping the programs for talented children and with the Science and technology schools comming into to play this is something this area needs. New London students can't make a living with their football or basketball. come on give me a break. When as anybody seen a board of ed. As for the comment well a lot of us are new to the board. So because YOU are new to the board our children suffer because you can't play nice with each other. We still only have ONE school on the NO watch list and that's an elementary school.
Jim May 22, 2012 at 11:30 PM
THREW does not mean the same thing as through. Its quite obvious the NL schools have had problems for a long time...We are now into the second generation of students that didnt learn English
Henry May 23, 2012 at 02:01 AM
George, at least Dropping The Ball seems to understand his surroundings unlike those that are just looking for a scape goat. I agree that being a newbie on the BOE is no excuse. If a person is so conserned about education I would think that prior to and during running for the position that they would do research regarding their potential position on a board. Again, I wish all NL students the best and no matter what it takes to bring improvement in "scores" I hope that it happens.
dropping the ball May 23, 2012 at 09:51 AM
George First of all this isn't about me. This is about students of the of New London and ANY students that plan to go to these magnum schools. Your comment had NOTHING to do with the topic at hand which tells me. Your concerns are not with the students of New London county or the topic at hand. So your comment just shows the lack of reading comprehension. And yes I do know the difference between through and threw threw = I THREW the ball through the window through = I walked THROUGH the door Excuse my typing error. Now please if you want to check my grammar feel free but please keep it in the context of the topic at hand. thank you
dropping the ball May 23, 2012 at 09:56 AM
LOL oops George sorry I have an extra TO in my post I'll say something before you have to ad your two cents in. thank you ahead of time LOL = Laughing out loud.
dropping the ball May 23, 2012 at 10:39 AM
Now George Lets correct some of your English grammar. ..We are now into the second generation of students that didnt learn English Didnt Is supposed to be spelled didn't as in {did not}. The apostrophe is to put an o or take the place of the o between the N and the T, Try pronouncing the word with out the apostrophe sounds pretty funky if you ask me LOL So before go correcting my grammar check yours as a matter of fact while typing you have a spell check. Which tells your flat out your wrong. You could have corrected it then.
Paul May 23, 2012 at 11:34 PM
You must be new to this....There is no spell check on patch comments...BTW it wouldn't have caught your misuse of words.. which was blatant
Larse July 09, 2012 at 05:04 AM
I totally agree with Stephanie. Dr. Fisher is a complete BOOB! And no, his contract should not be renewed. The reason people were hostile with him is because he has absolutely no people skills and is a condescending jerk! He insulted the parents of NL by stating the reason he could not delay school when conditions were unsafe because if children did not go to school they would not be fed. So what he meant was that we NL parents would neglect the needs of our children! This man is biased and is not able to do his job effectively. The Board of Ed simply listened to the many parents who were not happy with him and complained. He needs to get that gum he chews out of his ears and needs to get out of town.
Larse July 09, 2012 at 05:13 AM
Yes, I spoke with Dr. Fisher on more than one occasion and I think the man is a complete idiot! Have you ever read what he has be quoted saying? How many intelligent answers have you been given when you called to express your concern as a parent? The guy treats NL parents like we are uneducated socio-economically challenged individuals who have no idea what is good for our children! Absolutely disgusting! When I have approached the Board of Education members individually, I have been responded to and felt as if they cared about my concerns and wanted my input. When I spoke with Dr. Fisher, I felt I was being patronized and given the run around. He was condescending and did not address my concerns in an appropriate manner.


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