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Departed Norwalk Superintendent Blamed, Admired

NORWALK, Conn. – Susan Marks has come and gone, having resigned after 25 months with Norwalk Public Schools in her first job as a school superintendent.

What do people think ?

"I think she is a visionary, but implementing the vision was where she fell short," Lisa Lenskold, director of Norwalk Grows , wrote in an email. "Norwalk wasn't ready for a visionary because our systemic issues require serious 'heavy lifting' before we can implement a long-term vision for our schools."

"I think she just made some moves that you make too quickly, trying to change things too quickly with no support, and there was also a lack of communication," said Bruce Mellion, president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers. "I believe that she listened to the wrong people, who led her in the wrong direction, and that wasn't helpful."

Lisa Brinton Thomson, co-founder, REd APPLES of Norwalk, an education group, credits Marks' stature outside Norwalk for her ability to bring in private sector funding for programs such as online learning and Wireless Generation.

"She brought back some 'firsts' – at least in a long while – for Norwalk, by evaluating principal staff for the first time in a decade, and she conducted the first-ever community and staff survey," Thomson said in an email.

While Thomson credits Marks for hiring the financial staff that uncovered a $4 million shortfall this spring, Mellion says 100 percent of the teachers surveyed at a general membership meeting held Marks accountable for that shortfall. Those teachers graded Marks' 2011-2012 performance poorly, with 30 percent D's and 70 percent F's, Mellion said.

Marks' background set her up for a "very difficult situation," Mellion said. She had never been a superintendent, had never been a teacher and had no financial background, he said. It was "unfortunate" that Marks "pandered" to the mayor and other city officials, Mellion said, and was not prepared for the culture of Norwalk, having come from a school district in Maryland .

Thomson said something similar. "By her own admission she was not good at the entrenched NPS politics, and I don't think she really knew what she was getting herself into," she said. "I think she found both the 'in your face' politics practiced by some as well as the 'backdoor politics' incredibly frustrating and disheartening."

"I think that she had some positives, but I think the negatives outweighed it," Mellion said. "I think it was a very frustrating experience for her in my opinion, and I think that, at the end of the day, she saw that it was going to be more of the same one more time."

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