NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s new school superintendent Manuel Rivera got the final seal of approval for the job by the Board of Education on Tuesday night, but not before two board members complained about the process in which he was selected.
Rivera, a nationally recognized superintendent who led the school system for several years in Rochester, N.Y., will start on July 18. A former Norwalk resident, Rivera told the board that his focus will be on making the Norwalk school system one of excellence.
“You will never have to question my motives in my recommendations that come before you,” said Rivera, a father whose children attended Norwalk schools. “I will always try to do what’s right for the students.”
Rivera said he plans to meet with members of the school system, civic groups, parents, officials and community leaders in the coming weeks to identify people’s concerns about the school system. And in about 90 days, he intends to present a plan for how he hopes to improve the district.
“I’m about moving forward, not moving back,” he said, adding that he intends to “foster and build” a sense of collaboration throughout the system. He said hopes to go after “significant foundation dollars” to pay for new programs and initiatives.
The vote to approve Rivera was five in favor, one against and one abstention. Migdalia Rivas voted against the appointment, and Rosa Murray abstained. Chairman Michael Lyons and members Sue Haynie, Mike Barbis, Steve Colarossi and Heidi Keyes approved the hire.
Both Rivas and Murray emphasized that they did not oppose Rivera as a superintendent, but they said they were not pleased with the selection process because the search firm PROACT and other officials excluded board members and others.
Additionally, Rivas objected to Rivera’s $250,000 annual base salary because she did not believe the city budgeted to spend that much. She supported a salary of $230,000.
“I feel this entire thing was not done to Norwalk’s best interest,” said Rivas.
Lyons disagreed, emphasizing that he shared all documents and communications he received from PROACT with all the board members. He added that Rivera was an almost perfect fit for the job because he met 17 of 18 criteria that the community said it wanted in a superintendent, criteria that was created after nearly 20 meetings with representatives from many constituencies.
“I thought the search process worked very well,” said Lyons. “Of the final candidates, Dr. Rivera generated the most consensus among members of the board.”
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