National education reformer to lead Bridgeport
Ohanian Comment: Paul G. Vallas IS the quintessential education reformer--in the modern sense of the word:
Chicago: First CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, 1995 to 2001. Like many bad policies, the CEO idea started in Chicago. To quote from the March 2002 Substance: "When Paul Vallas was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools they watched with dismay as he lied to the press, abused veteran educators, gave out lucrative no-bid contracts, misused standardized tests and engaged in shocking acts of racial bigotry. The issue has a series of articles about the Vallas reign, including this characterization of the Vallas leadership style that should be a warning to Bridgeport: "Management by bullying."
A blogger at PhillyNews.com summarized: "the guy is an egomaniac and a publicity-hound who was 2/3rds show and 1/3rds substance and who couldn't sit still long enough to focus on running the lumbering bureaucracy that is the district's central administration. That $70 million deficit that came out of nowhere last October is an example. pushing for widespread privatization of school management in Philadelphia." The blogger also said that Vallas got things done.
New Orleans: Writing in the October 2007 Substance, Sharonjoy Jackson notes that New Orleans schools suffered two disasters: Katrina and Paul Vallas. Jackson points out that under Vallas' reign mature African American (New Orleans) teachers were 'pink slipped' just at the time when important strides were being made of reestablish the teacher union.
So Bridgeport, you are in for interesting times.
Update: The Dec. 23 Wall Street Journal reported that Vallas' salary of $229,000 will be paid by Bridgeport Education Reform Fund: Wealthy donors have created a fund to pay the salary of a new Bridgeport school superintendent, ushering in hopes of a new era of private money for reform efforts in Connecticut's most troubled school system.
The New York City schools chancellor, head of the largest school system in the country, receives $213,000.
One can wonder if Vallas will address race and poverty issues. Bassick High School, with 4% white students, has 99% students receiving free and reduced lunch.
Linda Conner Lambeck
Paul G. Vallas, an education reformer who has led some of the nation's most troubled school systems, including the New Orleans district after Hurricane Katrina devastated that city, is taking on a new challenge: The Bridgeport school district.
Vallas, 58, was named Tuesday as interim superintendent in the state's largest city, whose district has some of the state's lowest test scores and deepest poverty. He starts Jan. 1, and will inherit both a $6 million budget gap and a state-appointed school board whose very existence is being weighed by the state Supreme Court.
Vallas, sitting earlier on Tuesday in the Bridgeport Holiday Inn, said he is not intimidated.
"I am used to taking on great challenges and going into crisis situations," he said. "Our plan is to move fast."
Vallas pledged to stabilize the district and create new financial and academic plans that will not only move the district forward, but generate improvements other systems will envy.
Vallas has a reputation for being a "rock star" superintendent with a knack for improving test scores and bringing about stability in large urban districts. He has been in the forefront of many educational innovations, such as pushing for widespread privatization of school management in Philadelphia.
While his hard-charging, hands-on style has won him many admirers, it's also earned him his share of critics.
In addition to his New Orleans post, Vallas has volunteered in Haiti and Chile after earthquakes there.
It was in New Orleans, and later Haiti, that Vallas came to know Stefan Pryor, the state's new commissioner of education, who was also volunteering his time. Vallas recently worked on Pryor's transition team and was introduced to Robert Trefry, chairman of the Bridgeport school board, as someone who could tell him how urban districts can be improved. Vallas was one of two candidates Trefry said was interviewed for the interim post.
Pryor said he is pleased Vallas made the decision to invest his time and good work in the state's largest city.
"Paul is one of the nation's leading educators and has many choices. He could be working in a lot of places. He recognizes there is a need to create stability in the Bridgeport district and lay down some tracks that can lead in the direction of progress," said Pryor.
Vallas replaces John Ramos, whose contract was terminated by the board. Vallas will bring with him Sandy Kase a former supervising superintendent at Chancellor's District in New York City. She will take over the slot held by Associate Superintendent Robert Henry, whose retirement was announced this month. Vallas also plans to name an interim budget director and to reach out to the Council of Great City Schools and other educators who he said will come in on special assignment.
Vallas' tenure is expected to last up to a year, and he will make the same $229,000 salary as his predecessor, Ramos.
In the past, Vallas has been an advocate for a strong mayoral role in urban school districts. That stance likely will find favor with Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who seeks to change the city's charter to give the mayor more authority over Bridgeport's schools.
"If you are the mayor of a city and you don't have responsibility over the schools, you don't have the incentive to mobilize city resources for schools," he said in a 2005 interview with District Administration magazine. "When mayors don't have direct responsibility or political responsibility, it allows them to sit on the sidelines and criticize and not become constructively engaged. When they are given the legal responsibility of schools, they are now on the hook.''
Finch said he has high hopes Vallas can bring the district the kind of reforms it needs.
"People know about Paul Vallas," said Finch, calling him a national talent.
Board member Judith Bankowski said Vallas came across as someone with passion and energy.
Read more: http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/National-education-reformer-to-lead-Bridgeport-2415319.php#ixzz1hCOfQLlq
Linda Conner Lambeck