Interim superintendent talks strengths, weaknesses

Naugatuck Interim Superintendent of Schools James Connelly, rights, gives his views on the strengths and weakness of the district during the Board of Education’s June 12 meeting as school board Chairman David Heller listens. –LUKE MARSHALL

Naugatuck Interim Superintendent of Schools James Connelly, rights, gives his views on the strengths and weakness of the district during the Board of Education’s June 12 meeting as school board Chairman David Heller listens. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — As he wrapped up his stay as Naugatuck’s interim superintendent of schools, James Connelly left the district with praise and recommendations.

“I wanted to be candid, but at the same time sincere,” Connelly told the Board of Education June 12.

Connelly was hired in September after former Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson abruptly retired. Sharon Locke, 46, of Durham has been hired as the next school chief. Locke, who is currently the assistant superintendent in the New Britain school system, will start in the Naugatuck on July 1.

Connelly told the board one of the first things he noticed about Naugatuck was its strong sense of community.

“I’ve worked in nine school districts, many of them at least twice. I have to say, with all sincerity, this is probably the greatest sense of community that I’ve experienced,” Connelly said.

Connelly pointed to Cruz Night, a 12-hour fundraiser last Friday organized by the Naugatuck High School’s DECA program.

Connelly said another thing that makes the borough unique is the shared services, such as the human resources department and business manager, between the school board and municipality.

“Many superintendents were trained that school departments stand alone, we’re independent,” Connelly said. “I find it works here in Naugatuck. You probably have the most extensive shared services structure in the state of Connecticut.”

Connelly added other borough departments are often willing to help the school district out.

“In other communities I call the public works and they say, ‘That’s a school board issue, talk to your maintenance department.’ There were many communities where I couldn’t get a reading from the public works department on how the roads were going to be as we were facing inclement weather,” he said.

Connelly said the borough public works department, along with the police and fire departments, work hand in hand with the school system.

Connelly also commended Naugatuck High School Principal Janice Saam for keeping the high school renovation project from disrupting learning.

“When I came in here and looked at the extent of the job, I was prepared for refereeing, as I had to do in other communities, meeting between contractors, architects and the principal, but [Saam] takes care of her own,” Connelly said.

Connelly pointed to two areas where he feels the school board can be stronger. The areas are the induction and support of new faculty and alternative education programs.

“Part of our dilemma here is we don’t have a lot of scheduled time for professional development. Because of the kind of community Naugatuck is, you not only want to induct a new teacher or new staff member into the school, you really want to induct them into this community,” Connelly said.

He recommended the board make time prior to the start of the school year to ensure the new staff is familiar with the school system. He also suggested bringing new employees together after school starts to answer any questions.

Connelly said part of the problem with the alternative programs is the lack of physical space and resources.

However, he felt the board could still do more to address the issue.

“Strategically, I think, in all honesty, we need to be offering more options to youngsters that do need alternative education. I think if we had that it can address some of our issues with early drop-outs and things like that,” Connelly said.

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