New London superintendent praised for work in the district

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Oct. 13—NEW LONDON — New London School Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie received glowing reviews for her work in a performance evaluation and earned a one-year contract extension as a result.

The written evaluation, recently obtained by The Day, is a six-page document dense with a list of Ritchie's accomplishments over the past two years. It credits her for implementing changes and new initiatives all while deftly handling the issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board member Bryan Doughty said just some of the highlights over the past year include a pilot program to introduce year-round schooling for kindergartners and first graders, and expansion of preschool offerings at the new Birth to Age 8 Early Childhood Community Resource Center. Two schools in the district recently were accepted into the Commissioner's Network, leading to more funding and academic support to the middle and high schools.

As for the district's pandemic response, Doughty said, "we've reacted well and adapted well and kept our students and staff safe."

The newly approved contract extends Ritchie's stay in the city by at least a year, through June 30, 2024. Under terms of the new contract, Ritchie will earn a base salary of $187,460, up nearly 3% from the $182,100 she had earned this year, district records show. Among other things included in the contract is a $400 per month allowance for travel, up to $10,000 per year for her school work pursuing a doctorate degree and a 1.5% bump in pay for each of the remaining two years on her contract.

The evaluation was the first one completed by the current school board, which had approved a one-year contract extension for Ritchie in 2020 following an evaluation by the previous board. The evaluation is a compilation of the feedback provided by individual school board members.

School board member Rob Pero agreed that Ritchie has done a solid job for the district, including a rewrite of curriculum, but took some issue with the evaluation process.

"It was an awful rubric that I thought didn't really address any of the things going on in New London," Pero said.

The evaluation layout is based on the Connecticut Superintendents Leadership Competency Framework, which contain a series of categories such as how the superintendent "develops and implements vision that inspires action and commitment" and "demonstrates leadership grounded in collaborative governance."

"You have a keen ability to manage an incredibly full plate," the evaluation reads, noting Ritchie has balanced all requirements for being part of the Alliance District program for the state's lowest-performing schools, as well as state requirements for being a magnet district and having the largest ratio of English Language learners.

"On top of these very large lifts, you continue to balance three simultaneous building projects," the evaluation reads.

As for a host of changes to administrative positions and the addition of new positions over the past several years, Pero said, "it's going to be interesting to see how some of the things she's put into place come to fruition. I think certainly the next board should judge her on that."

School Board member Elaine Maynard-Adams said several board members shared suggestions, such as better communication with the board and district families, but Ritchie overall has proven to be up to the challenge of managing the district during difficult times.

"Its been a series of calamities since she walked through the door," Maynard-Adams said.

Ritchie, a former assistant school superintendent in East Hartford, was hired in 2018 to succeed former Superintendent Manuel Rivera. Interim Superintendent Stephen Tracy led the district during an 8-month transition period between Rivera and Ritchie.

Less than a year after her hire, a major scandal struck following the arrest of former school middle school behavioral specialist Corriche Gaskin for the alleged sexual assault of two students. That raised questions about hiring practices in the district and led to distrust among school families that needed to be addressed with a series of safety protocols. The district since last year also has been coping with the pandemic.

"She's received unanimous praise for how she's handled this," Maynard-Adams said.

School Board President Regina Mosley said Ritchie has "handled herself well and has tried to lead the district in the right direction."

But Mosley said the district also needs to do a better job addressing the "continued racial divide."

She said the district has frozen a posted position related to diversity, equity and inclusion while staff of color have left the district with what she said was "no real explanation." The school board has not received data regarding exit interviews, she said.

"It is no secret that Black and Brown instructors are disproportionately hired because that is happening nationally but New London seems to try a little harder not to move us forward," Mosley said.

"I have encountered my own discrimination since sitting in this position so I am speaking not only as someone who is watching what goes on, listening to what the community is bringing forward, and also from my own lived experiences," she added. "We can be United in Excellence but only when we recognize that there is a problem."

g.smith@theday.com

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