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Bridgeport BOE in midst of super evaluation

July 15, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — The city school board has embarked this summer on something it hasn’t done in years: an evaluation of its schools chief.

For one, its been a while since the city had a schools superintendent for any stretch of time or who haven’t had “interim” in their title.

Aresta Johnson became the district’s first permanent superintendent about a year and a half ago and earns $260,000 a year for overseeing a district of some 21,000 students.

Johnson works for a nine-member Board of Education, most of whom were elected after she was hired. The new board has spent the year trying to shed its reputation for dysfunctional. On occasions when the board starts bickering, Johnson has managed to stay above the fray. For the most part.

In late May, when a canceled a post-Memorial Day meeting led to an uproar by some board members, she re-posted the meeting. That caused other board members to suggest the superintendent was taking sides.

Then again, the board gave her universal praise for pulling off a daylong succession of five graduation ceremonies, most held at Kennedy Stadium, that by most accounts went off without a hitch.

She also got props for reaching out more to the business community as well as rethinking several central office positions to deal with a multi-million-dollar budget gap — both at the board’s suggestion.

Johnson’s evaluation has included a two-part presentation to the board that she chose to hold in public. The board will individually grade her, then meet behind closed doors on July 26 to develop a singular critique.

Generally, annual evaluations are a precursor to a vote on whether to extend Johnson’s contract by a year, keeping it as a three-year deal.

Not all board members attended the open sessions. Board member Ben Walker was away. Board member Chris Taylor came to the second session only to announce he was not participating “for ethical reasons that I will not disclose.”

Other board members seemed to have already scored the superintendent.

“I have had a strong pulse on district since campaigning, and the feeling from the district is that you are doing an outstanding job,” board member Dennis Bradley told Johnson. “I think we as a board have to tremendous assets in Dr Johnson. I just wish we could market it more.”

All board members were provided three-ring binders that Johnson compiled, detailing her work in eight areas.

“Typically superintendents, when they are evaluated, select maybe three domains,” Johnson said. “I wanted to work with all eight, because I am a new superintendent and I thought it would give me a great baseline as I move forward over the course of my contract, to help me with my own professional growth and learning.”

For the most part, the discussion stayed clear of financial woes that have dominated board discussions all year. The only exception was when the board collectively moaned that it didn’t have the funds for a Hartford lobbyist.

Most of the focus was on decision-making, community involvement and efforts to improve student performance.

Despite money woes, Johnson said that on many academic performance measures, Bridgeport has moved up to second behind New Haven among the state’s large urban school districts.

Later this summer it is expected to be announced that on the state’s annual standardized test, city students as a whole increased 3.4 percentage points in literacy and 1.5 percent in math, the board was told. The gains at some schools were more significant than at others.

Board member Joe Sokolovic urged Johnson to market the district’s donation-raising foundation more. Johnson said she plans to broadcast it this summer on a postcard sent home to parents that will also encourage students to enroll in early college experience program.

Board Member Hernan Illingworth said he wanted to see Johnson intervene more when its clear principals needed improvement.

“Accountability is a big one — whatever you can do to improve holding folks accountable,” Illingworth said.

Board member Maria Pereira agreed.

“I’m concerned that every principal gets an exemplary evaluation,” Pereira said, calling on Johnson to hold her assistant superintendents — at least the two that are left following this year’s budget cuts — accountable when principals don’t properly report things like incidents of bullying.

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