An Interview with Interim Superintendent Connelly

Interim Superintendent James A. Connelly

Courtesy of Norwalk Public Schools

Interim Superintendent James A. Connelly

Klara Hoherchak and Andrew Young

On January 1, 2016, James A. Connelly began his tenure as Interim Superintendent for Stamford Public Schools (SPS). It is anticipated that Connelly will remain superintendent until the end of June, by which point the Board of Education (BOE) hopes to have hired a permanent superintendent. On January 7, Connelly visited Stamford High School for the second time, and sat down with The Round Table for an interview.

Connelly explained his role as interim superintendent as a functional one of ensuring the smooth running of the school system. He said, “There are several things I need to do. One is stability.” He went on to say, “I need to make sure that day-to-day things are taken care of.” He also emphasized his desire to help the school system heal and repair itself, so that the new permanent superintendent will be able to bring the school district to the next level. He said, “Hopefully during the time I’m here, I can be a healer. I think that there are some things that need to be changed, based on various reports, and I can certainly try to implement that.” Connelly went on to say that his main goal is to focus on repairing SPS and to bring the school district to the next level.

Connelly explained that it is important for a superintendent to have a very strong leadership style and to  clearly show that he or she is responsible for the operation of the school district.  He further stressed the importance of cultural sensitivity to our “multicultural environment in Stamford,” emphasizing the need to respect and appreciate the diverse communities represented in our school system.  He described the tremendous opportunities available in Stamford, discussing the importance of building partnerships with the vibrant business community and with the increasing number of colleges in our area. He believes it is important that our next permanent leader have a history of developing and enhancing such partnerships. Connelly said, “We’re already looking at a couple of other projects here, particularly some partnerships with higher education for next year.”  Connelly also stated that the next superintendent should be one that is “accessible to parents and to the community.”

As an experienced superintendent in several other school systems, Connelly explained the importance of a superintendent delegating, but maintaining accountability for the many administrators who run the 20 schools in our system. He said, “Delegation with accountability. I really believe that.”  Connelly then described the importance of trusting his staff to run the school systems while also trusting them to bring to his attention problems and difficulties.  He said, “Dr. Fernandes is in charge of the high schools and middle schools. Someone else is in charge of the elementary schools. I have to trust them because they report directly to me. So I have to trust that they know what’s going on in their school buildings, and if there are problems and issues, you know, that they’ll try to address them. And if they can’t, then I’ll get involved.”

Just as he described the need for a superintendent not to micromanage his administrators for each individual school, he also expressed the belief that the BOE similarly should refrain from doing so.  He said that the board’s role is to set policy, oversee the school system and advocate for resources. He said he did not want the BOE too involved in the day-to-day operations and problems experienced in the schools.  He believes the significant turnover on the Stamford Board of Education presents a positive opportunity for the board members and the superintendent to create a new partnership, moving past our difficult recent history. Connelly said, “I really think having new board members is an opportunity for both of us to create a new partnership. We’re not wedded to what happened in the past. I think it’s a great opportunity to develop a whole new climate.”

Finally, Connelly described the challenges facing Stamford Public Schools that drew him to the job.  He is very committed to urban education, and he acknowledged the many strengths and opportunities in our school system.  Recognizing the challenges that we face in Stamford, Connelly described our situation as being a “solvable, healable crisis.” He welcomes his role in assisting us to move past our problems, healing the negative perceptions held by some and putting our school system, especially Stamford High School, on a path toward a successful future. When explaining what he saw in SPS that made him want to take the job as interim superintendent, he said, “I always like challenges. I really do.”