Melissa Bailey Photo

Melissa Bailey Photo

As it looks to fill up to six vacancies for principals next fall, New Haven is turning to a new “pipeline” of homegrown leaders like Tara Cass and Jamie Baker.Cass and Baker are among the five “residents” training to be school leaders this year through a new partnership between New Haven Public Schools and Achievement First charter schools.

They showed up to the school board Monday night at 54 Meadow St. to hear about how the selection process will go for vacancies in school leadership—and how their program got a first-in-the-state approval as an alternative route to becoming a principal.

Cass and Baker are among the first class of New Haven educators to undergo a new training this year, where they spent five months at an Achievement First charter school and will spend another five training with a top principal in the New Haven district. As they near the end of their studies, they’re looking ahead to the goal of the training—to become an assistant principal or principal of their own school.

Cass (at center in top photo) was one of 50 people from inside and outside of the district to apply to become a principal in New Haven next year. The district has four to six openings, according to school reform czar Garth Harries. Two of those spots will be left open by the retirement of two star principals, Bonnie Pachesa and Gina Wells, who transformed the Edgewood and John C. Daniels schools. Spots have also opened up at East Rock Magnet School and Hill Regional Career High. If the district goes through with a creating another turnaround school next fall—as it aims to do, if it can get consent from the teachers union —one or two more principal jobs may open up.

Harries estimated there will be up to six openings for assistant principals next year, too. Baker was one of 150 applicants for those jobs.

New Haven has been training educators like Baker and Cass as it puts a new focus on talent development as part of a citywide school reform effort that’s now in its second year.

“We are convinced that the vast majority of future leaders will come from inside” the district, Harries said.

The district in 2010 rolled out a new, “pipeline” to help make that happen, explained Gemma Joseph-Lumpkin, executive manager of leadership development for the New Haven Public Schools, in a presentation before the board.

A total of 40 educators are getting trained in three groups. The training is now all privately funded, thanks to grants from the Buck Foundation and First Niagara Bank.


At the first step are teachers like Richard Fazzuoli and Dina Secchiaroli (pictured). They’re part of a team of 15 “future leaders” who are training together this year. Fazzuoli teaches 5th grade at Lincoln-Bassett School. Secchiaroli is a literacy coach at the Sound School Regional Vocational Aquaculture Center. The training is designed for new grade or team leaders seeking more responsibility. As part of the training, they’re learning how to coach other teachers not just in their fields of expertise, but across disciplines. 

At the second step are 10 experienced teachers who know how to coach other teachers and are ready to become assistant principals. At the third step are 15 “high-potential leaders”—which includes assistant principals like Hill Central’s Lillian Fontan (pictured) aspiring to run their own schools, as well as the five residents working with Achievement First.Fontan said she applied for a job as a principal next year. Applications for assistant principals and principals were reviewed in March; the district aims to notify those who didn’t make the first cut by April 13, along with the reason they weren’t chosen, so they can work on weaknesses.

First-round interviews with top district officials and school leaders take place from April 23 to May 3, with more feedback to those who aren’t chosen for the job.

Superintendent Reggie Mayo will get the final say in who’s hired. He will conduct a final round of interviews in May. Parent groups will have input on the choices between May 7 and 11, according to Lumpkin.

The goal is to choose 90 percent of new school administrators by May 31 so that they can get a jump-start on the year. That’s a significant advantage that many principals don’t get. Peggy Moore, for example, was transferred to Wilbur Cross High School at the last minute to fill a vacancy there.

New principals will get the chance to get started at their new schools early, from June 4 to 30. After school lets out, they’ll go to a one-to-two-week “boot camp” over the summer to get ready for their new jobs.

The new system aims to give a lot more support to new and existing principals—the fourth and fifth stages of the leadership “pipeline.”

Superintendent Mayo said the pipeline proved fruitful in its inaugural 2010-11 school year. Four out of six vacancies for principals were filled by internal candidates groomed in the pipeline: Frank Costanzo and Nadine Gannon at Co-op High and King/Robinson; and Medria Ellis-Blue and Michael Connor, who took over at the Engineering & Science University Magnet School (ESUMS) and the Augusta Lewis Troup School. 

An On-The-Ground OK

The most applauded teacher training program Monday was the one that’s run in conjunction with Achievement First.

Lumpkin announced some good news: The residency program will become the state’s first-ever alternate route to certification for administrators.

That means that instead of taking classes at a state college to earn enough credits for the state’s Intermediate Administrator or Supervisor Certification (commonly referred to as “092”), next year’s residents will be able to get that certificate through New Haven’s on-the-ground program.

New Haven’s residency throws aspiring principals into leadership positions at schools; they set goals for themselves and support their learning with weekly seminars and one-on-one coaching. It’s a much more on-the-ground type of learning than the traditional 092 route, Harries said.

The news won’t affect current residents like Jenny Clarino, who had to get their 092’s before they began their year. The certificates allow educators greater power, including evaluating teachers and disciplining students.

The state already lets some outside groups, most commonly Teach For America, offer alternate routes to traditional teacher certification; New Haven’s program will be the first one that offers a similar process for aspiring administrators.

“It warmed my heart” to hear that news, said board member Alex Johnston. As the former head of the New Haven-based ConnCAN education watchdog group, Johnston lobbied the state for legislation that paved the way for the alternative certification for administrators.

He called New Haven’s residency program “powerful and different.”

“I hope this is something that other districts can look to,” he said.

Funny you should say that, replied Lumpkin: Denver Public Schools officials are due to visit Tuesday to take a look at the program. Boston’s district has also expressed interest in emulating it. And the residency program is soon due to expand to Bridgeport and Hartford, she said.

Harries said the program will expand on a small scale, with two or three residents in each of those cities. The other districts will partner with Achievement First and come up with their own funding.