A major power outage that delayed the opening of school. A severe lack of manpower just weeks before classes started. Another change in administration.
The Oxford public school system overcame some major obstacles leading up to today’s opening. But none of that will show on the faces of teachers, administrators and school staff if Interim Superintendent of Schools James Connelly has his way.
“Don’t come back like we just lived through a storm, wiping off our brows,” he told school workers during convocation last week. “Please, your enthusiasm, your energy are going to be important.”
Hall of Fame and Shame
Connelly, who is serving his second stint in a year as interim school chief following the departure of former Superintendent Edward Malvey, tried his best to make employees feel comfortable in hopes that the mood will transcend into the classroom today and this school year. He made them laugh with his Hurricane Irene Hall of Shame – giving failing marks to agencies that he says made “boneheaded” decisions in the aftermath of the storm – and he made them feel good by thanking the many people who helped the school community.
Among those on his shame list include the state Department of Education, which he says was unreasonable with school districts with their lack of flexibility in getting documents to the department on time while power was out; he also said the department is demoralized, too beaurocratic and focuses too much on number crunching and No Child Left Behind while making teachers scapegoats for larger failures in the statewide educational system.
And he took issue with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Association, or CIAC, for making high school teams practice after Hurricane Irene, even though many schools, such as Oxford High School, were running on generators and serving as emergency shelters.
Inducted into Connelly's Hall of Fame were: Fire Chief Scott Pelletier and his department; Resident Trooper Sgt. Dan Semosky and the Oxford Resident Trooper's Office; school Technology Director Wayne Shuhi; school Facilities Manager John Barlow; high school Vice Principal and Athletic Director Glenn Lungarini; the school district’s central office staff; the high school office staff and other staff members who were helpful; the American Red Cross and select members of the media.
Improve Technology and Set Higher Standards for the District
Looking forward, Connelly discussed his goals for his second stint in Oxford, saying he wants to improve technology on a district-wide level and make sure Oxford schools set their standards higher than just meeting the state average in terms of student success rates.
“Folks, we’re better than the state average, and my goal this year is to get closer to the top,” he said.
He believes that can be achieved by all district schools working together as a K-12 team, with each teacher helping the other in an effort to give students the best education possible with no gaps in learning.
He believes the district has quality staff in place to reach higher. The school system has just hired 10 seemingly enthusiastic people this month to fill a major void after hiring was pushed back by former Superintendent Edward Malvey’s departure this summer; there are still four positions to fill Connelly said, including two special education teachers (one just resigned this month), a middle school library/media specialist and a high school English teacher. As of early this month, the school district needed to hire 13 new positions.
For the new teachers, and the hundreds of others who welcomed students today, Connelly - using a term that is the title a Beach Boys movie he recently bought - says their "Summer Dreams" are over.
"But there is a song in the movie, 'Good Vibrations,'" he said. "If you can just visualize that and put it into your body structure…please, next week, good vibrations in all our schools."