Paul G. Vallas, the educational reformer who’s taken charge of embattled school systems in New Orleans, Haiti, Chile, Philadelphia and Chicago, is coming to Bridgeport.
Vallas, 58, was named Acting Interim Superintendent by Bridgeport’s state-appointed school board at a special meeting at the Bridgeport Regional Vocational Aquaculture School on Tuesday, Dec. 20.
“We couldn’t be more pleased that he’s going to join us,” said board chair Robert Trefry.
Vallas is looking forward to making contribution to the Bridgeport Public Schools, but is quick to say that he will need help from the community.
“I can’t make that contribution in a vacuum,” he said.
The interim schools chief says he wants to work with residents, and wants to hear from them. His door, he said, will be open.
“I ran some pretty big districts, so there’s no reason not to be accessible,” said Vallas.
Vallas is one of two acting interim administrators who will have been hired by the board this week.
The second is Sandra Kase, an education reformer from New York City. Kase, who served as Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Low-Performing Schools in New York City, will serve as Chief Administrative Officer for the Bridgeport Schools. The board plans to vote on her appointment on the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 21.
Both Kase and Vallas are being hired for a 12 month period, or until permanent replacements can be found.
Part of Vallas’ job, in fact, is to locate a permanent superintendent, a task which, he says, he plans to begin “almost immediately.”
Vallas’s other two objectives, which he outlined at Tuesday’s meeting, are to financially stabilize the school system, while building a long-term budget strategy and developing what he says is a “comprehensive education improvement plan.”
On Tuesday, Vallas told the board that he will start this work immediately, visiting each school with Kase to see if there is anything that the schools can do this school year to improve student achievement.
Vallas is well-positioned to address the Bridgeport schools’ woes. He served as budget director for the City of Chicago before becoming the first chief executive officer of the Chicago schools in 1995, where United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan served as his deputy chief of staff.
After six years in Chicago, Vallas went to Philadelphia where he worked for five years before taking a post in New Orleans as superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana.
He left that post this summer. Vallas has spent the last 18 months reforming schools in Haiti for the Inter-American Development Bank, a job he will continue while under contract with Bridgeport.
Because he will be splitting his time between Bridgeport and Haiti, Vallas will be paid by the day, as will Kase.
“Because we’re day-raters, any day I spend in Haiti will be a non-paid day,” said Vallas.
According to Trefry, Vallas will be funded at the same level as Superintendent John Ramos, who was dismissed by the board in October and departs the district on Jan. 1.
Vallas will be paid, said Trefry, with $400,000 in funds raised from private, anonymous donors, divided on a per-diem rate. As of Dec. 20, the details of how that $400,000 would be split had not yet been worked out, said Trefry.
Both Vallas and Kase will begin work in Bridgeport on Jan. 2.
Mayor Bill Finch put in appearance at Tuesday’s special meeting to welcome Vallas and to commend the board for bringing a national education reformer to town.
“This is not about politics,” he told Vallas, who is a Republican. “This is not about adults. This is about children…. I have high hopes for you, Paul.”
Korene Garcia, president of the District Executive Parent Advisory Council, says she’s looking forward to hearing more from Vallas at a hearing planned for January 11.
“His resumé is impressive,” she said. “It sounds like potentially a promising start for Bridgeport.”