Duties and functions

Redding and Easton school boards say COVID, diversity debate contributed to Superintendent’s departure

REDDING – School board members blame the coronavirus pandemic and other challenges for the departure of Superintendent Rydell Harrison after a year serving in the Easton-Redding-Region 9 District.

Chris Parkin, chairman of the Redding Board of Education, said he was “disappointed” to hear Harrison’s decision to resign, but that he “would not” put any blame on Dr Harrison’s feet. “

“It is and always has been an extremely difficult position, and the pandemic has not helped, nor has the extremely vocal setback it has received from certain corners of our community when it comes to DCI’s work (diversity , equity and inclusion) over the past several months, ”Parkin said.

Some residents had objected to the district’s efforts to endorse a fairness statement and to interview students, parents and staff on issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

The school board announced Harrison’s resignation late last week in a Facebook post, a few days after signing a contract with the district.

“Throughout my leadership career, I have worked hard to approach my work as a student-centered educator first and then as an administrator,” he said in a commentary. declaration to the community on Sunday. “Unfortunately, the structure of ER9 made it more difficult than expected for me to find the right balance between advancing my ambitious education goals and managing the administrative duties of three separate school districts.”

He will remain in the district until the end of September, then take up his new position at the Connecticut Center for School Change, a non-profit organization working to promote equity and close the achievement gaps within schools.

Harrison said the role will allow him to “fully engage” his passion for improving education without the “heavy burdens of district administration.”

“I will be working with educators across our state to improve teaching practices and develop leadership at all levels,” he said. “With social justice and equity at the heart of the Centre’s organizational mission, I will be able to maintain my commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. “

He became district superintendent in August 2020 after the retirement of former school principal Thomas McMorran and had previously served as superintendent at Watertown. He could not be reached for further comment on Monday.

Jon Stinson, chairman of Easton’s board, said he was happy Harrison was moving to a role where he can focus on student-centered education.

“Dr. Harrison is a visionary, truly forward thinking and on the right track when it comes to student-centered learning, what needs to happen in education in our community or really any other.” , did he declare.

In his memo, Harrison thanked board members and the community for their support and hard work in overcoming the unique challenges facing schools.

“He’s at his best when he’s in schools, hopping around classrooms, having one-on-one conversations with teachers, and building those relationships,” Parkin said, stressing that it wasn’t for nothing. something Harrison was able to do with “high volume” this year as he had to deal with other administrative and pandemic responsibilities.

Stinson and Region 9 President Todd Johnston agreed. Both said Harrison’s time was filled with administrative duties, from contact tracing to extra and lengthy board meetings and navigating an increase in vacancies.

Harrison will try to help the school board fill some of those vacancies, like principal Joel Barlow, in the time that remains.

“There were a lot of things you wouldn’t normally have in your first year as a superintendent,” said Johnston, noting that the controversy over diversity, equity and inclusion has only made a difference. ‘Make the stack of things worse, making it a “tough year” for Harrison.

The debate over vacancies, the pandemic and diversity has created an “unfortunate situation” that the community and boards need to “think through” to move forward, Parkin said.

“You can tell he’s not going to another school district that would pay him more or a different superintendent job somewhere,” he said. “He’s stepping away from the role of superintendent altogether and that also takes a certain amount of courage.”

Parkin expects the tri-council to meet on Wednesday to discuss what the next steps will look like. He anticipates that search committees will be formed to determine whether or not boards will want to hire a new permanent superintendent for the fall or appoint an interim leader and consider hiring in July 2022.

Chris Hocker, a Redding board member who has done a number of this research, said it would be a “considerable time commitment” to start over, given that the process was completed just a short time ago. a year.

“The successful candidate should have a pretty good idea of ​​how much administrative work is going to be required due to the three-district structure,” he said.

To begin with, he wants candidates to understand the district functions as three different councils, which means dealing with three separate groups and the meetings that go with them.