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Thursday, May 25 News

Eyeing budget, superintendent restructures school district leadership

FAIRFIELD — Aiming to cut costs without letting go any current employees, Superintendent Toni Jones is restructuring Fairfield public schools’ top, district-wide leadership roles in the wake of several staff retirements.

Jones, who has been on the job since Dec. 5, is trimming the school district’s eight central office administration positions to seven in a move that will restructure nearly half the leadership roles. Citing continued lack of clarity about how the state will set its two-year spending plan, she said, “We need to look at things with a different lens.”

While cost savings won’t be exact until new hires are finalized, Jones predicted savings equivalent to nearly two teacher salaries. She noted, “In this day and age that matters.”

In her first budget season, Jones’ tight budgeting was praised by school board members. She aims to continue finding efficiencies, as in central office staffing.

Three retirements have paved the way for Jones’ restructuring: Deputy Superintendent Karen Parks, Director of Human Resources Ann Leffert and Director of Secondary Education Margaret Boice.

Parks technically retired at the end of last year, but she agreed to stay on part-time as interim deputy superintendent, splitting the work with former Fairfield Warde High School Headmaster James Coyne, who retired in 2015, to allow focus on the Board of Education’s superintendent search. The board hired Jones in early fall. Leffert and Boice are retiring this year.

Jones is freezing one administrative position, hoping her shake-ups will work well and the district can then eliminate that position entirely. Instead of appointing a new deputy superintendent, she is creating the role of chief academic officer. Furthermore, she is adding responsibility to the human resources director, giving the job the new title of director of human resources and legal services. Similarly, the plan is to combine individual secondary and elementary education director roles into a single director of innovation.

Jones plans for the chief academic officer to focus on educational objectives, and she added legal services to the HR role because she hopes it will absorb policy and operational duties formerly assigned to a deputy superintendent. The innovation director is intended to oversee K-12 curriculum and programs. Jones herself also intends to pick up some duties formerly overseen by her staff.

“We’re very much approaching our central office as a team,” she said.

The chief academic officer will remain the de facto second-in-charge, in command in the absence of the superintendent as the deputy superintendent has traditionally been. The name change is meant to reflect the position’s shift in responsibilities and signal that even with one less position, the district is maintaining the same focus on academics, according to Jones.

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Current Director of Elementary Education Michael Cummings will be the one to fill that role. Jones praised his abilities in promoting student achievement and knowledgeability about educating in Connecticut specifically — the latter important to Jones, who is new to the state.

“He’s highly regarded and respected,” she said. “He does fantastic work.”

Jones intends to have her full team in place before summer break begins. She planned to finalize a contract this week with a new hire for the director of human resources and legal services. The director of innovation position is currently open and accepting applications through Monday.

lweiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16

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