Just slightly over a month into the job, new Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manuel Rivera debuted his first step in his plan to reshape the city's school district Tuesday.
During Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting, the board unanimously approved a plan that calls for a reshaping of the city's central education offices. In essence, the plan creates a personal "cabinet" of people with whom Rivera will work to "lead initiatives," he said.
"If I am going to lead the school system, I need to be engaged in setting the agenda and driving it, as well," Rivera said.
Rivera's plan -- which board members lauded as "detailed and admirable" -- will bring changes to a handful of positions. The plan slightly alters -- or in Rivera's words, "elevates" -- the positions of Director of Technology, Chief Operating Officer, Human Resources Officer and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction.
It also creates a new position for a Communications Officer.
"I want all of these people reporting to me," Rivera said. "They will have added responsibilities. These roles will be filled by people that will wear more than one hat. They are going to double up."
The currently vacant role of Director of Technology will now be dubbed the Chief for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships. Rivera said the job will now include strategic planning, new systems development and driving technology-related innovations.
Assisant Superintendent Tony Daddona's new title will be Deputy Superintendent. Daddona will now handle "numerous day-to-day decisions" to allow Rivera to focus on "major change levers."
Rivera said the newly-named Chief Human Resource Officer will play a major role in "recruiting teachers and staff that are interested in being future school leaders."
Rivera also called for the COO position recently vacated by Elio Longo to be rebranded as the school's Chief Business Officer -- this person will oversee facilities, finance and accounting along with the Chief Financial Officer, and transportation and food services.
The lone new position -- Communications Officer -- will handle internal and external communications. Rivera stressed the position would be most useful in communicating the schools' plans with parents and members of the community, updating the school system's website and doling out information to local media.
The new post was also the lone position that drew apprehension from one board member.
Steve Colarossi noted the new communications position would be one of the first to be on the chopping block come the budget season, and questioned whether Rivera felt the position was necessary.
"Historically, we look to cut positions that aren't directly related to in-classroom responsibilities," he said.
Rivera responded by saying the communications position was a "critical need."
"We need horses who can get the word out," he said. "This position will be important for transparency. We need a communications person."
Other board members praised the plan.
"This has been a long time in the making and I am pleased at what I see," said Artie Kassimis.
"We need to beef up central office," said Heidi Keyes. "We have been running too lean and we have too many things happening at once to implement all the things we want to implement."
Colarossi praised Rivera for "doing more than just rearranging deck chairs." Chairman Mike Lyons said anyone who thought Rivera "was coming here to coast" should no longer think that way.
Overall, the salary cost of the new central office structure will be $1,027,813 -- just under a $100,000 increase from the old budget.
Rivera said constructing his "cabinet" allows him to begin fulfilling the superintendent profile put forth by the community and the Board of Education prior to his hire.
"You wanted somebody to come in with a bold vision," he said. "It is a tall order, one that I am up for."