Superintendent Toni Jones leaving Fairfield to lead Greenwich schools
GREENWICH — Greenwich Public Schools announced the appointment Friday of Toni Jones of Fairfield to be the next superintendent of Greenwich schools, effective July 1.
But for the first time, the vote of the Board of Education on a new school leader was not unanimous. The outcome was 7-1, with board member Peter Sherr dissenting.
Jones is currently the superintendent of the Fairfield Public Schools and will be the 14th superintendent to lead Greenwich in the last 20 years. She has eight years of experience as a superintendent, two of which she spent in Fairfield.
“She has successfully initiated personalized, digital and virtual learning strategies in the districts she has led,” Greenwich school board Chair Peter Bernstein said. “She is well acclimated to Connecticut, and understands the value of open dialogue and involvement with and from the community.”
Her starting salary will be $236,640 a year, plus benefits, as part of a three-year contract.
The school board will also award her a retention bonus of $50,000 if she is still employed and in good standing five years from now, a common practice in the corporate world but a first in the education sphere, according to board member Kathleen Stowe, head of the superintendent search committee.
In the past 40 years, 16 superintendents have led the Greenwich school district. Ernest Fleishman’s 13-year tenure was the longest stint during that period.
1976-1989: Ernest Fleishman
1989-1990: Douglas Fainelli (interim)
1990-1997: John Whritner
1997-1998: Karen Lang (interim)
1998-2002: Roger Lulow
2002-2003: Herb Pandiscio and Maria Melendez (interims)
2003-2006: Larry Leverett
Summer 2006: Mary Capwell
2006-2009: Betty Sternberg (Kathy Grieder was acting superintendent in the summer of 2008)
2009-2011: Sidney Freund
2011-2012: Roger Lulow (interim)
2012-2016: William McKersie
2016-2017: Sal Corda (interim)
2017-2018: Jill Gildea
2018-2019: Ralph Mayo (interim)
2019- : Toni Jones
Interim Superintendent Ralph Mayo will continue in his role for the rest of the school year.
“The Board of Education would like to thank Interim Superintendent of Schools Ralph Mayo for his unyielding commitment to the Greenwich Public Schools and his steady leadership this year,” Bernstein said. “We look forward to him continuing as a senior leader in the school system thereafter.”
Mayo, a Greenwich native who had been the principal at Eastern Middle School, took over the post last summer after the unexpected resignation of Jill Gildea after less than a year on the job.
“While I’m disappointed that I was not chosen to be the new superintendent, I’m grateful to be working with the new superintendent to continue to make our district great,” Mayo said after the appointment.
“The first thing (I would tell Jones) is how wonderful our children, staff and parents are. Those are our best resources,” he said.
The board is making a mistake in not appointing Mayo, Sherr said.
“We have a great superintendent who is making tremendous progress, but my colleagues have decided to hit the reset button yet again,” he said. “Meanwhile, we are telling every principal and administrator who aspires to be superintendent or cabinet that you have no future here in Greenwich.”
Sherr pledged to support Jones, but he said the decision begs the question whether the school board has learned anything from the last five times a superintendent was hired.
Three permanent superintendents have cycled through Greenwich in the last decade: Sidney Freund, who stayed for two years before departing over strained relationships with members of the board; William McKersie, who remained for four years before moving to Weston Public Schools; and Gildea, who lasted less than one year before relocating to Park City, Utah.
In between, the school board hired three interim superintendents to lead while members searched for replacements.
The dissension shows that Sherr has a different vision of the future of Greenwich public schools, Bernstein said.
“While we value the stability that Ralph has brought to the district in this year of transition, we continue to look to the future,” Bernstein said. “Ralph will still be a part of our leadership and will still share his calmness and knowledge while we bring in Jones to drive forward student growth, achievement and personal-interpersonal skills.”
The national average retention rate for superintendents is three years, with urban districts holding superintendents for an average of two years, Stowe said.
The search for a new superintendent was essentially free, with the board covering minimal costs, Director of Communications for Public Schools Kim Eves said. The committee footed the search bill because Gildea stayed for less than a year, she said.
Ray and Associates — the company that the district has previously used to conduct searches — pooled together candidates from across the country, including many in Connecticut.
“The quantity and quality of the candidates demonstrated the strong brand of the Greenwich Public Schools and, ultimately, made for a very difficult decision,” Stowe said. “Dr. Jones stood out for her positive attitude, forward thinking approach, proven success in comparable districts, and the value she places on community involvement.”
Jones had leadership experience in Australia, Oklahoma and northern Virginia, in both private and public schools, before settling in Connecticut.
She has led elementary and middle schools, and has worked at the high school and district levels, an unusual array of experiences among superintendents, Jones said.
“I understand what you need in an elementary school, but also what a high school needs,” she said.
Jones has been thinking about leading Greenwich schools since Gildea announced her retirement, she said. Gildea sent a message to all Fairfield County superintendents notifying them of an opening, she said.
Philip Dwyer, a Fairfield Board of Education member, said he will miss Jones, but wishes her well.
“She achieved the board goals set for her, managed the district well and was especially good at communicating with parents and the school staff,” Dwyer said. “Fairfield has an excellent school system. However, Dr. Jones challenged us to constantly find new ways to improve our programs.”
Jones signed a three-year agreement through June 30, 2022. Her starting salary is $236,640 for 2019-20, up for negotiation after that. She will receive $30,600 a year in annuities.
She will also receive a $3,000 a month housing allowance, provided she lives in Greenwich.
Gildea left to take the superintendent job in Park City, Utah, after her family relocated there. Her annual salary in Greenwich was $250,000, along with a $15,000 annuity and a $3,500-per-month housing allowance.
The move to Greenwich made sense for Jones personally and professionally, as her husband, John Jones, is a science teacher at Greenwich High School.
The Jones’ live in Milford, so the new superintendent is excited to have her family work and live in the same corner of Connecticut.
“It’s wonderful,” Jones said. “July 1 seems so far away.”