Newtown Superintendent Janet Robinson, who has led the district since 2008, plans to take the helm of Stratford Public Schools this summer after the position is formally offered on Wednesday. It's the first public acknowledgement of a selection process that took place before the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings drew national attention to the Newtown School District.
"This process took place last fall, and I felt that the Board of Education in Stratford was really interested in students' success," Robinson told Patch Monday evening. "I thought the kind of things we've done for success in Newtown would work in Stratford."
Robinson is currently in California, where she is attending the American Association of School Administrators conference. She stressed the appointment hasn't been confirmed yet, but says she plans to accept.
At a Stratford Board of Education meeting, chair Gavin Forrester confirmed Stratford would move ahead with the appointment Wednesday.
"Since she was quoted [in the press], I see no benefit leaving things to speculation," said Forrester.
Pending the official appointment, Robinson is slated to start July 1.
In a letter to staff, parents, students and the community, the Stratford school board chair praised Robinson's work and said she was carefully vetted for the position.
"It is with great enthusiasm that the Stratford Board of Education announces the selection of Dr. Janet Robinson as the next Superintendent of Schools for our 7,000 students and staff," said the undated letter, which added that "Robinson was appointed on Wednesday, February 27, 2013." (Patch received the letter February 25.)
"The board extends a special recognition to the Superintendent Search Committee, a knowledgeable and diverse group, who devoted time and talent to the process," said the letter.
In the letter, Forrester said more than 20 candidates submitted resumes, and that the search board conducted four rounds of interviews and "extensive" reference checks.
"Through this process, Dr. Robinson rose to the top of a very competitive group," he said.
Forrester said just days -- even hours -- before the shooting, the board was in position to announce Robinson as future superintendent. Stratford Education Association president Susan Vance said she got an e-mail the morning of Dec. 14 with a meeting agenda, dated later in December, listing the announcement.
But after news broke, the board agreed it wasn't the right time. An e-mail went out hours later saying the matter was now "up for discussion."
"We held off for many reasons, sensitivity being the key one," said Forrester. While she has received national acclaim for her work after the shooting, that's not the reason she was hired, the school board chairman said.
Just days before, Forrester said, three board members conducted a site visit in Newtown to meet with students, administrators, staff and community leaders and learn about Robinson's role as superintendent in the town.
"They provided universally glowing testimonials about her skills, knowledge and character," he said.
"A Testimonial Tapestry"
A California native, Robinson had mostly worked in warmer climes before coming to Connecticut, teaching in Florida and getting her Master's Degree in Hawaii. Before her first superintendent posts -- prior to Newtown, she helmed districts in Preston and Derby -- she worked as a school psychologist and classroom management consultant. All told, Robinson has worked in education for four decades.
"Staff, parents and board members who have a firsthand understanding of Dr. Robinson’s work provided a strong testimonial tapestry about her skills, knowledge and character," said Forrester in his letter. "They described her as caring, engaging, supportive, a highly professional person who has grace under pressure and with a simple mantra, 'Students First.'"
Her tenure in Newtown has seen both nationwide praise and controversy, especially since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. She testified in Washington, D.C., recently received the Peace Islands Educator of the Year award, and will be honored as Superintendent of the Year by the University of Connecticut in March. But she faced criticism at home from board members for her remarks on two Newtown elementary school choirs, and faced other contentious issues in the years before the shooting, including a long debate over bus contracts. In the summer, her contract was extended by two years rather than the standard three.
"She has a deep understanding of education and through her efforts has been able to form a highly collaborative team of leaders in the district," said the letter. "She holds all students, staff and families to high expectations, but provides the necessary support needed to reach these expectations. Dr. Robinson has the intellect to understand the complexity and the character and quality of mind to make the tough decisions and stand by them. Her vision is described as forward thinking yet practical."
Forrester said the board is organizing an official reception for Robinson for sometime in the Spring. In the meantime, he said he hoped Robinson would be able return from California by Wednesday to finalize the agreement.
"It may take some of the suspense out of Wednesday's meeting," he added.