Following mayor, superintendent to retire

After 20 years in office, New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Reginald Mayo will retire in June.
After 20 years in office, New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Reginald Mayo will retire in June. Photo by Joy Chen.

New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Reginald Mayo will retire as early as this June, a city official told the News Tuesday afternoon.

City Clerk Ron Smith, who said he talks with Mayo daily, said the superintendent called him Sunday to share news of his planned retirement. Mayo’s decision, Smith said, is linked to Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s announcement that he will not seek re-election this fall after over 19 years in office, the longest mayoral tenure in the city’s history. Mayo was first appointed as superintendent in 1992, the year before DeStefano was first elected, and the pair has overseen a multi-million dollar investment in the city’s public schools over the past two decades.

“You have to look at the sacrifices both of these men have made,” Smith said following DeStefano’s official announcement. “I think it’s mainly for family reasons. Mayo’s been working for the city for over 30 years. It’s time.”

Prior to his appointment as superintendent, Mayo was a science teacher and then an administrator at Troup Middle School. His 1981 promotion to the position of K-8 Director of Schools marked the beginning of his tenure in city government. He became executive director of school operations in 1984 before being appointed as superintendent by then-mayor John C. Daniels, New Haven’s first black mayor.

Mayo declined to confirm reports of his planned resignation at DeStefano’s announcement.

“I won’t say anything at this time — this is his night,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries and NHPS spokeswoman Abbe Smith both declined requests for comment on the superintendent’s plans, saying only that Mayo was not taking phone calls or doing interviews.

Ron Smith, meanwhile, said he was surprised when Mayo told him he would be retiring in a matter of months.

“I was shocked and disappointed,” he said. “I know a lot of people were shocked.”

With Mayo at the helm, the school district saw the renovation of nearly all of the city’s schools, which paved the way for an ambitious school change intiative launched in 2009 that seeks to foster a college-going culture in the city’s public schools. That effort, Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 said — along with a landmark 2010 teachers’ contract negotiated with the help of the American Teachers Federation — has placed New Haven at the forefront of national education reform.

“Mayo and DeStefano have not left any tool in the tool kit when trying to address the education gap in this city. That’ll be their legacy,” Hausladen said. “Test scores and rising graduation rates show it’s working.”

Smith said that DeStefano’s principal legacy will “without a doubt” be education reform. A major foundation of that effort, he added, was his working partnership with the superintendent.

Hausladen also pointed to the leaders’ school construction project, in which decades-old city public schools were rebuilt into modern facilities, as a symbol of the city’s progress in education reform.

Between the school change initiative and the city’s charter reform process, which could see major structural changes to the way the Board of Education is selected, Mayo’s departure will come as the school district is subject to increasing scrutiny. Debates over Mayo’s legacy — and over how Elm City schools will be managed following his exit — are likely to play a major role in this year’s mayoral race.

State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, who told the News he is officially running for mayor on Tuesday, said Mayo’s tenure as superintendent has not been without its difficulties.

“The city has gotten a lot of positive press for its education reform efforts. Mayo is the captain of that ship, so he gets the credit,” Holder-Winfield said. “But before 2008, New Haven education was not in a good place. That was also on Mayo’s watch.”

Holder-Winfield said Harries, who has overseen much of the school change effort, is a likely choice to replace Mayo.

Ward 10 Alderman and mayoral candidate Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 has previously criticized the exclusive privilege of the mayor to appoint the Board of Education. In his speech announcing his official bid for the mayor’s office last week, Elicker said he favored a new appointment process that would allow for a “new independent-minded and reform-minded superintendent.”

Elicker told the News Tuesday evening that school reconstruction does not go far enough. He emphasized curricular reform, early childhood education and character training as key elements to improving schools “on the inside.”

Mayo has spent over 45 years working in education.

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