Kristina DeNegre was voted principal of Fair Haven’s Clinton Avenue School by New Haven’s Board of Education in a 6–1 vote on Monday — despite contentious debate over the process by which DeNegre was hired.
DeNegre, the school’s current assistant principal, will replace Carmen Ana Rodriguez-Robles, who has led the bilingual elementary school since 2005. The replacement came after the Commissioner’s Network — an arrangement between Connecticut’s board of education and local stakeholders that offers state resources to certain underperforming schools — selected Clinton Avenue School for turnaround efforts on March 25 of last year. To be eligible to receive a $2 million state grant as part of the Network’s improvement program, NHPS had to remove Rodriguez and agree on a replacement.
All NHPS appointments are subject to the board’s vote. But some alleged that the decision to select DeNegre had essentially been finalized before that vote took place.
Daisy Gonzalez, an NHPS parent and board member, received an unusual phone call from State Commissioner Dianna Wentzell immediately prior to Monday’s meeting. In the call, Gonzalez alleged, Wentzell said that Superintendent Garth Harries ’81 had told the Commissioner’s Network that DeNegre would be principal of Clinton Avenue before the board approved the appointment. Board members were upset that the selection had been essentially finalized without their approval.
Gonzalez, along with New Haven BOE members Darnell Goldson, Edward Joyner and Carlos Torre, questioned the ethics of the replacement process at Monday’s meeting.
“We either have to promote Ms. DeNegre and get the $2 million for Clinton, or we have to start all over, and this year Clinton will get nothing,” Gonzalez said. “My thinking is, if this was known all along, why have we wasted so much time on this?”
A May 2015 audit by the state ranked the school “below standard” or “developing” in 18 of 23 categories, including leadership effectiveness and academic rigor. On Aug. 15, the board voted to appoint Rodriguez as English Language Learner supervisor in NHPS’s central office. But the board voted to postpone appointing a new principal.
“This was a conspiracy, and it was a conspiracy as noted by a promise of a job to a person and by interviewing others who thought they had a shot at the job,” said Joyner, the only BOE member to vote against DeNegre’s hire.
Joyner and Torre criticized Harries for the monthslong hiring process they launched after DeNegre had effectively already been selected. Torre said the “flawed” process was a “charade” and was disrespectful to the other applicants for principal. Joyner said the situation was morally wrong and constituted a labor issue because it gave other candidates false hope.
Goldson, who said he has a long history with Rodriguez and her family, expressed frustration over the district’s treatment of her.
“[Rodriguez-Robles] was sacrificed at the altar for this $2 million,” Goldson said. “She was a super lady.”
But Mayor Toni Harp, the BOE’s president, and nonvoting student member Coral Ortiz defended the hire of DeNegre. Ortiz, who was appointed to the state’s board of education in July by Gov. Dannel Malloy, said it was necessary to present a building lead at the time the grant application was submitted to the state.
Ortiz urged board members to vote affirmatively for DeNegre. She cited her own experience in a classroom without sufficient funding for textbooks and called on board members to prioritize the acquisition of resources for students over discontent with the process.
“For people to even consider not voting for this is disheartening to me and my fellow peers and students in the district,” Ortiz said.
DeNegre will earn an annual salary of $143,649 as principal.