WPCNR Morning Sun. By John F. Bailey. April 24, 2003. UPDATED 1:30 PM EDT:Timothy Connors, the Board of Education’s “Superintendent-Select,” was introduced to approximately 75 persons Tuesday evening at White Plains High School and won over a skeptical crowd by giving candid answers to hard questions. Wednesday morning he met with Mayor Joseph Delfino as part of his formal introduction to White Plains.
WHITE PLAINS EDUCATION’S NEW FIRST COUPLE: Timothy Connors, and his wife, Jean, meet and greet White Plains residents at Mr. Connors’ debut in the community last night at White Plains High School.They will be moving to the City when Mr. Connors assumes Superintendent of Schools post July 1.
Photo by WPCNR
Mayor Joseph Delfino said today that his meeting with Mr. Connors at 8 AM this morning went well.
“Basically, we just talked about both our backgrounds, and I can tell you that obviously he’s an outwardtgoing person,” the Mayor told WPCNR at City Hall today. “We had a nice relationship. We had discussed and planned to meet periodically, as much as even quarterly and sit and talk about issues facing both of us. We both agree the school system and the city are basically participating with the same children. They’re our children. I’m looking forward to sitting with him and working together as one unit to better the children of this community. He’s going to be very proactive. He’s going to be out there as much as anyone.”
That was the impression this reporter gained from Connors’ appearance Tuesday evening at the high school.
Speaking for 8 minutes, then throwing the forum open to hard questions and his own forthright answers for 1 hour and 10 minutes, Connors said he was committed to White Plains for at least seven years. He said he and his wife are looking for a home in the city.
He produced a groundswell of good will in his audience by the end of the evening with eyebrow-raising candor, unequivocal stances on school testing, and returning again and again, to his mantra: commitment to the individual child.
Connors, looking like he could still go on patrol for the U.S. Marine Corps, in which he served three years, took over the room after being introduced by Board of Education President Donna McLaughlin. He disarmed the most passionate advocates for education in the city, concerned parents, with comments on his life, his educational philosophy, and an honesty that resonated positively with about 50 parents, 15 teachers, and a handful of district administrators.
WORKING THE ROOM: White Plains gets their first impressions of Tim Connors as he conducts the longest news conference we’ve seen in White Plains.
Photo by WPCNR
Connors Connects with his Audience.
Many reacting positively after the Connors Q & A, were the same faces who had filled this room last fall angrily reacting to Dr. Saul Yanofsky’s firing. By the close of Mr. Connors’ chat with parents, they were laughing at his banter, asking what team he rooted for (Yankees), and asking when his birthday was. There was a genuine welcoming effort. One resident got up and “welcomed him to White Plains,” and warm applause followed.
Comments from five parents, WPCNR talked to were positive, upbeat, and far more impressed with Mr. Connors than they expected to be.
Board President Donna McLaughlin introduced Connors as the man the Board hopes “will strengthen the program, and will bring us to the next level.” Then Mr. Connors took a stick mike in hand, strode out from behind the podium and faced the music and the “Tim Connors Show” was on.
“Committed to this thing called Public Education.”
Mr. Connors made clear he was here in White Plains because he was “proud to be here,” because he and his wife, Jean, were “committed to this thing called public education.” He said to do that, “we have to come to this community,” and that he and his wife were looking for a home in White Plains.
Tours High School, Highlands Middle School, and Mamaroneck Avenue School.
Connors took a whirlwind tour of three White Plains schools Tuesday morning. He was impressed:
“I learned today, in going through your schools, education is going on for all of your children. And I’m in this biz, for the children. From what I can see, from the schools today, from everything I’ve read, from the state reports, this is a community that cares about their children.”
THE TIM CONNORS SHOW: “Next Question?” says the Man from Danbury, as he delivered thoughtfully taking questions from the people of White Plains Tuesday night.
Photo by WPCNR
His mother his hero.
In opening remarks, Connors said his mother, who is 86 years old, was his life model who raised him, according to “the golden rule – treat others the way you want to be treated and they will do the same to you.”
Connors said he grew up in Massachussetts, won an athletic scholarship to Springfield College, served three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, and felt, even as a child, that the way he could really make a difference in life was to teach. He began teaching social studies and coaching track and football. He decided he could make “more of a difference” by being an Assistant Principal, and getting into administration. He saw he could “impact” the whole school by being a Principal, which he was for ten years. Mr. Connors, in capsulating his biography has obviously been making a difference everywhere he has gone: As an Assistant Superintendent, and as a Superintendent of Schools in Woonsocket, Rhode Island,(1982-92), Bloomington, Minnesota,(1992-1997) and for the last five years, Danbury, Connecticut.
“I’m a Change Agent.”
Connors shared his philosophy with the audience, “I’m a change agent. I advocate for children.” He said, in reference to news stories that he was taking the White Plains job to sweeten his retirement, that he looked upon coming to White Plains, as “a great opportunity to enhance a fine school system, and work with the great staff you have here.”
Later, asked specifically how long he expected to stay, he said he hoped to stay seven years, signing a three-year contract and, he hoped, a four-year contract if the Board of Education was pleased with his work.
The Connors Entry Plan.
Connors finished his opening “monolog” by saying up front that he understood the district is unhappy with test scores, and said that he had an “Entry Plan,” which he said would involve “surveys” of parents, “listening to what your concerns are.”
Commenting on how he’d tackle raising test scores, he said his philosophy was “to educate every child, and maximize their potential for learning.” He commented that “I can tell you as an outsider you’re (test scores are) very high. Together over time we can make an improvement,” and later, “we have to see that the trend is to increase. We have to see what we can do to achieve that.”
Connors returned to the test question again and again. He said tests were important, but was more concerned with the “body of knowledge” each child was acquiring along the way: “I guarantee you (that if the body of knowledge is there), our test scores will go up.” Connors was honest that he was not familiar with New York State standards and would be studying them hard in the weeks to come to get up to speed. (“I have a lot of homework to do.”)
Turns Forum Into a News Conference for Parents
He delivered his opening monolog in a fast-moving, articulated velvet mellow tone, reminiscent of Vaughn Monroe, then Connors asked for questions from the audience, creating the most outstanding “News
Conference,” this reporter has seen this year.
“I Want to Hear Your Questions.
At twenty past eight, Connors threw the meeting open to queries from the floor. For an hour and ten minutes, the questions came rapid-fire and were handled deftly, intelligently, we thought, with little parrying and ducking.
STARTING THE JOB: Timothy Connors disdains the podium to talk directly to the crowd in Kennedyesque style. Donna McLaughlin, Board of Education President is at left.
Photo By WPCNR
Responding to a question on his retirement, Connors said “he had a great relationship with the city of Danbury,” and told them the reason he was leaving them was “I can enhance my life, not retirement. You’re (White Plains) an outstanding school district. I want to be a part of that.”
Philosophy: Be the Best.
Connors shared what he has told the Danbury staffs at the beginning of the year: “ When I meet with them at the beginning of the year, I tell them you have to be the best you can be because that’s what your children deserve.”
An Ability to Persuade.
Connors said he was a believer that we all need a “good learning environment.” In Danbury, Connors has committed the district to a $100 Million long-range expansion of the schools, which he convinced the Mayor and city government to provide.
Asked how he would operate with the School Board, Connors said, “I’ll be clear with the School Board where we want to go.” He said that his agenda coming in was to present the White Plains schools in “a better image,” and that he firmly believed “The best schools in town are the public schools.”
Test Scores are “Snapshots,” Not Goals.
Connors took a position between those who would abolish state testing and those who are eager to increase scores. He said he saw the tests as “snapshots,” showing where a student is at any one moment, but that anyone who says they can make large gains, “they don’t know what they’re talking about.” He scoffed at the federal government test standards recently introduced, which state that in a few years all children will be able to score at certain levels, saying, “they don’t know what they are talking about.”
Queried on how much he had improved Danbury’s test scores, Connors, true to form said that it was only a matter of three points, and that what mattered was the trend.
All Should Read by the End of Third Grade. Parents Play Big Role.
Connors has his own standard: He feels all students should read by the end of the third grade. He said this can be achieved by “giving remediation to get them back on track.”
He added that he would give teachers a free hand in how they wished to teach children how to read, as long as they got the reading job done. He said that “all of you (teachers and parents) can learn and provide the environment where that (reading) happens.”
He said he feels that “Reading is eclectic in its approach. What works for you (the teacher) is what is most effective for the child in front of you. You do whatever it takes to get it done, and I’ll support you.”
Parents must give feedback.
Connors said he would actively seek parent involvement, saying “You have a responsibility to give feedback, to the teacher, the principal, to administrators, the Board.” He said he would conduct surveys regularly to gauge the concerns of the district. He is firmly committed to the same parent involvement and outreach programs White Plains has now. He will design more such programs, as he learns how the parent-child involvement needs.
The Superintendent-Select exhorted parents to be advocates for the schools, to involve themselves, not just by coming to meetings, but by asking about their children’s school days, keeping track of their childrens’ peers and who they are, and talking and inquiring about their child’s performance. He said he would look for ways to involve parents to a greater degree who were not coming to the schools.
Defuses School Choice Fears.
Connors said the White Plains School Choice program is lauded by Harvard University as one of the two best programs in the nation, and said he had no plans to change it: “If it’s working it’s meeting the needs of the District,” he said.
Achievement Gap Related to Maximizing Potential to Learn.
Connors said that he attacked the Achievement Gap between blacks and Hispanics in comparison to white students, on a student-by-student basis. He pointed out that his Danbury SAT scores were averaging 475, and that his district goal was now 500. He said he had his Danbury District pay for students to take the Preliminary Scholastic Apptitude Tests to encourage them to see where they were.
He added that he was an advocate for providing the remedial intensity required to help the minority students close that gap. He said that meant to him whatever it takes, bringing books to the students, setting up library, or parent outreach programs.
Big Grant Hunter
The “Finalist” noted his success at acquiring grants for a health center in the Danbury Middle School, and two of the 99 Federal 21st Century Grants nationwide. He employed a full time grant writer in Danbury.
Consensus his Goal in Conflict.
Asked how he would handle disagreement with the Board of Education, Connors reported, “We always work them out. How we work through it in the best interests of the children is my concern. We always have to be willing to listen.
Connors saw the loss of teachers due to retirement saying to him that one-third of the teachers in the district are at the early stages of their career. He said he saw his role as nurturing the newer teachers to adjust and develop their craft through appropriate staff development, so they would spend their entire careers in the White Plains schools.
Says “What About the Student-in-the-Middle?” Criticism is a Myth.
The “Man from Danbury” noted that it has been his experience that “I have yet to know a School District that ignores any group of students.” He says he has heard the same complaint in every district he has been in during his career, and “I don’t know that it is valid.”
BOARD PRESIDENT INTRODUCES MR. CONNORS. Donna McLaughlin, of the Board of Education presents Tim Connors to White Plains. She described him as the man who can bring us to the next level.
Photo by WPCNR
Hiring of High School Principal Up to Yanofsky.
Donna McLaughlin, Board President, took great care in thanking the citizens’ committee that helped interview the two finalists in the Superintendent Search. She said that the Board of Education had been presented with 31 candidates from 14 states by Hazard Young Attea, the search firm that that brought them Timothy Connors.
WPCNR asked if hiring of a high school principal to replace William Colavito at White Plains High School would be Mr. Connors’ decision, and Ms. McLaughlin said that Dr. Yanofsky was still in charge of that decision. McLaughlin said she expected no departures from the Yanofsky roster of Assistant Superintendents. “The Board wants them to stay,” she told WPCNR Thursday.
Connors to Meet Mayor Delfino Today.
Mr. Connors said he would meet Mayor Joseph Delfino this morning for the first time, and looked forward to working closely with the city.
McLaughlin, in introducing Connors, said that a member of the Danbury School Board called her personally and told her they were very “unhappy that Connors was leaving, but that we were getting a good man because he knows how much time Tim spends in the schools.”