WPCNR Afternoon Tribune. By John F. Bailey. April 23, 2002. 2 PM: Timothy P. Connors, the “Superintendent-Select” of the White Plains Board of Education to head the City School District when Dr. Saul Yanofsky leaves June 30, came into a district in Minnesota in 1992, following a very popular superintendent, and facing a serious budget crisis. Addie Mattson remembers his extraordinary contributions to the Bloomington Schools.
According to Addie Mattson, Community Relations Coordinator of the Bloomington Public Schools, Mr. Connors quickly won over the district, made tough decisions about a budget, and initiated “ahead-of-his-time” measures to address minority achievement, and attracted new funds. He left under good terms to head back East.
Is Timothy Connors the right stuff for White Plains?
Mr. Connors will begin to answer those questions tonight at White Plains High School when the Board of Education introduces him at a Community Forum in the B-1, All-Purpose Room, off North Street at 8 PM. The public is invited.
Ten Years Ago He Was the Right Stuff for Bloomington, Minnesota
Mr. Connors is no stranger to coming into tough situations and staying the course. He was before coming to Bloomington, superintendent of schools in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, where he stayed ten years, winning Superintendent of the Year.
He moved on to Bloomington, Minnesota in 1992.
Ms. Mattson remembers. Mr. Connors is a firm believer in communicating with his School District constituents directly, as evidenced by his first move. He hired Ms. Mattson as Community Relations Director, a post she still holds to this day. She spoke by telephone with WPCNR Friday and told us what Mr. Connors’ Bloomingdale years were like.
“A Number of Contributions. Style: Easy to Work With.”
Ms. Mattson, in her comfortable heartland drawl, reminisced, “I think Tim made a number of contributions that really helped the school district move forward. Since he has left, (1997), we’ve built on that and continued our progress. I reported directly to Tim while he was with us.
“For my part I found him easy to work with, accessible, good at communications, out in the community a lot. He made it a point to be in the schools very, very frequently, so he had a very fine understanding of how things were working for kids.”
Easterner Fits in With “Stolid Minnesotans.”
Asked how Mr. Connors, being from the Northeast made the transition to “stolid Minnesotans,” Ms. Mattson said, “Well, we’re not stolid, for one thing. We value very highly hard work. We got that from Tim. We value education and we got that. So we had a lot of common ground.”
Bloomington Larger Than White Plains, With a Lot of Match-ups.
“Bloomington the city, and Bloomington the school district are pretty much the same space,” she said. “Bloomington is a city of about 88,000. We are the second ranked suburb of Minneapolis, Southwest central. We’re a quite affluent community, though we have a broad range within that. We’re predominantly white, but becoming increasingly diverse. We have a lot of strong community support for our schools. People don’t write a blank check. You have to make a good case for money and support, and they act on that behavior.”
Convincing, Committed Leader
Mattson said that Bloomington now is fully developed and at a point where people have have decided we are going to “reinvigorate ourselves.” She reported that shortly after Mr. Connors left the district, the city passed what was at the time a state record for a capital bond referendum to renovate all of Bloomington’s schools.
Mattson said that “there would have been laid some things in place as groundwork,” begun by Connors for the eventual passage of that referendum in 1999, that sold the referendum to the Bloomington voters.
Connors Highlight Reel
When Connors worked for Bloomington, it was 15 to 18% minority population, and as Mattson describes it, (White Plains is approximately 53% minority), “diversity was just starting to come on the radar for a lot of people, one of the places it is most visible of course, is in schools. We had one school in particular that was relatively more diverse than the rest. Tim made some good steps in terms of that school, and kids generally, that he was responsible for.”
Established “Diversity Coordinator Position.”
Connors established a “Diversity Coordinator Position,” a district-wide position. That person is still with us, she says, and “we’ve built on that. Our district is now diverse enough to qualify for state distribution money. So Tim, with his focus on urban diversity, certainly, right there was the leading edge of that. He strengthened it there.”
Secured Funding for Schools Where Poverty an Issue.
Connors, she reports, helped Bloomington, secure “extra resources for schools where poverty was an issue. What happens of course, is you often have a correlation between diversity and poverty, although it’s not a perfect fit. They are not the same thing, but they coexist.”
Practical, Pragmatic, Progressive Persuasive Futurist
In speaking with Mattson, Connors appeared to be a man with an eye to making good decisions for the future that stand the test of time. Statewide testing came to Minnesota six years ago, according to Mattson, at the end of the Connors era. She said he had already secured extra funding at schools where minority achievement was an issue.
“I remember no dissatisfaction that came out in any official way. We’re always striving to be better.”
Technology on a Budget.
Connors, at the same time White Plains was technologizing its schools, was upgrading Bloomington schools technology. He also established a technology model, Mattson reports, “which we’re still following.”
Mattson described her former boss as, “very committed to the technology for all employees and students. He was able to put a (technology) model out there, using what were then scarce resources for it, and developing the support of all the principals to allocate funds from each of the schools to assemble a model media center in what was then our intermediate school. We follow that model now as we’re going through these renovations. He was very instrumental in having that handled.”
Implemented Sweeping Schedule Changes.
Mr. Connors is able to tackle sacred cows.
Mattson said Connors “required” the high school to “develop a new schedule system so that we could eliminate some of the course choices the kids were having to make, such as continuing in music or taking a foreign language.” Asked how he achieved this, Mattson said he simply told the administrators that “we are going to do this, so you can either work out a way to do it, or we will do it for you.”
PILOTed All-Day Kindergarten.
Connors created the Bloomington All-Day Kindergarten, which, she says is “now available in most of our elementary schools. It’s choice. That was tested while he was here, and that’s become a success for sure.”
Mattson said, “We felt there were pull factors, more than push factors. Number one, he had a strong, strong interest in urban education. That was his academic background. While Bloomington was becoming increasingly diverse, you would not think of it as an urban environment. All of his roots were in the East.”
Mattson said he came to Bloomington because of its “strong national reputation for strong programs, forward looking leadership and community support.” Connors created many of those programs. She says, for example, “Bloomington attracts administrators from all over America. Our latest financial administrator came from Hawaii.”
The Scouting Report.
“We felt he was a person with high energy, looking over the horizon, recognizing problems, and moving forward,” Mattson summed up. “There’s one thing that Tim said when he first got here, that I heard him say many times, particularly when we were dealing with challenges:
“Everybody sends us the best kids they’ve got and from there its our responsibility to move them along to their fullest potential.”
” I think he acted on that, this community expected that, and his time here was very progressive.”