New Hebron superintendent of schools faces many challenges
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Hebron - posted Tue., Aug. 13, 2013
Jeffrey Newton faces many challenges as he takes over the helm of the Hebron public schools prior to the start of the 2013-14 school year. Newton has been in the office since early July, with former acting superintendent Kathryn Veronesi sticking around to help him transition before leaving the district.
Among the issues affecting Newton's transition is the scandal surrounding the former superintendent, Eleanor Cruz, who left for a position in Plymouth and was shortly thereafter accused of misappropriating approximately $15,000 from the district. William Mazzara, finance director for the Hebron and Regional 8 school districts, was also associated with the scandal and eventually left the district. Hebron public schools board members have been largely quiet, citing an ongoing police investigation into the issue.
Newton said that although some residents might cast a more suspicious eye toward the central office as a result of the issue, the board has been very supportive regarding moving forward. “It’s my job as the new superintendent to be as transparent as possible, to build trust, and to build a solid footing in terms of moving forward,” he said.
Regarding budgeting, Newton pointed to declining enrollment. “We have to be cognizant of how that will impact the district,” he said.
Regarding school security, Newton said that a security team, commissioned after the Sandy Hook incident in Newtown, would be reconvening with the start of the school year.
Newton pointed to new demands imposed by Common Core Curriculum implementation, new testing requirements and teacher evaluation changes. “We’ve got to have a tenacious attack on our curriculum implementation, professional development and professional learning,” he said. Asked how he felt about the increasing emphasis on more and earlier standardized testing, Newton said he was wholly supportive of the professional development and professional learning aspects encompassed in recent changes to public education. By focusing on rigorous academic instruction and implementation, public schools would help to develop better lifelong learners, he said. “We already have a strong basis,” said Newton. “This will help us take it to the next level.”
Asked how he felt about his own kindergarten-aged child sitting in front of a computer screen pressing buttons for a standardized test, Newton said that it was better than filling in bubbles in a book. Computerized tests adapt to the answers of a child, making questions more or less challenging according to previous responses, said Newton. “That’s much less frustrating for the child,” he said.
Newton pointed to the importance of leaving room to focus upon “the social and emotional growth of the child.”
He pointed to “an extremely strong” administrative team in Hebron, comprised of Director of Curriculum and Technology Vonda Tencza, Acting Principal of Gilead Hill School Eric Brody, Hebron Elementary School Principal Amy Campbell, Director of Special Education/Special Services and Vice Principal Joshua Martin.
Newton said that, in preparing to interview for the Hebron position, he was very impressed by the work of both administrators and classroom teachers within the district. “That will be a focus to continue,” said Newton.
His main area of focus during the first few months of the school year, said Newton, would be “getting to know individuals and the relationships within the district.” Newton was looking forward to "just seeing the buildings in action” after the start of the school year, he said. In the weeks to come, Newton said he would focus on meeting parents, children, other members of the community, local leaders and district staff members. “That’s the key,” he said. “People need to know who I am, and I need to begin to be able to put names with faces.”
Newton is a Colchester resident, and the father of three girls, ages 8, 6 and 3. Two of his girls will be entering grades one and three in Colchester public schools in the fall. “So I can relate to parents and many of their situations,” he said. “I think that’s important.”
Newton worked as a special education teacher for several years, then as assistant principal and then principal at the Dr. Charles E. Murphy School in Oakdale. “I think those were important years because it really gave me a firm background in how elementary schools operate and how they should operate,” he said. Most recently, Newton served as the director of special services for Westbrook public schools.
The first day of school in Hebron is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug.28.