Greenwich BOE Extends Schools Chief’s Contract Despite Chair’s Objections

Toward the end of Thursday’s Board of Education meeting,  Kathleen Stowe made a motion to extend Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones contract an additional year, through June 30, 2026.

Jones was hired in 2018, after Jill Gildea resigned following less than a year in the job. Gildea’s resignation reflected the loss of Greenwich Schools 12th superintendent in 20 years.

After Gildea resigned, Ralph Mayo served as interim superintendent for a year.

After a nation-wide search, Dr. Jones was selected. She became superintendent, effective July 1, 2019.

At roughly this time last year, then BOE vice chair Christina Downey motioned to extend Jones’ contract by two years, noting the board had just given her an overwhelmingly positive review and salary increase.

“Why in the world would we ask her to drive a long-term plan, but only give her a short term extension?” she asked at the time, noting that industry practice was to offer two-year extensions.

After a failed vote on a 2-year extension, the board voted to extend Jones’ contract by one year.

Fast forward to Thursday, and the specter of “a revolving door” of superintendents loomed over the discussion.


Jones is the district’s 14 superintendent in 20 years.

Let that sink in.

During public comment, the head of PTA Council president John Fisher shared the podium with his stuffed elephant which he alluded to as the elephant in the room – contract renewal.

He said the PTA Council board of directors supported extending Dr. Jones’ contract.

He talked about the years of turnover and how for years,  headlines referred to Greenwich’s revolving door of superintendents and stories about Greenwich’s inability to attract and retain good superintendents.

“We must not condemn ourselves to repeat that history,” Fisher said. “The district has benefited from having Dr. Jones’ steady hand for five years.”

He noted the district was in the midst of plans for a new Central Middle School project, a strategic plan, and curriculum updates.

He said building issues pre-dated Dr. Jones.

“But when pipes burst, ceilings fall, walls crack, Dr. Jones pivots with incredible efficiency to ensure that kids have places to learn.”

And he said, “Regardless of how you feel about how the federal and state governments handled Covid, Dr. Jones demonstrated leadership to keep the schools open longer than other districts, then to pivot to remote learning faster than other districts, and then to pivot again to open our schools before any other district in Fairfield County.”

“We have good academic achievement,” he continued. “People grumble about academic achievement, but we have test scores that are as high or higher than any of the DRG B districts, and pretty close to the DRG A districts.”

Several of Jones’ longtime detractors also testified.

Jackie Homan urged Republican members of the BOE not to extend the contract.

“I know the Democrats love Dr. Jones because she is really good at promoting progressive values and teaching practices. During her tenure she has managed to politicize schools in breathtaking alignment with the Democrat agenda.”

She said Dr. Jones proposed that “equity and justice” criteria be included in teacher evaluations.

“Equity and social justice are squarely Democrat agenda items. Republicans value educators who promote academic excellence,” Homan added. “Recent hires by Dr. Jones check the equity and social justice box.”

“Anti-racism might sound nice but it’s actually reverse racism,” Homan added. “Jones said there’s no CRT in GPS but she hires anti-racist educators who can inject these ideas into the classroom anyway.”

“Don’t be fooled,” Homan said. “Anti-racism is racism.”

Joe Solari also urged a vote against contract renewal.

“The decision to extend this contract is a litmus test for the board and this community,” Solari said. “If a superintendent’s tenure has been marked by numerous issues that challenge the integrity and effectiveness of our educational system, then you should know what you need to do.”

Former Board of Education member and chair, Peter Sherr, talked about “a politically negotiated one-year extension cooked up by a few board members.”

“Our kids and Dr. Jones should not be subjected to these machinations,” Sherr said. “If Dr. Jones is the right person to execute the strategic plan – that’s the only question – then extend her contract for the maximum allowed, through 2028. Show some courage and leadership.”

“Stop with these short term patches. Everything else is a political stitch-up, and our kids are the losers.”

In defense of Dr. Jones was Brian Zeller, who introduced himself as parent of 3 public school students, both a former Cos Cob School and CMS PTA president, and GHS varsity lacrosse coach.

Zeller recalled he was serving as PTA co-president in 2022 when CMS was condemned, and said Dr. Jones had been very responsive.

“She addressed concerns and provided the road map for what was ahead. I know at that time the CMS community was very grateful for her leadership – not only during that initial crazy time, but also in the wake of the school closure.”

Also, Zeller recalled during his 4 years as PTA co-president there were 3 different superintendents.

“When Dr. Jones was hired, she was the 14th superintendent in 20 years,” Zeller said. “I feel Dr. Jones is a proven leader, that she is good for Greenwich Public Schools, and most importantly I feel that she puts the kids first.”

Aimee Muth, co-chair of the PTA Council DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) committee spoke in support of Jones.

“You have navigated many challenges in your tenure. We appreciate the care, compassion and rigor that you have applied. I know there are some here tonight who aim to oppose you. We stand here in support of you.”

Alison Kahn, the other PTA Council DEI co-chair said, “DEI has become a buzzword, a lightning rod for extreme political grandstanding. The truth is there is nothing controversial about teaching fact-based history, about celebrating the American multi-cultural heritage that makes us different and critically, accepting that we have more in common than not.”

“We encourage you to remember how important it is to our children and staff to have consistent leadership,” Kahn added.

BOE Member comments

After Ms Stowe made to motion to renew the superintendent’s contract for a year, individual members shared their thoughts.

Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony said a few weeks earlier the board met in executive session and gave Dr. Jones feedback around her recent performance both positive and negative.

Mercanti-Anthony talked about creating a summary of feedback, consistent with CABE’s policy and effective governance, that could be shared.

“That’s what we’ve been doing behind the scenes. I think we’re in a place where we can bring this matter to a close for the benefit of the community,” he said.

Board chair Karen Kowalski said she wanted to explain why she planned to vote against renewal.

She said academic achievement had slipped. “Metrics had not been met and some had slipped below prior years marks. Our graduation rate has even slipped.”

Kathleen Stowe interrupted. “Point of order, you are talking about things that were said in executive session.”

“I have a right and opportunity to give an understanding as to why I’m voting against the renewal,” Kowalski replied. “While we can argue we now have a uniform teaching system in place, our students are not performing equally.”

“We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to revamp special education, and we are not close to achieving the goals for which we started in that process.”

“Our ability to retain talented teachers continues to be a concern despite having the highest paid teachers in Connecticut,” she added. “And I’d say we should not be fooled in those who left for promotional opportunities. I believe, in part, we are losing talented teachers and replaced by other teachers that I have concerns. Our beloved, award-winning art program will be run by a high school band teacher with no administrative background. I hope he surprises me, and all of us.”

“Moreover I have no problem hiring from outside to enlighten our way of thinking, but I have great concerns when they come from schools that are not performing to our expectations and standards.”

“So I am voting no on renewal as I have grave concerns going forward, and I think it is time to explore different opportunities for the advancement and growth of our Greenwich Public School system.”

Wendy Vizzo Walsh agreed, but said little. “Many of the speakers tonight, in addition to chairperson Kowalski, reiterated many of the concerns that I shared with the board during our executive session, and for those reasons I cannot in good conscience vote for renewal of this contract.”

Kathleen Stowe said she would not repeat what was said in executive session because that had been an evaluation of an employee.

“I echo a lot of the comments – from the head of PTAC, to Brian Zeller – who had an interesting perspective as a coach and parent. I’ve heard from so many parents and teachers such great things. From her being a great leader in the face of so much difficulty, when you have so many constituencies to respond to.  We all go back to Covid, because it is an example of how you are so innovate in extremely difficult situations. You’ve led us through so many difficult times and I look forward to you continuing to create stability for our district.”

Cody Kittle said, “I think the vote is already baked here.”

“My hesitancy on extension, unrelated to Toni, who I think is great in a lot of ways, I do not like elements on the way the contract itself is set up, and I was seeking to make some adjustments to that. I feel like I’m being cut a little bit short because I thought we were making progress on ways to make tweaks to the contract, and set precedent on that. I was hoping that this would not be on the agenda tonight and we’d have a little more time.”

Kittle abstained from the vote.

Sophie Koven said the job of superintendent in Greenwich was challenging, given there are 15 schools and an extremely diverse student body.

“Our responsibility as the Board of Education is to make sure that our children have the best education possible, and I think Dr. Jones is doing an excellent job, but I’d also say, continuity and structure is so critical in a very dynamic system.”

Also she said, the district had embarked on many extremely complicated capital projects, all at different stages of implementation.

“To do a change right now is to put all of that in jeopardy,” she said.

“Our responsibility is to the children and a transition is very disruptive and and really harmful for their educational experience. And we’re talking about 8,611 students.”

Karen Hirsh said she echoed Ms Koven’s comments.

“She has met all of her goals. She has consistently put our students at the forefront. We heard that from countless parents, PTA Council members, and others that have stood up and spoken, and in emails as well. We have five years of a strategic plan to meet full on academic and achievement and goals and we’re on a strong path to get there,” Hirsh said. “We need a strong leader to keep this boat afloat.”

The motion to renew passed:

5 yes (Mercanti-Anthony, Hirsh, Kostin, Stowe, Koven)

2 no (Kowalski and Vizzo Walsh)

1 abstain (Kittle)

On Friday morning Mr. Mercanti-Anthony, Ms Stowe and Ms Koven reached out with reactions to the vote.

Mr. Mercanti-Anthony wrote, “The Board worked this year to strengthen our process for evaluating the superintendent. Last month we met privately with her in executive session, where each member provided oral feedback. We then compiled this feedback into a written consensus document of successes and areas for growth that was given to Dr. Jones.

“I feel this new process is much fairer to Dr. Jones than our previous ad-hoc method. It identifies clear areas of success while clarifying what the board sees as areas of improvement upon which to focus in the coming year.

Kathleen Stowe wrote, “I was really happy to see so many of our parents come out in support of Toni and share their positive experiences. Some of the highlights included her thoughtful and balanced leadership for the last 5 years through COVID, budget cycles, building issues and other operating challenges, but that she always remains focused on academic achievement and the well being of GPS students. Greenwich has had a reputation for superintendent turnover and hopefully we are turning the corner on this one with another extension.”

Ms Koven wrote, “Greenwich Public Schools is engaged in many exciting initiatives, including on going curriculum improvements and multiple significant capital projects. Our focus as a board is to provide an excellent education for all of students. Dr. Jones has a proven track record as a strong and responsive leader who is adept at managing a complex school system; she has demonstrated time and again that she can ably navigate a crisis, the global pandemic being just one example. I appreciate Dr. Jones’ commitment to our schools and incredible work ethic. I look forward to continuing to work with her. I also want to acknowledge the many letters, as well as the in person comments, of our community. Community feedback is critically important.”

See also:

Greenwich Schools Superintendent Contract Renewal Results in Another BOE Tie Vote on Party-Lines June 2023

BOE Extends Schools Chief Contract 2 Years Despite Reluctance of Two Members May 2021