Norwalk schools superintendent — Connecticut’s third-highest paid at more than $300K — gets 2% increase in contract extension

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Norwalk Superintendent of School Alexandra Estrella will remain at the helm for the school district through 2025.

Norwalk Superintendent of School Alexandra Estrella will remain at the helm for the school district through 2025.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

NORWALK — Superintendent Alexandra Estrella will continue to lead the city’s public schools through 2025.

The Board of Education last week unanimously approved to extend Estrella’s contract for an additional year. Last year, the board also approved adding an extra year to Estrella’s original three-year contract and made her the third-highest paid superintendent of schools in Connecticut, earning $302,025 this past school year.

The agreement called for a base salary adjustment that matches the rate of inflation, which this year was 8.5 percent. The board instead negotiated with Estrella for a 2 percent base salary adjustment.

“We appreciate the superintendent’s willingness to work with us. I think that’s a fair compromise for her and the Norwalk school district,” school board President Colin Hosten said.

The school board approved Estrella’s original contract in April 2020 to replace Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski, who retired that year. The contract ran from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2023. Her first order of business was to bring schools back from the shutdown and navigate through the pandemic.

“I think she navigated it beautifully,” board member Kara Nelson Baekey said. “I was so impressed with how NPS handled it and Estrella handled it. That’s a large reason why I ran for the Board of Ed because I saw her vision, I saw what she was doing, I saw positive change happening in this school system and I wanted to get behind her and support her in it.”

Baekey said she’s lived in Norwalk for 20 years and during that time, she’s “seen a lot of superintendents cycle through our school system and it’s been tough.” Estrella is the ninth superintendent in that span and fourth in the last 10 years.

Before approving the contract, Hosten addressed concerns from the public about the lack of transparency surrounding the contract extension. During the public comments, Norwalk parent Tyler Fairbairn felt there were not enough materials for the public to review before the decision and didn’t realize the board would be voting on the contract during last week’s meeting.

“It’s funny to offer comment when we don’t even know what’s going to happen,” Fairbairn told board members.

Hosten said salary and contract negotiations are “guided by our legal counsel” and to remain in legal compliance as a school district, the board does not want any of the contract details to be leaked before coming to a vote.

The board met for more than three hours in executive session on June 21 to review and rate the superintendent. A summary of that review and the final rating will be made public as well as a year-end report for the school district, according to Hosten.

He also reassured the public that the feedback received through public comments both in person and via email are “very much valued.” Several of his colleagues commented that they had read all the emails sent by the public and stressed that a lot happens behind the scenes at Central Office that the public is not privy to when the superintendent and her team make decisions.

“There’s a misconception in the community of the levers that Dr. Estrella can pull behind the scenes,” said board member Erica DePalma, listing things such as state requirements, city health department directives, budget constraints, guidelines set by grant foundations and contract stipulations.

“Until you sit in this (board) chair, I assure you, you do not appreciate what goes on behind the scenes in Central Office. I surely did not,” DePalma said. “Being a Board of Ed member, I truly believe is a rite of passage for any parent that wants to learn the system because it will truly open your eyes to what goes on behind the scenes in Central Office.”

Estrella made no comments regarding her contract extension following the board’s approval.

The school board also approved the superintendent’s recommended goals and metrics for the 2022-23 school year. The six goals remained the same from last year with different initiatives set for each one to be accomplished by January or June 2023.

The goals focus on strengthening individualized student success plans; developing a three-to-five-year facilities plan based on previous plans and budgets; evaluating and streamlining the departments of human resources, finance, and business and operations, respectively; cultivating instructional leadership in the school buildings; developing and refining instructional programming to give students more opportunities and access; and ensuring families have equitable access to district resources.

Correction: The headline and story has been updated to reflect Alexandra Estrella is the third-highest paid superintendent in Connectiut.