STAMFORD, Conn. -- Stamford's new Superintendent Earl Kim, just like all the other new hires in the Stamford school system, attended the two-day orientation held at Westover Magnet Elementary School last week.
"Theoretically I could be exempted, but you lead from the front," said Kim, who has served in the Marine Corps. He said it was a valuable experience for him to take part in the sessions, where he could learn more about teaching strategies and theories. There is also the personal element, he said.
"It's great to just meet the people who work in our school system who have been hired as this fresh crop of teachers," Kim said. "Really an impressive group."
Classes start for Stamford students on Thursday.
Kim comes into the system that was rocked by a sex scandal involving a Stamford High School teacher that ultimately saw a shakeup in the most senior levels of the school district.
Former Superintendent Winifred Hamilton retired Dec. 31 in the fallout of the public scandal that began July 2014 when English teacher Danielle Watkins of Norwalk was arrested. She was sentenced to five years in prison in March 2015 as part of a plea deal for having sex with a student and supplying him with marijuana throughout the 2013-14 school year.
Principal Donna Valentine and Vice Principal Roth Nordin were arrested in October 2014, and charged with one misdemeanor count of failing to report to the state Department of Children and Families the allegations involving Watkins. Each was granted accelerated rehabilitation in November 2014, which will allow them to have no criminal record if they have no further legal problems.
Valentine and Nordin were ultimately removed from their positions.
Kim acknowledged that it was a difficult time, but he said the work of teachers and other staff continued to be at a high level.
"A lot has happened in our district, but at a certain level," he said. "In our classrooms and in our schools a lot has happened but it is positive."
"I think at one level it was difficult for the district, at the upper echelons," he continued. "But what I have seen here in the two months that I have been here is that the most vital work of the district: the professional learning around strategies for integrating English language learners into the classroom, strategies for addressing the needs of special education students while at the same time meeting the needs of students who are ready to soar those things have been going on notwithstanding all the atmospherics that have been going on that we read about in the papers."
After his service in the Marines, Kim, who was born and raised in Hawaii, started his teaching career in New Jersey, ultimately rising to become a superintendent in Verona and Montgomery Township.
For the last four years, he was Head of Schools at Kamehameha Schools, in Honolulu.
He said he isn't implementing "anything new out of the box" but said Stamford's senior leadership, including principals and assistant principals, will go through a visioning and longterm planning that he said will also engage the community.
"We are building on the work that has already started," he said. "It's a privilege to be here and to be of service to the students and staff of this community. We have terrific people working in Stamford and they have done great work."