City’s new school chief getting lay of the land

by KAITLYN NAPLES

Bristol’s new school superintendent, Ellen Solek, has spent the last month meeting the faces of the school district, and the city, as well as visiting the schools, new and old— becoming acclimated to her new post and home.
“I couldn’t have asked for more support and welcoming here in Bristol,” Solek said. “Even though it is a city, it still has a very small town connection, and I feel very much at home here. We (she and her husband) are looking to staying here for a very long time.”
Solek, who replaced former Superintendent of School Philip Streifer who resigned from the position to return to teaching, began her new position at the beginning of July.
“The transition just flowed naturally,” she said.
The timing of the move was perfect, Solek said, with where the new schools were at in their building process, and that the new fiscal year was beginning, and changes had already been made on the local level, as well at the state level.
“I was brought up to speed on the changes in school staffing, the redistricting plan, the intramural program at the middle school, the addition of lacrosse (and more),” she said, adding that she is becoming more and more familiar with the logistics of everything.
Even though she came from a significantly smaller district, East Haddam, she said there are more similarities than differences.
“The processes and structure and way things get done are remarkably similar,” she said, especially regarding the budget process and constraints the whole state is feeling. “There were the same discussions and dilemmas.”
Solek came into a district that was in the middle of several changes, the biggest being the redistricting of the schools and students, and the building of the two new K-8 schools and closure of four older schools. She said she is looking forward to the opening of the new schools as well as “rolling out a strategic plan that relates to the board’s (Board of Education) mission and goals, so we, and the schools, and the city have a much clearer idea of where we are headed, both long term and short term.”
Solek said she continues to work on the budget challenges, which have remained difficult, as well as continue to meet the demands of the state and the federal governments while maintaining “a high level of student achievement.”
On the topic of mandates, Solek said there are several that the districts still need to deal with, and one more recent update she has heard was that in the year of 2015, the state will require all standardized testing to be completed online. Solek said this is a positive change, because students will receive feedback instantly. However she said she doesn’t know if all districts will have the proper equipment or hardware to allow electronic testing.
For this coming school year, Solek said she is most excited about “the opportunity to meet and work with all of the great people in this community who help our district so much,” like city officials, and all of the youth and community support services and organizations.
Solek said she plans to meet with the Board of Education very soon to go over missions and goals and collaborate ideas and initiatives to implement in the district. One initiative she wants to implement is to organize times to be able to hold information sessions for parents and the public interested in certain topics, or wanting to ask questions directly.
“It’s important to have these discussions and keep people educated and informed,” Solek said. “I’ve always been someone whose door is open, and I invite people to ask questions about the schools, the budget or any information. It is a major part of my role to be able to provide as much information as I can.”