At Supt Dan Brenner’s Final Board of Education Meeting, Board Says Farewell and He Says Goodbye

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As Schools Superintendent Dan Brenner wraps up the last week of his three-year stint running Darien Public Schools, he attended his last Darien Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, and both he and the board had some gratitude to express.

See correction at bottom of article.

Brenner at board 3-9-16

File photo

Schools Superintendent Dan Brenner at an earlier Board of Education meeting

 

“I’ve been very fortunate to work here for three years,” Brenner said. “I’ve been very fortunate to work with this board that has changed but continues to be tremendously supportive.

I also feel compelled to say, I planned on finishing my career in Darien,” he continued. Board of Education member Christa McNamara interrupted to say, “So did we!” and Brenner replied: “Touche.” He continued:

“But I think it’s important to say that, because I am leaving because something came to me, and I am not leaving because I’m leaving something or running from something. And there has been lots of speculation that has been out there, and I am here to disabuse everyone of those speculations.”

Brenner was contacted by recruiters looking for someone to head up the United Nations International School in Manhattan. The school covers all grades and has a student body that is about half from parents of United Nations employees from all over the world.

He said he enjoyed getting up in the morning to go to Darien [from his home in northern Westchester County] because he worked with a great staff, and he praised the districts headquarters staff (the top members of which he hired) and the other administrators who happened to be at the meeting: academic department heads, who were hired at his initiative, and administrators involved in the Ideas program for gifted students.

Before Brenner spoke, Michael Burke, a member of the Board of Education, read a statement on behalf of the board thanking the superintendent for his work.

“Dr. Brenner has been a superior superintendent since he walked in the door three years ago,” Burke said. “Our sadness at his departure is exceeded only by our appreciation for all that he has done to promote and execute this board’s goals and objectives.”

He said the board appreciated the high quality of the staff Brenner hired and administered, and noted that Brenner’s work in getting permanent lighting for night sports games at the high school was a significant achievement.

Burke pointed out that Brenner’s annual budgets were put together so well that the Board of Education, Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting all approved them with only very minor changes.

His strongest words were in praising Brenner for creating Fitch Academy, a program that has helped students with emotional difficulties in attending regular school still get an education within the district, without having to leave town.

“Robert Kennedy once spoke about how each time a man acts to improve the lot of others he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope,” Burke said. “The Fitch Academy is, thanks to Dan, Darien’s ripple of hope that creates joy and achievement for students who had only known anxiety and struggle. For that we are forever grateful.”

Full Texts of Burke’s Statement and Brenner’s Response

Here’s the full text of Burke’s statement to Brenner, as prepared:

Dr. Brenner has been a superior superintendent since he walked in the door three years ago. Our sadness at his departure is exceeded only by our appreciation for all that he has done to promote and execute this board’s goals and objectives.

Dan is a big sports fan and knows that in baseball the great players are considered “five-tool guys” who can run, field, throw, hit and hit with power. In the world of superintendents, one could argue that those tools translate into Administer, Build, Invigorate Curriculum, Budget and Relate.

Dan has administered and created a cabinet of superior people who skillfully ensure that our guiding principle of putting students first is adhered to while also being very responsive to this board and community.

This board and community have long desired for our student athletes to be able to play under the lights. Dan got that deal done and the lights were built.

Our curriculum never stands still. It evolves through continuous review and scrutiny by talented professionals who Dan has either hired, led or mentored — in some instances, all three!

Budget: The superintendent budgets over the last three years have been brilliant. They have well met our difficult charge to provide excellence for our children and fiscal prudence to our taxpayers.

Testament to that is the fact that the delta between each of Dan’s proposed budgets in January and the ones overwhelmingly passed by our RTM [Representative Town Meeting, at the last step in the budget-approval process] each May have been de minimis.

Dan gets us — or rather relates to us — in Darien. While there are so many examples of this, I will close by citing the one which will be Dan’s legacy: Fitch Academy.

Robert Kennedy once spoke about how each time a man acts to improve the lot of others he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. The Fitch Academy is, thanks to Dan, Darien’s ripple of hope that creates joy and achievement for students who had only known anxiety and struggle. For that we are forever grateful.

We wish our “five tool” superintendent Godspeed in his new endeavor.

Best of luck, Dan!

Brenner’s response:

“To Mr. Burke’s comment, I was at one point a ah — I’m someone who appreciates athletics because I played at a fairly high level. I was a quarterback, and this is where the five tools may come in.

There is something wrong with being a quarterback when you’re 18, and, if I had to play today, being a left tackle. OK? So, you know, it’s a sad statement for me that my athletic career peaked at 18, but my love for athletics and, in fact, my interest in athletics has not changed, and part of coming to this community was the acknowledgement that athletics played an important role in the lives of students in ways that, for the most part, I very much support.

And I’ve been very fortunate to work here for three years. I’ve been very fortunate to work with this board that has changed but continues to be tremendously supportive.

I also feel compelled to say, I planned on finishing my career in Darien [here he was interrupted by Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman, who said, “So did we!”] Touche. But I think it’s important to say that, because I am leaving because something came to me, and I am not leaving because I’m leaving something or running from something.

“And there has been lots of speculation that has been out there, and I am here to disabuse everyone of those speculations.

“Ah, this is a community that I enjoyed waking up every morning to come to work [to].

“This is an administrative staff that I am proud of in terms of working with and having built relationships that are meaningful, and I know on leaving that I am leaving an administrative staff and office staff that’s empowered. And that’s what gives me joy when I come to work.

“So any sense that I’m leaving for any other reason than that someone came knocking and it really was a lifetime opportunity is just false.

“So I want to end these comments by simply saying, thank-you to the board for being so supportive and to this wonderful central office staff, and because we have some presentations tonight, thank you to the administrative staff who it has been my honor to serve. Thank you.

Correction, 10:23 a.m., Wednesday — Well, we thought we heard Board of Education Chairperson Tara Ochman say “so did we” when Brenner said he’d planned on finishing his career in Darien, but we’re told it was board member Christa McNamara. We didn’t see it, only heard it, and thought we recognized the voice. Our apologies all around. 

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