Beth Smith was the logical choice to fill the major void left by Chris Clouet’s impending departure, according to Mayor Mark Lauretti.

Lauretti was responding to critics that charge that Smith’s demeanor and penchant for controversy make her a poor choice for the interim superintendent’s post.

“I believe she is up to the challenge,” said Lauretti. “When your boss ups and walks out midstream, there is a big void to fill. Beth understands the system. She has incredible experience, and she worked the toughest job in the system at Shelton High School.”

Smith, who has been the director of special education and pupil services, began her career as a special education teacher at Shelton High, ultimately becoming department head. After leaving the district, she returned as Shelton High School principal, where she served for 10 years before being placed on administrative leave last year after investigation into her handling of an alleged sexual assault at the school. After a police and internal investigation, she was cleared of charges that included interfering with police.

Former Board of Education member David Gioiello said, given her history of actions, he was “dismayed” with the appointment.

“Over the time I was on the board, she took actions that forced the Board of Education to first support her and then when all the information was available override her decision,” said Gioiello. “The issue that occurred in March was just more of the same as she exceeded her authority. I support the four Democrats on the board that voted no. The mayor supports her so the Republicans on the BOE must do his bidding.”

Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish said she was impressed with Smith’s work at the high school.

“She did an outstanding job. Did she make some mistakes? Yes. Did we have our disagreements? Yes. But when you look at her overall experience and knowledge of the system, she has all the skills we need to help us through this time,” said Yolish, who was still teaching in the Shelton schools when she first met Smith.

Lauretti said Smith brought “structure and discipline” to Shelton High upon her arrival as principal, and “that will generate resentment from people.

“No one knows better than I some of her miscues, but we have gotten past all that,” said Lauretti, referring to the police investigation that engulfed Smith and the high school last year. “That was a failure in leadership from her superiors.”

Social media exploded Thursday once word of Smith’s promotion hit the city. Most writing on social media stated that the Board of Education made a poor decision.

Shelton High senior and former Democratic Board of Aldermen candidate Matt McGee has started an online petition calling for the community to reject Smith’s appointment.

Board of Education member James Orazietti said the board’s decision to oblige Clouet’s request to waive his 90-day contractual separation notification during budget season placed the board in a “time-sensitive predicament.”

“Smith has the state certification and the experience to serve as our interim superintendent,” said Orazietti. “Her expertise in special education, supervision, building operations as well as organizational and fiscal budget preparation will be invaluable during a very demanding transition.”

Orazietti said the Board of Education and administrators will work “diligently with Dr. Smith to ensure our budget and her assignment go as smoothly as possible, hopefully without further disruptive distraction. I have total confidence Dr. Smith will excel in this assignment benefiting our student population.”

Mark Holden, board chair during Smith’s time at Shelton High through last year’s investigation, said she is “smart” and has the necessary certifications for the post.

“Hopefully in this interim position, she'll be an effective and collaborative leader,” said Holden.

After the Board of Education decision Wednesday, Clouet said, “I wish Dr. Smith and the board all the best.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com