Longtime New London principal to leave district as part of settlement

New London — Former middle school Principal Alison Burdick has agreed to resign and cut ties with the New London schools as part of a settlement with the school district.

It ends Burdick’s run of nearly two decades of work in the district that culminated with recent friction between her and central office administration.

Burdick, as part of the settlement, withdrew a defamation lawsuit against district administrators and various members of the school board. She filed the suit in late May, shortly after being placed on paid administrative leave, claiming she was being unfairly disciplined and the target of retaliation.

It was a tumultuous year for the district, and Burdick was one of multiple administrators placed on leave as police investigated a former school employee, Corriche Gaskin, in the sexual assault of students at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in 2017.

In Burdick’s case, the suspension came for allegedly handing over student files to police during the investigation. Burdick claims she was following a district directive to cooperate with police. The district argued in its rebuttal to the suit that Burdick disregarded Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie’s warning not to disseminate confidential student files and voluntarily provided 153 pages of student records. The district contends it was a breach of school board policy and the Connecticut Code of Professional Responsibility for School Administrators.

The confidential settlement agreement was unanimously approved by the Board of Education on Oct. 10 and was obtained by The Day this week in response to a state Freedom of Information Act request.

Burdick will remain on paid administrative leave and continue to receive medical insurance and her salary through June 30, 2020. She is technically the director of New London Adult Education, a position to which she was appointed earlier this year but had never started. The New London Administrators’ Education Association contract for 2018-19 lists a director’s base salary as $144,292.

Her resignation was submitted on Nov. 12 and accepted in a letter dated Nov. 15. Burdick has agreed not to apply for another job in the school district.

“BURDICK waives any right to reemployment by the BOARD in the future, and further acknowledges that the provisions of this Agreement shall constitute due and sufficient cause to reject any employment applications she might make to the BOARD for any positions at any time,” the settlement reads.

In exchange, Burdick agrees “not to sue, agrees not to make, file, pursue or institute any claims, complaints, charges, actions, lawsuits or legal proceedings of any kind, and unconditionally waives all rights of recovery from the BOARD,” the settlement reads. Burdick is not prohibited from filing a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities but, as part of the settlement, waives her right to recover damages "except where prohibited by law."

A native New Londoner, Burdick graduated from New London High School in 1996 and started working as a full-time teacher in the New London school district during the 2001-02 school year. She was appointed interim principal at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in 2010 and principal in 2011, under former Superintendent Nicholas Fischer.

As the district transitioned into magnet schools with different disciplines, Burdick was named as the director of the international pathway in 2018. Ritchie, who was hired in 2018, assigned Burdick to be the director of adult education as part of a reorganization and shuffling of leadership positions in June.

Documents obtained by The Day show a strained relationship between Burdick and central office administration. She was issued several warnings prior to her new assignment.

In April, Burdick was reprimanded and placed on leave for two days for allowing a student to use an “unsafe” cafeteria stage and sing a song called “Thotiana” by Blueface, deemed by administrators to be offensive.

In an April 8 letter to Burdick, Ritchie wrote, “I continue to be very concerned with respect to your conduct as an administrator, as a series of recent events show a lack of professional and ethical judgement regarding the well-being of students.”

One of the incidents referenced by Ritchie was a Feb. 27 response by the fire department to reports of a smoking cell phone in a middle school bathroom. An investigation by the district’s human resources department determined Burdick should have pulled a fire alarm and evacuated the building. She directed custodial staff to open windows and air out the smoke instead. Burdick was issued a “letter of consult.”

In another incident earlier this year, Burdick was disciplined for pulling students from class to stuff report card envelopes, “allowing them to view all students’ grades and comments and engage in comments regarding them.”

Burdick, through the years, has served in multiple roles coordinating afterschool and summer programs. She earned a doctorate in education from the University of Connecticut and a school superintendent endorsement.

In 2017, at the age of 38, Burdick was included in Connecticut Magazine’s list of “40 under 40,” honored for bringing in more than $5 million to the school district through grants and for her work “to create partnerships between the school system and local community organizations…”

Burdick and Ritchie did not respond to messages seeking comment.

g.smith@theday.com

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