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    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    Norwich school board praises Stringfellow, awards raise, other benefits

    Norwich — Citing her handling of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, how she directly tackled discipline breakdowns at the troubled Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School and her work to improve relations with the city, the Board of Education granted a 2.5% raise and contract extension to school Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow.

    “The Board looks forward to a productive new academic year and wishes to continue working closely with the Superintendent, her team and all the district staff to the betterment of the students of Norwich,” board Chairman Robert Aldi wrote in an evaluation letter to Stringfellow on June 29.

    In the three-page letter, Aldi listed several accomplishments board members raised during recent closed-door sessions to evaluate her performance for the past year. Board members said not only did Stringfellow handle the pandemic response, focusing on recovering “lost learning,” but she worked tirelessly to solve hiring problems, created a district equity plan and increased staff diversity by 5.4%.

    While the board praised Stringfellow’s communication with the board members, informing them of issues even late at night, Aldi wrote, some members said Stringfellow’s communication skills with parents “need improving.” It was the only critical issue contained in the letter.

    “A more open dialogue is needed, especially when keeping parents appraised of their children’s in-school behaviors,” Aldi wrote. “Many are surprised and unaware of the full school discipline record. This is the one area that the Board sees as somewhat lacking. Perhaps a better system of information delivery can be devised so that these issues can be minimized.”

    Aldi said Stringfellow has asked for specifics on the issue of parental communication. The board will schedule a closed-door meeting soon to discuss the issue.

    The board voted 8-0, with member Christine Distasio absent, to award Stringfellow the typical one-year extension on her three-year contract and a 2.5% raise to a salary of $197,866 beginning July 1. The board did not offer a bonus and did not increase her $4,800 mileage allowance but awarded a new $5,000 deferred compensation annuity payable upon her departure, and a new $2,500 stipend to acknowledge her Ph.D. status, bringing her total financial compensation to $210,166.

    Other schools offer stipends for Ph.D.s, so the board is trying to get her somewhere "close to the middle of the pack,” Aldi said of the compensation package.

    Stringfellow, who was away this past week, commented on the board’s evaluation in an email to The Day. She was hired in Norwich prior to the start of the 2019-20 school year, on the eve of the pandemic, and with multimillion-dollar school budget deficits. With the influx of millions in federal COVID-19 response and recovery grants and Stringfellow’s financial restructuring, those deficits have turned into budget surpluses for the past two years.

    “I am grateful for the full support of the Norwich Board of Education, and I am very happy to continue my work in the Norwich Public Schools,” Stringfellow wrote. “Our educational team has a progressive vision for teaching and learning and a solid infrastructure of support for our teachers, staff and most importantly, our students. We are very excited for the future of our school department and our students as we start to see the plans we set into motion two years ago realize their positive effects post-pandemic.”

    Regarding the Teachers Global Studies turnaround work, Stringfellow described how she, Assistant Superintendent Tamara Gloster and several other central office staff spent every day at the Global Studies middle school for two months starting in early February to clamp down on disciplinary problems she said at the time were the result of school leadership instability and lack of consistent discipline.

    The administrators took over leadership of the school “to provide stability, oversight and a reset of behavioral expectations,” Stringfellow wrote.

    She credited Gloster’s efforts to reorganize the school schedule, grade-level teaching teams and enhanced education by adding special subjects to offer programs “interesting and engaging to our students,” Stringfellow wrote.

    Stringfellow also added another teaching team to the school to reduce class sizes.

    “We soon realized that there was more transformational work to be done at the school,” she wrote. “The structures we have put in place this year will not only benefit Teachers Global MS but also Kelly (STEAM Magnet) MS.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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