Norwich teachers bring complaints about Stringfellow to local legislators
Norwich ― Norwich teachers’ union members and union representatives met Friday with two state legislators to voice concerns about an alleged culture of fear and retaliation fostered by School Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow.
State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and state Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, both with districts that include Norwich, heard from about 35 Norwich Teachers League members and their parent union, Connecticut Education Association, Friday at the CEA’s Norwich office. The teachers wore shirts and stickers saying, “We Are Norwich,” and some vowed to remain in the Norwich district and fight for change, CEA officials said.
The CEA posted an article on the meeting, titled “Norwich Teachers Push Back Against Abusive Administrators” on its website Tuesday.
The teachers who met with the legislators will remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, Nancy Andrews, CEA director of communications, told The Day on Tuesday. Andrews, Lesia Day, CEA communications specialist, a CEA government relations representative and a special education specialist attended the meeting.
In an email response to The Day Tuesday evening, Stringfellow expressed frustration that she has not heard directly from CEA officials and learned of the Friday meeting and other complaints through the media.
She wrote that she plans to implement “open door” policies this fall to improve relations with staff and will work with Norwich Teachers League President William Priest to set up monthly meetings to discuss issues.
“I respect, trust and admire our teachers,” Stringfellow wrote to The Day. “Supporting them is always in the forefront of my mind. If there is something that I am doing or that someone is perceiving that I am doing to make anyone feel uncomfortable, there is no way for me to rectify it without knowledge of what it is.”
Stringfellow said in the coming school year, she will “reinforce and publicize my open-door policy” encouraging teachers to express concerns. She plans regular listening sessions visiting schools to hear feedback “in a supportive environment” and will establish a Teacher Climate Advisory Committee to meet regularly with her “to share the broader teacher perspective.”
Osten said Tuesday she and Ryan were invited by CEA to the meeting. She said she has been aware of Norwich school issues, including controversial cutbacks to preschool programs, and the failure to provide free summer meals to all scheduled sites, along with the school climate issues.
Osten said legislators do not have a direct role in operations at local school districts.
“I said they have to go to the (school board) meetings and express your concerns,” Osten said. “You can’t just ignore it anymore.”
The union presented results of recent CEA surveys of current and former Norwich teachers, with quotes from comments made in the survey, also anonymously.
The two surveys were conducted after CEA officials had received numerous complaints over the past year about Stringfellow and Assistant Superintendent Tamara Gloster.
The CEA article said 160 certified staff have departed the Norwich school system in the last school year. Stringfellow in her email wrote that she has been approached by supportive teachers who told her they are recommending Norwich to friends in other districts.
“Several teachers who resigned previously have recently applied and have been rehired in Norwich,” Stringfellow wrote.
The CEA article stated the union plans to: “take action at the state agency level,” to address unspecified violations by Norwich school administrators.
Union representatives said they plan to meet with Norwich Board of Education and City Council candidates this fall to make them aware of teachers’ concerns.
Norwich Board of Education Chairman Robert Aldi said he had not heard of last Friday’s meeting. Aldi is recusing himself from work climate issues due to his job as regional manager in the eastern office of the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
Board Vice Chairman Mark Kulos was directed by the board in July to select an outside consultant firm to conduct a school culture and climate investigation. The board voted to delay Stringfellow’s written performance evaluation to allow time for the investigation.
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