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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Norwich school board to consider placing Superintendent Stringfellow on leave

    Norwich Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow listens while Chairperson Robert Aldi speaks Tuesday, June 13, 2023, during a Board of Education meeting at Kelly Middle School in Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Norwich ― The Board of Education will hold a special meeting Monday to consider placing embattled Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow on administrative leave, pending an investigation into personnel matters and will consider appointing an acting superintendent.

    The board met for three hours Tuesday behind closed doors to discuss personnel matters, as more than 150 current and former Norwich teachers, parents, students and supporters rallied outside Kelly Middle School to protest Stringfellow’s leadership. The board voted to expand an ongoing school workplace climate and culture study to include an investigation into “personnel complaints.”

    Teachers’ union officials and former Norwich school staff allege Stringfellow and Assistant Superintendent Tamara Gloster have fostered a toxic work environment of fear and intimidation. Union officials cited high turnover by staff and confidential surveys of current and former teachers that showed 96% of respondents were afraid to voice their opinions or criticisms of school system operations.

    Union leaders following Tuesday’s board meeting said they were disappointed that the board did not vote at that meeting to place Stringfellow on leave during the investigation. Connecticut Education Association President Kate Dias pledged to protect teachers who demonstrated Tuesday from any potential retaliation by the central office administration.

    Stringfellow could not be reached for comment Friday on the new board meeting agenda, posted late Friday morning.

    “We’re encouraged the Board of Education appears to have heard our concerns and the need to take action regarding the school work climate,” Norwich Teachers League President William Priest said Friday.

    Kate Dias, president of the CEA, said she was pleased with the board’s move to “rethink its inaction” from Tuesday night. She credited the strong public presence by rallygoers for placing the issue in the forefront.

    “I think the showing of parents, community members, staff at the meeting Tuesday night was very powerful to show that these are not isolated incidents of concern,” Dias said Friday.

    She also urged the Norwich school board to select an acting superintendent who could start the “healing process” to make school staff feel safe and appreciated. She said the school district has many capable administrators who could fill the role of acting superintendent.

    The Connecticut Federation of School Administrators, the parent group for the Norwich Administrators Association union, issued a brief joint statement Friday supporting the school board’s decision to conduct a thorough investigation into the complaints.

    Union members plan to rally again Monday outside the school, Priest said. He added that representatives from other teachers’ unions in the region have expressed interest in joining them.

    School board Chairman Robert Aldi said Friday the board is following advice of its attorney, Peter Maher, on proper procedures for handling the personnel matter per labor laws. Aldi declined to comment further on the upcoming meeting.

    The board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Monday at Kelly Middle School. The agenda calls for the board to enter executive session to discuss, “confidential attorney-client privileged memorandum regarding steps for addressing personnel matters.”

    Following the closed-door session, the agenda lists, “Discussion and possible action regarding Superintendent's employment status pending investigation of personnel complaints,” and, “Discussion and possible action regarding appointment of Acting Superintendent.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

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