Norwich school board to hire new firm to investigate complaints against Stringfellow
Norwich ― The Board of Education will need to find a new outside firm to investigate the personnel complaints that led the board to place Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow on paid leave Monday night.
The board had hired consultant School Climate Consultants of Glastonbury in August to conduct a broad school climate study in the face of allegations that Stringfellow and Assistant Superintendent Tamara Gloster fostered a work climate of fear and intimidation.
The investigation changed focus in recent weeks, as the board received added information that led to a vote to broaden the scope to include personnel complaints against Stringfellow. The board placed Stringfellow on leave Monday night and named John B. Stanton School Principal Susan Lessard as acting principal, to the cheers of dozens of teachers, parents and supporters at Monday’s meeting.
Board Vice Chairman Mark Kulos told the full board during its meeting Tuesday that the Glastonbury firm has declined to take on the new investigation. Kulos said he, with the assistance of board attorney Peter Maher, will identify a new firm by next week to conduct the investigation, he hopes with the same time lime to report to the board in early November.
Kulos said the firm returned the huge volume of materials submitted for the investigation. The new firm will receive the materials, any new materials submitted by school staff and will set up interviews with current and former staff.
“I think they may have gotten frightened from the giant packet,” Kulos said of the Glastonbury firm. “It was a lot of material.”
“There’s a lot more,” board member Christine Distasio responded. “They probably just realized that’s not their mission.”
Board member Heather Fowler said she is receiving more information from school staff, and Kulos directed board members to provide him with any communications. He said he does not read the materials but scans them into a computer for the investigation.
“It will be up to that firm,” Kulos said. “They will be setting up interviews through central office and through the teachers union and the administrators union.”
Fowler said she wants to make sure staff who are ready to come forward now do not get delayed in submitting their information.
“I believe there’s enough to make a decision,” Fowler said. “That’s my personal opinion, but I don’t think it has to be dragged on any longer. This community has been hurt enough.”
During public comment Tuesday, parent Jess Quay, a frequent critic of Stringfellow’s leadership for the past two years, thanked the Board of Education for taking action Monday and thanked the school staff for their courage to make their complaints public through rallies and public statements. She called the staff “rock stars” for standing up for their rights.
“I hope the result from last night’s special meeting is just the beginning of the justice that this faculty of this Norwich Public Schools will receive,” Quay said. “They deserve to move forward in a manner that reminds them of why they became an educator in the first place.”
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