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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Norwich school board appoints acting assistant superintendent

    Norwich ― The Board of Education on Wednesday named retired student services director Jamie Bender as acting assistant superintendent after Assistant Superintendent Tamara Gloster was placed on administrative leave.

    The action came nine days after the board placed Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into personnel complaints about her. At that meeting, the board appointed Susan Lessard, principal at the John B. Stanton School, as acting superintendent.

    Stringfellow and Gloster have been the subjects of numerous complaints by current and former staff who say they have fostered a work climate of fear and intimidation.

    The board has hired Hartford attorney Kyle McClain to conduct the investigation into the personnel complaints against Stringfellow and Gloster. Board Vice Chairman Mark Kulos, who led the selection process, said McClain will be paid $285 per hour for the work, less if an assistant does some of the work.

    Kulos said McClain was selected with assistance by board attorney Peter Maher.

    Bender retired last November after 32 years in the school system, where she worked as a special education teacher, middle school teacher, special education supervisor, liaison for out-of-district special education placements and then five years as student services director.

    Lessard said the appointment of Bender makes the most sense for the school district. She said she is familiar with Bender, who she said has years of experience in the school district.

    Teachers union President Bill Priest welcomed Bender’s appointment and said he looked forward to working with her. He said he is also now looking forward to the investigation of Stringfellow and Gloster getting started.

    Lessard said the district hiring policy calls for the superintendent to hire an assistant superintendent, but Lessard said the board has some say in the matter. She said she felt it appropriate to bring the appointment to the board.

    Board Chairman Robert Aldi said the board controls fiscal aspects of the appointment.

    Gloster, a 23-year veteran educator, was hired by Stringfellow as assistant superintendent/curriculum director starting in 2020. Gloster had spent the previous two years as principal at the Jumoke Academy Honors at the Hartford Conservatory Middle School.

    The board met for 30 minutes behind closed doors to discuss Gloster being placed on administrative leave and to discuss the appointment of an acting superintendent before moving to open session and voting unanimously to name Bender to the position.

    On Sept. 18, the board held a similar two-hour closed-door meeting to place Stringfellow on paid leave pending the investigation. A week earlier, on Sept. 12, the board met for three hours behind closed doors to discuss information pertaining to employee complaints about Stringfellow. At that meeting the board voted to expand what originally was a broad workplace climate study in the school district into an investigation of Stringfellow’s conduct.

    Complaints about Stringfellow and Gloster have surfaced over the past several months by current and former staff, mostly anonymous, with staff expressing fear of retaliation. The Norwich Teachers League and the parent Connecticut Education Association had conducted separate surveys in which 233 current teachers and 64 former teachers responded.

    In the exit survey of former staff, 96% responded that they were uncomfortable expressing opinions or criticisms of district issues out of fear of retaliation.

    Union leaders stressed that response during boisterous rallies by current and former school staff, parents, students and supporters held outside the Kelly Middle School during the previous two board meetings to discuss the personnel complaints about Stringfellow.

    A smaller group of teachers union members, wearing red shirts, attended Wednesday’s meeting.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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