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Ditrio: Norwalk SpEd adminstrator’s woes are due to Adamowski’s ‘harassment’

An excerpt from documents submitted in the lawsuit filed by former Special Education Director Christina Fensore against former Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons.

Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) Vice President Tony Ditrio. (File photo)

Updated, 5 p.m.: “No comment” from Brenda Wilcox Williams.

NORWALK, Conn. – A Special Education administrator, blamed for costing Norwalk significant funds, is appealing to the Board of Education to reverse actions taken by the school district.

The hearing on the grievance filed by Sara Legister and the Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA), alleging unfair labor practices, is tentatively planned for Dec. 7, Board of Education Negotiations and Personnel Committee Chairman Mike Lyons said.

Although the grievance dates to a July letter accusing Legister of several procedural violations that were alleged to expose the district to legal claims, with a resultant 10-day suspension without pay, NASA Vice President Tony Ditrio said the attack on Legister is part of Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski’s effort to fulfill a promise he made to then-Board Chairman Lyons when he was interviewing for his post leading Norwalk Public Schools.

“They basically promised to get rid of all the ‘Special Ed’ people that were here, before Adamowski got here,” Ditrio said Wednesday. “Lyons asked Adamowski to do it, Adamowski promised to do it. He said he would do it by the end of the first year. Sara happens to be one of the last ones left.”

An email obtained by lawyers representing former Special Education Director Christina Fensore in her lawsuit against Lyons backs up that claim, with Adamowski promising in December 2015 to replace most members of the current Special Education management team.

Adamowski was hired in June 2015.

NPS has been going after Legister for a year, Ditrio said; the effort has been sporadic due to transient Special Education Department leaders, but, “they keep bringing up charges. we refute them, they bring up new ones. They just keep harassing the poor girl.”

“It’s the same stuff Chrissy Fensore is blamed for,” Ditrio said. “I don’t know how many more people they are going to blame for it but it’s the same out of district kids, the same issue, it’s been going on for 20 years…. Adamowski is fulfilling his promise to Lyons. The only other person left is Joe Russo, and, I don’t know, they must have made some deal with him because they are not bothering him. Then again, he is not an African American female, is he?”

“I won’t comment on the Legister matter because it is still before the Board,” Lyons said Wednesday in an email. “I readily admit, however, that fixing Special Education has been a priority of Dr. Adamowski and the Board, and fixing something that was as broken as Norwalk SPED (for 20 years, according to Tony himself!) would likely involve personnel changes.”

Legister is responsible for all of Norwalk’s out of district placements, four elementary schools and the Department of the Visually and Hearing Impaired, carrying a heavier workload than other administrators in the same or similar positions, NASA states in the Sept. 6 grievance.

NASA complains that Legister received no performance evaluation in 2015-16 – no goal setting, no end-of-the-year review, no formal or informal observations – yet in August the newly-hired Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Lynn Toper immediately put Legister “on a support plan despite having no direct knowledge of Ms. Legister’s performance and no evaluation from the previous school year on which to rely.”

Toper’s exit a few months later forced Legister and other SpEd administrators to absorb extra duties, NASA states, and Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo “failed to properly implement the district’s evaluation and support plan during the 2016-2017 school year.”

No end-of-the-year evaluation and review, etc., as required by Connecticut General Statutes, Connecticut Guidelines for Educator Evaluation and the Board’s own policies, NASA states, alleging that Legister was disciplined without just cause.

“Contrary to what is alleged in the written reprimand, she did not commit the procedural violations alleged against her by the district. The allegations are either false – such as the accusation that she failed to hold a proper PPT meeting with all necessary parties, which meeting was, in fact, held – or can be attributed to the violations committed or caused by other individuals,” the complaint states.

There was no pre-disciplinary meeting in which Legister could discuss the allegations that were contained in the July disciplinary letter, NASA states, alleging that although there were meetings in April, May and June, those allegations were not presented.

Rather, at those other meetings, Legister presented written explanations for other allegations, NASA states.

Ditrio said, “She is sitting there in a room, poor girl, she doesn’t even know what they are charging her with. The first time we sat down, when they had these charges, they didn’t even give us the names of the kids or anything.”

Assistant Chief of Talent & Director of Labor Relations Anthony Shannon, in an October letter denying the grievance as part of the Level 1 process, dismissed NASA’s complaints regarding the lack of performance evaluations.

“I could find no causal connection between those claims and the demonstrated errors,” Shannon wrote. “Ms. Legister has been working for the Board since 2010 in the same special education administrative role. I have not investigated the evaluation process of Ms. Legister, however even assuming that your claims were true, for the claimed school years, it would do little to explain the deficiencies in performance that resulted in the 10-day suspension.”

Claims of a lack of due process are hard to believe given the three meetings held with Legister in the presence of union representation, he wrote.

“Lastly, you claimed that Ms. Legister did not actually make the errors that are alleged,” Shannon wrote. “However, there was no documentary evidence presented to validate this claim. For example, it appears Ms. Legister authorized the outplacement of a student without convening the appropriate multidisciplinary team with knowledge of the student’s then current performance and/or abilities, who would be authorized to make such decision…. This particular student cost the district  more than $74,000 during the 16-17 school year and we still cannot be certain that this was a necessary expense.”

Adamowski, in the Level II part of the process, also denied the grievance.

“The evaluation process of certified administrators is not subject to collective bargaining or the contract grievance process. Deficiencies in Ms. Legister’s evaluation process in 2015·16 claimed in the Grievance are not relevant to the reasons for the suspension,” Adamowski wrote.

Adamowski also mentioned the three meetings and said, “as a result of due process the number of incidents for which she could receive disciplinary action were reduced as she was afforded ‘the benefit of the doubt’ in several instances.”

Legister wasn’t at the hearing, but Ditrio “provided wide-ranging testimony punctuated by editorial vitriol, in support of his contention that the errors made by Ms. Legister were someone else’s fault,” Adamowski wrote. “However, in the absence of Ms. Legister’s own testimony, most of his attestations regarding current and former special education administrators must be considered ‘hearsay evidence.’  It is important to note that at her disciplinary hearing Ms. Legister acknowledged ‘making mistakes’ in connection with the incidents for which she was disciplined.  Based on the evidence that I have reviewed, it appears Ms. Legister made the stated errors and has at least in some cases admitted responsibility.”

Ditrio said Wednesday that Legister’s problems were part of this administration’s pattern of harassment.

“I was at a meeting where Adamowski lit into her in a way that is so unprofessional, he even told her she was sick too much.”

Legister has a condition but hasn’t used up all of her sick days, as other people have, he said, asking, “How do you tell somebody you are sick too much?”

NoN reached out to NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams for a response on Adamowski’s behalf. “We don’t comment on personnel matters,” she said.

NPS is blaming Legister for decisions that can only be made by a SpEd director, and was initially was accused of costing the district $450,000 to $500,000, Ditrio said.

“It was all stuff I had gone over with Toper, when she got here,” he said. “It had nothing to do really with Sara. We had to defend ourselves, we showed she wasn’t responsible for any of that. … They beat her up, berated her, really treated her terribly, then no one ever said, ‘Oh, sorry, I guess we were wrong about that.’ They just looked for more things that they could do.”

NPS is trying to break the union, by forcing arbitration costs down its throat through an ineffective grievance process, wherein the current Board of Education just rubber-stamps whatever Adamowski says, Ditrio said.

“Lyons should be famous for costing the district $1 million, rather than saving it,” Ditrio said.

Lyons, in a Wednesday email, said, “The ‘break the union’ comment is typical Tony hyperbole; we recently and peacefully negotiated a renewal of the NASA contract with practically no argument – that’s hardly the action of a Board trying to ‘break’ a union.  But holding that union’s members accountable to high standards of performance?  That’s something no one’s tried to do for many years, and clearly the union doesn’t like it.  They had better get used to it.  The days of running the Norwalk Public Schools for the benefit of its employees rather than its students are over.  We will treat our employees fairly, but will hold them to high standards focused on improved student performance.  That’s our bottom line.”

Legister Grievance Documents

61 comments

Sue Haynie November 30, 2017 at 6:40 am

Tony Ditrio, as is his right, is doing his job as the Vice-President of NASA, namely, protecting adults irregardless of the needs or best interests of children.

Tony Ditrio when President of NASA had issues with Dr. Marks and Dr. Rivera and now Dr. Adamowski. All three of these NPS Superintendents put Students First.

Mike Lyons: “But holding that union’s members accountable to high standards of performance? That’s something no one’s tried to do for many years, and clearly the union doesn’t like it. They had better get used to it. The days of running the Norwalk Public Schools for the benefit of its employees rather than its students are over. We will treat our employees fairly, but will hold them to high standards focused on improved student performance. That’s our bottom line.”

Norwalk Board of Ed and Dr. Adamowski, keep up the good work.

Marie Marsh November 30, 2017 at 7:12 am

Ditrio is a staunch liberal Democrat. So of course he’ll dispute anything any Republican (i.e Mike Lyons) says. {…}He was Principal at Kendall for over 15 years and was always referring to “my” – building, secretary, custodians, Vice Principal. {…}
Edited to remove sections that ascribed motives

Angel November 30, 2017 at 7:13 am

Dr Adamowski and BOE, keep up the good work! Kudos to you all for not letting these education destructors get in the way of moving Norwalk forward! (Although it may move faster if certain people would just leave you all alone!)

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 30, 2017 at 8:43 am

Thank you, Nancy, for ample coverage of Mike Lyons’s emails. It never gets old. Maybe you could call it Lyons-gate, like the movie studio, but with a twist so NoN doesn’t get sued.

Too bad the uncovered emails don’t serve the needs of NASA’s Dittrio. Not sure how much Dittrio made when he worked for the district or how much it cost us to get him to retire, but you have to admire his gumption. Sounds like he would happily throw kids and taxpayers under the bus to serve the union’s needs. And right now those needs seem to be to force the NPS to continue to pay incompetents.

Legister approved a 75k out placement without convening the proper multidisciplinary team. She received a ten day suspension. But Dittrio objects to the idea that an employee with a poor performance history should be let go. Maybe the district can pre-pay Legister for all her sick days and ask her to stay home. Might be a cheaper option for Norwalk than allowing her to keep outplacing students. Dittrio could even help draft an early retirement plan using his own experiences for guidance.

TONY DITRIO November 30, 2017 at 10:40 am

Sue: I am insulted by your comment that I am, ” Tony Ditrio, as is his right, is doing his job as the Vice-President of NASA, namely, protecting adults irregardless of the needs or best interests of children.” It is so typical of you when you have no real defense of your own position to say something that has nothing to do with the actual facts of the case but rather just goes negative on someone. I have never put the interests of the children after anything else. Just because I am a union member does not make me evil or unaware. I realize that the issues related to the Special Education department areSuperintendents and Boards. The NASA members have not been in the position to make policy. This is just more of blaming someone else for the problems at the top.
As far as your claim that I did not get along with Dr. Marks and Dr. Rivera, they are without basis in fact. I considered both of them well intended and wanting the best for the students. I worked hard with both of them and both worked well with me. Dr. Marks even tried to bring me to Central Office as her Finance chief. Dr. Rivera and I worked very closely on puting a student’s social emotional needs centerstage in our work to change teachers. The day Dr. Rivera left was a sad day for me and the Norwalk Public Schools. I was hoping that the Board was serious about continuing the work he started. Unfortunately Dr. Adamowski has not supported any of Dr. Rivera’s work.

The only thing I want to say about Mr. Lyons is that everyone should read his own words in his e-mails with Mr. Barbis and Mr. Meeks. He says quite a bit in public forums and even fooled me the many times we met to try and work things out . I was shocked to see how vengeful and full of hate he really is. The one e-mail attached to this article is just one small example that I wish would get printed on this forum.

WOW November 30, 2017 at 11:18 am

It is not right and unethical what they are doing to Sara. She is a great, caring administrator. She is efficient at her job and always put in the effort the best she can. Clearly, administration had a plan and are following through. Why is administration going after the wrong employees? Trying to understand the logic. It seems to me there is more to the story and there is an agenda.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 30, 2017 at 11:34 am

Sue is on point. More please @Sue Haynie. The 2015 CREC report (pre-Adamowski) basically said Sped was broken and that the lunatics were running the asylum. The district was out placing students they might have able to serve in district. Nancy covered this issue in 2015. Margaret MacDonald, who headed the 2015 CREC study, in her BOE presentation that December reported that decisions regarding which children should receive services depended upon “whoever screams the loudest.” Mr. Lyons emails are nothing compared to these internal flaws and outright abuses. In fact Lyons’s emails show a dedicated and frustrated public servant trying to do right by the students with both hands tied behind his back thanks to the unions who protect the weak and discourage the strong.

Mr. Ditrio, attacking Sue Haynie for insulting you isn’t exactly a defense. I heard Mr. Rivera left because of front office problems with weak administrators he could not fire and not BOE problems.

TONY DITRIO November 30, 2017 at 12:31 pm

Donna:
You state in your comments that, “Legister approved a 75k out placement without convening the proper multidisciplinary team. “. I want to let you know that this is not a true statement. We gave the Superintendent information and testimony that this claim was false. This never occured and there was no extra cost to the District. The placement fo this student was done two years before the alleged improper meeting. Please do not take the word of the Central Office as being true without an opportunity for the other side to respond. If you actually knew the role I have played in getting rid of poorly performing administrators then you would not speak so harshly of me. You never met me and know nothing of my work. It is easy to condem someone just for being a member of a union or not agreeing with your own opinions. The Board has the bully pulpit and they have taken advantage of it and playing on the fears of the Norwalk taxpayer. Maybe you should be more upset that Mr. Lyons has cost the Norwalk taxpayers $160,000 so far for an act that any lawyer would have known was not the proper thing to do. He did this not to protect Norwalk but to just be mean.

Brenda Wilcox Williams November 30, 2017 at 12:35 pm

As NASA’s paid representative, Mr. Ditrio’s personal attacks violate the level of civility we teach our students and that we expect in public discourse. This behavior needs to be regarded as a vestige of the past, and despite it’s inaccuracies, deserves no further response from the Board or Superintendent. We’ve made great strides in developing an effective, professional school system, and we plan to continue making progress for Norwalk, as outlined in our Strategic Operating Plan.

Skyler R November 30, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Wait, didn’t Tony Ditrio retire? Was he not paid an “incentive” to retire “early”? What is he still doing there?

Reese November 30, 2017 at 12:59 pm

@ Skyler … what Tony does best… Obstruct progress.

In my opinion… this guy was a plague on NPS for years….and apparently still through his Union responsibilities. {…}
Edited to remove an insult.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 30, 2017 at 2:02 pm

@Tony Ditrio, no one—not even Mike Lyons—has the energy to run for election to the BOE and serve on the BOE as chair just to write mean emails.

My statement about Legister failing to convene the proper team before outplacing was taken from a quote in the article from Anthony Shannon. Your rebuttal should be addressed to him.

Bryan Meek November 30, 2017 at 5:24 pm

What’s with this claim of Mike Lyons costing the district $1 million? I chair the Finance Committee and there is no such expenditure past or planned. Without listing all his initiatives, Mike actually has saved the city several millions of dollars already by having executed on competitive bids for janitorial services and bus contracts just to name a few things. Also, Mike Lyons is an unpaid volunteer. I think someone like Mr. Ditrio, who has his own taxpayer funded compensation, north of $120k a year full pension plus generous payouts for early retirement to the tune of $200k, not to mention other perks, is confused about what saving the city money while delivering quality education actually looks like. His early retirement alone has cost us more than the Fensore litigation has to date. And it is Ms. Fensore who has caused those costs, not Mr. Lyons. She filed the suit, not him; her lawyers have tied up our staff in knots on abusive FOI requests and at great expense, not Mr. Lyons. Her lawyers have driven up our defense costs with overkill discovery requests — all over what? Mr. Lyons objecting to endless cost over-runs and ineffective special education services for our students? For those of us who live in the fact-based world, it is those like Mr. Ditrio who are the problem, not Mike Lyons.

TONY DITRIO November 30, 2017 at 7:41 pm

I just want to say that I retired after 47 years with the Norwlk Public Schools, not exactly early retirement. As to my pension, that is what is due to me for my 47 years under the State retirement plan and was contributed to by me and the State.

I am not a paid employee of NASA or the Norwalk Public Schools. I have the same right any other taxpayer has to speak my mind. I have lived in Norwlk for over 40 years.

Thank you Tony November 30, 2017 at 8:00 pm

Keep this fight up Tony. It is refreshing to finally have someone speak up and put a different (real) perspective on these situations that get painted in the public eyes as so fantastic.

Jason Waldren November 30, 2017 at 8:44 pm

First of, the fact that The BOE is picking up Lyon’s attorney fees and he picked his own counsel is horrifying when my son sits in a class of 25. Why are we playing these games? Let’s get this right once and for all. Are we paying for Frank Costanzo’s sexual harassment case as well?

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 30, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Thank you BOE for doing what you do voluntarily on behalf of the NPS. Excellent schools are good for everyone—kids, families, homeowners and taxpayers. This is thankless work. Please know that we appreciate your efforts and recognize that you are often in the crosshairs trying to do right for city and its people.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 30, 2017 at 9:28 pm

I would love to know what these pensions look like after 47 years of contributing in the low single digits while the taxpayers did the rest.

Lisa Biagiarelli November 30, 2017 at 11:10 pm

Point of clarification: there are two different collective bargaining groups (“unions”) in Norwalk that use the acronym, NASA. There is the Norwalk Association of School Administrators, and there also is the Norwalk Assistants and Supervisors Association. The Norwalk Assistants and Supervisors Association includes about 50 professional city hall, DPW, library, health department, public safety, and other employees: the assessor & assistant assessor, director of I.T., chief building official, dispatchers, engineers, youth services director, zoning and conservation officials, human relations director, tax collector (me), and so on. The two groups are separate and unrelated.

Bryan Meek November 30, 2017 at 11:45 pm

The average Social Security payout in 2017 was $17,000 for the year. At that bracket Medicare costs a little over $100 a month. This is the effect of paying 15.3% of wages into a retirement system. In the alternate universe of public sector positions you earn 3/4ths of your final year’s salary adjusted for a whole host of other payouts and lavish benefits. On top of that Governor Malloy has forgiven 50% of the taxes you have to pay on teacher pensions. What a system. Too bad it won’t be solvent for anyone left in it right now.

Disheartened parent December 1, 2017 at 6:28 am

As a parent of a child receiving special education services in NPS, I am saddened to read this article, particularly the characterization of Ms. Legister. Sara was one of my child’s administrators, and the way she is being described in this and other articles is a far cry from the Sara that I worked with as a member on my son’s team.

Sara was always professional and never engaged in the name calling and bullying that other sped and NPS officials engaged in. Before Sara was a member of my child’s team, I left almost every meeting in tears, as I was treated with such disrespect, the outcomes of PPTs were very often pre-determined before I even arrived and was allowed to participate, decisions were based exclusively on costs rather than appropriateness, etc.

This is not to say that Sara gave away the bank, so to speak, as seems to be implied here. Rather, she and I often disagreed over what defined appropriate services, and most times it was her view (along with other team members’ decisions) that won the day. But, when we disagreed, Sara was always respectful, took the time to listen, and worked hard to gain an understanding of my perspective, at a minimum.

I have found Sara to have been professional at all times, and I say that as a taxpayer and as a parent.

Bryan Meek December 1, 2017 at 8:33 am

A little more research here. NASA, not to be confused with other city departments bargaining unit, last filed a form 990EZ was for tax year 2010. This report shows Mr. Ditrio’s compensation for 2 hours a week @ $3200 for the year. It’s not clear what officers compensation is now since they stopped filing the short forms and went to the least transparent of options.

http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2011/061/445/2011-061445199-07ccfa15-ZO.pdf

Since then NASA has only filed form 990N, which has no information on it other than the declaration of under $50k in revenues and maintenance of non profit status.

Hardly transparent and very questionable considering its membership are forced by state law to join its ranks and have dues automatically withheld from their paychecks.

In 2010 this amount was $45k.

As long as NASA has under $50k in revenues, it makes sense to file the post card 990N to save some money for all the legal bills they must incur. Who knows as this use of taxpayer funded activity is legally protected from disclosure even on form 990EZ.

Isn’t it wonderful to live in CT where some are more equal than others. Being paid by taxpayers to bash volunteers who are trying to fix things. Taxpayers, who you can then squeeze more money out of by taking the money you’ve already taken and fighting for even more of the pie. Lather, rinse, repeat, and watch the state go down the drain at the same time.

Mary C December 1, 2017 at 9:34 am

I am posting this comment in support of Sara Legister. I have known Sara for several years in her capacity as a tireless worker for NPS who balances the needs of all parties while keeping the needs of students first. Despite a caseload that is extreme, she keeps a positive attitude, is ethical and honest, a hard worker, and most of all has compassion for our children. Speaking as both a parent of a special education student and a taxpayer, we are getting more than our money’s worth with Sara as an employee of NPS. NPS needs more employees like Sara who genuinely care about our kids!

Seasoned December 1, 2017 at 9:34 am

@Donna trashing public pensions is old news/broken record/too much time on your hands. Want info? Everything you ever wanted to know and more is publicly available online (unlike many private sector compensation packages). Did you know that CT educators don’t get full social security benefits they earned from other employment because of GPO/WEP? Did you know that years ago CT opted out of social security for educators so towns and cities didn’t have to pay a % – believing instead that a good state-administered pension system would be better? Did you know that CT educators (unlike public safety employees) have major limits on their post-retirement employment? When you lived and raised and educated your children in Westport did you engage in the same kind of negative activism which is frankly getting wearisome?

Bryan Meek December 1, 2017 at 10:38 am

CT teachers do not get social security benefits because they do not pay into it. Pretty simple and pretty fair.

Also the average teacher pension payout for 2016 from TRB was $51k with full health care benefits. Social Security averaged $17k and you have to pay for Medicare out of that.

However, many teachers do have side employment during summers and other, and into retirement before age 65 that does pay into social security and if they meet certain thresholds can draw social security benefits from there.

Regardless, the TRB will become insolvent before SS does, so we’ll see where we end up thanks to a legislature that has kicked this can down the road for the past few decades.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 1, 2017 at 11:29 am

@Nancy, I too have excellent sources, in this case you.

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2017/09/fensore-case-reveals-2016-norwalk-city-hall-tensions/

Scroll down to one of Mr. Lyons’s emails in which he refers to Manny Rivera as a true visionary who nonetheless was cowed by the “Four Horsemen” and left. That was the basis of my suggestion that Rivera left NOT because of the BOE but because of NPS personnel problems, particularly entrenched administrators who were not working in concert with the NPS to raise the bar. There may have been personal reasons as well, but the fact that he went elsewhere after leaving NPS suggests that his personal reasons were nudging him in more readily productive direction perhaps.

By the way, now that Mr. Lyons’s emails have been aired out for all to see, I would like to award style points for referencing both Herculean labors and Revelation in a single email. I wish all the emails I wrote and received were as chock full of allusion and metaphor.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 1, 2017 at 11:32 am

@Seasoned, there is no such thing as “negative activism”. There is activism that some don’t like and then, in an effort to discredit, characterize as merely negative as opposed to relevant.

Also I use my name. If you’d like to know what I did in Westport and what kind of activism I engaged in, look it up, or ask Nancy for my email. Realize of course that insodoing you may have to remove the mask that allows you to tar others with such ease and without consequence.

Debora Goldstein December 1, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Mr. Rivera had a history of stirring things up and leaving at almost every previous system in which he worked. When we hired him, many were predicting he would up and quit. He did. When he left, many predicted he would do the same at his new employer. Now it appears he has done so. Whether he is a visionary or a change agent is a matter of opinion. Whether he is a serial quitter should no longer be in dispute.

TONY DITRIO December 1, 2017 at 12:22 pm

I don’t understand what Mr. Meeks’ point is? I thought we were discussing what I charachterized as unfair discipline of a public employee. The articel was about the fairness of these disciplinary actions. Instead of addressing that issue Mr. Meeks and several other chose to talk about my service to Norwalk and my retirement benefits. I guess when you have no way of disputing my facts you must resort to character assassination instead. Mr. Meeks does not know me nor does he have any understanding of what I did in my various roles in the Norwalk Public Schools. Somebody must have thought I was good at my job and was worthy of moving into various high level positions. Any position I received was at the recomendation of the Superintendent and the vote of the Board. I was also fortunate enough to be elected by my peers to lead our professional organization. It is also this role that somehow has negated all that I have done by the sheer fact that I served as an elected union officer. It is hard to hear Norwalk citizens that are bitter about my salary. I certainly did not enter the teaching profession to get rich. Mr. Meeks is an angry man who continually rails about public employees. Teacher/Administrators do not get there due Social Security benefits because their teaching work is not a Social Security position. Many of us have earned Social Security benfits through other employment. This is where the unfairness comes in. It is also true that a spouse would not get benefits upon the death of the spouse because of their teacing. When I started teaching in 1969 I was paid $7,000/ year. I made more then taht working part time as a movie projectionist. Much has changed over the close to 50 years. Teachers are finally getting paid a fair wage for the jobs they do. Mr. Meek should stop being upset at teacher pay and be more concerned with the students and teachers in Norwalk that need his support. It is sad to see that whenever I choose to speak my mind that I must endure these personal attacks but that will not stop me from speaking up. I guess that I should understand that when someone can not disprove your statements then a personnal attack must soon follow. To those that choose to attack me through being anonymous, shame on you for being so cowardly!

Bryan Meek December 1, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Tony, you know I can’t talk about a pending case.

I was addressing your assertion that Mike Lyons has cost the district a million dollars. THere is nothing factual to substantiate this claim.

I was factually pointing out other costs to the district, which is public information.

I’m sorry you had to endure such hardship and low pay throughout your early career.

While we are here, is there any reason why your Non Profit Entity you help control no longer posts information about the dues you collect and how you spend that money?

Skyler R December 1, 2017 at 3:29 pm

@Tony Ditrio — you sure like it both ways!! You attack with impunity but can’t take the heat … if you want to go on the attack, I think you should be prepared to receive it in kind. It is a two way street. You can’t have it both ways.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 1, 2017 at 4:00 pm

@Tony Ditrio, this is your story already. It begins with your name. Within the article you imply that the loss of Fensore and Legister were racially motivated and premeditated. Those are very serious allegations. You use the word “harass” as in “they just kept harassing the girl.” You pulled the pin from the grenade and are now surprised that it blew up.

Evan Levinson December 1, 2017 at 10:54 pm

Bryan: Do you NOT understand why teachers/administrators (such as Mr. Ditrio) deserve and earn the pension for which they worked?
AND – OF COURSE, Ms. Fensore filed the lawsuit; not Mr. Lyons. Why would he? She had a reason to file this suit.

MarjorieM December 1, 2017 at 11:59 pm

Thank you, Tony, for your service and your dedication to Norwalk Public Schools as a teacher, a central office supervisor and as a principal. Additionally, thank you for protecting teachers and administrators who publicly get berated all too often on this forum. One would think these administrators are rock stars earning millions of dollars when reading the comments about their “enormous ” salaries. It must be highly embarrassing and humiliating for them to be excoriated in full view of students, parents, colleagues and friends. Educators at all levels need to be respected and supported by their superiors. Note to Adamowski and the Board: If you can’t give respect, don’t expect to get it!

TONY DITRIO December 2, 2017 at 9:14 am

There are many reasons why a Superintendent leaves his/her position. The average time for a Superintendent to be in a position is about 3 years. Norwalk was lucky to have several Superintenents that stayed for long periods of time. My first Superintendent was Ralph Sloan. He was here about 13 years. He left when the Board becam political. For most of his tenure Board was not political. Members of the Board were not driven by political particinship. If they disagreed they did so in private but publicly showed a united front. This was a time of great progress for the Norwalk Public Schools. After Sloan was forced out we went through a series of short term Superintendents. The exception was Sal Corda who lasted about 10 years. Since Corda left the selections for Superintendent have been less then successful. There are many reasons for this but I believe that the major reason was the infighting of the school Boards at this time. Both political parties can share the blame for this. School Boards do not play well together and in many cases spend way too much time on personal agendas. If you read the released e-mails and depositions from the Fensore case, it is clear that a few Board members worked in isolation and excluded other members. Contrary to his public statements, it seems that Mr. Lyons admits this in his sworn deposition. The public has been told that all is well with the Board and the schools under Dr. Adamowski are better then ever. I wish this was true. Unfortunately the Board and the Superintendent do a good job of controlling the information that gets out. They take advantage of the issues that divide this country right now and play to fear and prejudice. The teachers and the administrators are not the enemy. We do not prevent change or scare away Superintendents. We care about the students and want the best for ALL of them. They are highly trained professionals that should have more say on how this District is best served for the students. Instead they are told to be quiet, not express opinions and just do as they are told.

Bryan Meek December 2, 2017 at 10:58 am

I suppose if you were consumed with trying to leverage power over the board and the city’s residents even if it means defending repeated insubordination and incompetence, you’d be too busy to notice the unprecedented number of committees working on school reforms and the fruit they are bearing.

These committees are chock full of teachers, administrators, parents, and volunteers working on special ed reforms, curriculum improvements, building modern facilities, and more. They are collaborative forums where ideas are shared, fostered, and respected.

A lot went wrong after Ralph Sloan and we’re still cleaning up a lot of the damage done by past boards asleep at the switch, but we’ll get there not withstanding the defenders of the status quo.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 2, 2017 at 11:08 am

@Tony Ditrio, above you state,”They (the superintendent and BOE) take advantage of the issues that divide this country right now and play to fear and prejudice.” Can you flesh this out? This is a bold charge. As a homeowner who has been encouraged by recent statements that the NPS under Adamowski is closing the achievement gap, I’m concerned that the BOE and superintendent are simply ginning up the stats to make themselves look good. But there are no data and facts to back up your claims. Meanwhile there is real data to back up the claim that the NPS under Adamowski and under Mike Lyons’ BOE leadership have improved. I would not read into reprimands and staff turnover the suggestion that there’s a vast conspiracy led by the Dark Sith Lord Mike Lyons to undermine the NPS. Change agents are often unpopular among the old guard. Continued suggestions that there is something racist or sexist about staff turnover under Adamowski is toxic. When those ideas are tossed around liberally, as you have tossed them around Mr. Ditrio, suggestion quickly becomes belief. Also “highly trained” is subjective on your part. Some PhEDs are exceptional. Some are mediocre. And some are bad, just like MDs. The difference with bad MDs is they are easier to get rid of.

US Blues December 2, 2017 at 11:16 am

@ Disheartened parent: I, too, was met with the same disrespect, demeaning and condescending administrators, psychologists, teachers and principals. I also felt that the outcome was predetermined and they were just amusing me to fulfill their “concern requirement”. Leaving in tears? Hell no, I used to well up and cry during the ppts.

I got my child the private help he needed and hell to the NPS system. I enrolled him in a private school – now I can’t wait to get out of Norwalk.

I knew of one family that realized their son needed help and after going through the first PPT, they immediately sold their home and moved to Wilton… where they got all the support they needed. Needless to say, their son is thriving, growing, learning… without all this disgusting attitude. Westport has the same philosophy as Wilton.

Damn shame about Norwalk and their school system…

US Blues December 2, 2017 at 11:20 am

@seasoned: “did you engage in the same kind of negative activism which is frankly getting wearisome?”

Wow, is Donna nailing it or what? Her comments are neither “wearisome” or “negative activism” – it is enlightening and intelligent. I think you feel threatened and now resorting to school yard taunts.
Just sayin’…

Townie December 3, 2017 at 8:16 am

I have not always agreed with Tony D., but his last email is spot on target. I have been following the activities of the BOE since the early 80’s and have witnessed the very same political polarization that has consumed them, starting will the ouster of Sloan by the young angry republicans in the mid 90’s. Their chosen guru was Victor Herbet……..remember that nightmare? That poor guy and his Arizona ontourage didn’t last a year as a result of the rebellion imposed by the democrats. From that point on, the appointment of new superintendents, along with their stay in Norwalk, has been heavily influenced, if not controlled by party politics. Frankly, I’m very surprised that our current superintendent has survived as long as he has. I hope that this is a true reflection of his performance and not otherwise. I think we can all agree that our children deserve the best we can provide. Like it was in the days long gone, when politics, anger, bitterness and personal agendas didn’t control the school board.

Bryan Meek December 3, 2017 at 10:12 am

The current superintendent was hired on a bi-partisan 3-2 vote (3Rs, 2Ds) and rehired on a unanimous bi-partisan 8-0 (5Ds, 3Rs) vote. What is your point because your politically divisive one is bogus. I find it incredible that the very people who are the primary architects of the discord and chaos have the nerve to act as if they have nothing to do with it. The parade and exodus of past Superintendents was due to weakness in boards that fostered and encouraged insubordinate behavior of highly paid, ineffective administrators. That ship has turned around now and the defenders of the status quo don’t like being held accountable.

Speechless Sped Parent December 3, 2017 at 6:34 pm

The focus of this article is Sara. Can we please focus on the irresponsible slaying of another caring Special education leader. First Chrissy, now Sara. Always a scapegoat in norwalk when you put children’s needs first. These women should be celebrated not disgraced.

TONY DITRIO December 3, 2017 at 10:00 pm

Mr. Meek, it is you who is illinformed. Dr.Adamowski was not a bi-partisan choice but rather the choice of the Republicans and their Democratic allies who allowed a Republican chair with a Democratic najority. This was more the result of infighting then a true bi-partisan selection. Mr. Lyons remained Board chair in order to keep one of the three democratic outcasts from getting the job.
I love when the “staus quo” supporters are used as a reason for everything wrong. This is usually heard from those who do not get there way. Boards started to get too involved in micro managing the school system. Their role is to set educational policy and not to dictate to the staff. This combined with a Mayor who did not support education is what got us into the mess we are in today. Remember the $4 million dolars that Dr. Marks had to pay back and the less than supportive school budgets. That was the main reason Dr. Marks was not successful. Dr. Rivera was on the right track but left for many reasons. The claim by Mr. Lyons that it was the unions that forced him to leave is his owm mere hyperbole. There was never a Superintendent, not even Dr. Sloan, who worked more with NASA on positive change. Dr. Rivera and I used to joke that it was better no one knew how well we liked to work with each other becuase many would not like that. They actually didn’t really want Dr. Rivera anyway. He only got the job when the “hard ass” they wanted from New Jersey turned them down. It is true that the Board wanted once more to hire someone who was a “hard ass” to shake up the staff after Dr. Rivera left. Not the most noble attribute for a Superintendent.
As for the claims of great results, that is another fairy tale. Most of what they claim had nothing to do with their tenure in Norwalk or are a deceptive use of the test data. If anyone really believes that this group gives a darn about the achievement gap then I have a bridge to sell them. Most of this so called reform is putting students who are having trouble on various expensive computer programs that only make the tech companies rich. Dr. Adamowski will do to Norwalk what he has done every place he has been in Connecticut. He comes in, causes havoc, makes outdated reforms and then leaves for someone else to pick up the pieces. Ask them in Windham, Hartford and New London.
NASA does not support failing administrators. It is also true that we are not responsible for the hiring of administrators. That is done by the Board with the recomendation of the Superintendent. We have hired some less then ready for prime time administrtors. When this happens NASA has always worked with the Leadership team to find an equitable solution. What is happenning now is that administrators with good valuations and past support suddenly becoming targets without anything other then someone making unverified claims. Evaluation is not done according to State law and little to no support and guidance is provided. I keep refering everyone to the released emails because they clearly show that there was a list of targets that was developed before Dr. Adamowski was even hired. How was this list was compiled is anyones guess but you can read the emails and see who the targets were.
The shame of all this is that it takes away from dealing with the real challenges that face our diverse school district.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 3, 2017 at 10:25 pm

@Mr. Ditrio, if a group of Republicans and Democrats chose the superintendent, how is that not a bipartisan choice? How many Democrats and how many Republicans would have been needed to make the choice bipartisan?

The district employed you for 47 years and now pays your pension, but you don’t know the difference between “their” and “there”. Please tell us that’s a typographical error!

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 3, 2017 at 10:52 pm

@Tony Ditrio, can you back up the allegation that a December 2015 email in response to the CREC report influenced the June 2015 hiring of Adamowski, or reflects a fait accomli on the part of the so called status quo on the BOE? Short of time travel, there is no logic to support such an allegation.

Also above, you used “then” when the correct word should be “than”. You were an NPS principal, right?

Townie December 4, 2017 at 6:13 am

Mr. Meek. Your comments always seem to be filled with anger and contempt for anyone who might appear to be a bad guy, in opposition, followed by high praise and promotion for you and your good guys. Unfortunately, this has been a quality displayed by some of your fellow colleagues on the Board in some of their past comments directed at the bad guys. Must it be this way.

Bryan Meek December 4, 2017 at 9:46 am

@Townie. Thanks for setting the record straight. According to you, my pointing out of your blatant error with real facts is an act of anger and contempt. Thanks for shining light on the opposition forces we have to deal with. Your response here is a perfect example. Must it be this way you ask? I wish it were not this way, but one thing I have learned is that you can’t sway the opinions of the self interested. I have an easier time rationalizing facts with my four year old kids.

Townie December 4, 2017 at 10:59 am

Mr. Meek, thank you. Once again I am taken back by another of your angry and contemptuous replies. I have been attempting to express my opinions to topics that are being posted on this blog……not pick a fight with anyone. But you seem to be intolerable to comments that in anyway oppose yours. Rather than be what I consider civil, you choose to rant and rave back, in angry, bitter tones, seemingly viewing anyone that may make an opposing comment to yours the enemy. And why must you be so arrogant Mr. Meek, when it is not called for? In ending Mr. Meek, I wish you and your family a Merry Xmas and Happy New Year.

Bryan Meek December 4, 2017 at 11:31 am

I must be writing to a different Townie than the one who said that the choice of our Superintendent was driven by party politics. You are correct, I am not going to tolerate the continued repeating of lies. Your team continues to repeat these lies with the hope that everyone will believe them at some point. Find someone else to pick on please. But, call me angry all you want it won’t change my response. It’s nice for you that NoN continues to support and foster your positions through anonymous postings, but it doesn’t change the facts.

SusanHos December 4, 2017 at 11:34 am

The anger that this BOE and some of it member shows toward the public is laughable. My hope is the new BOE board listens, and respects ALL stakeholders. The taxpayer, the teacher, the student and experts. This anger is one sided and directed at the very people charged with caring for and teaching our children.
To Mr. Meek and Mr. Lyons and Mr. Barbis – the 3 change agents please reflect on you behaviors, and demeanor and begin to demonstrate some respect to all of the teachers and parents of this city. You all scream in an echo chamber of your own opinion, will not make it right.

Bryan Meek December 4, 2017 at 11:46 am

Refuting repeated lies with facts gets you called angry by anonymous posters.

I guess if you have no facts, this seems like a useful tactic.

It would be nice for the independent journalist here to actually bother looking into who benefits from all of this. The unpaid volunteers or the permanently entitled.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 4, 2017 at 11:51 am

Unrelated to the substance of the article is a tendency to view strongly worded opinions or statements of fact as angry, lacking civility, and filled with contempt. Maybe I’m boorish and insensitive, but I have read through Mr. Meek’s earlier response to Townie. Upon examination of the entrails, I can find very little in the way of visible anger or contempt in Mr. Meek’s response to the claim by “Townie” that “anger, bitterness and personal agendas control the school board.” That was a bold claim by “Townie” and it deserved a bold reply. Meek’s reply was more civil than Townie’s intimations merited.

It would be challenging for anyone to have an adult conversation on a news blog with an anonymous poster who goes by the name “Townie.” The connotations of the chosen pseudonym do not invite serious discussion. And the holiday greetings at the end of the last post seem huffy rather than sincere.

SusanHos December 4, 2017 at 12:18 pm

@Donna,

If you have ever attended a BOE meeting the tone, bitterness and contempt displayed by some of the BOE is very visual. I attended a meeting in which Mr. Meek left the room as a member of the public came to speak on behave of important issue. If the speaker was right or wrong is irrelevant, but for an elected official to storm off and out of the room is one more feather in the cap of discord displayed by some.
Other members place their head down, exchange text messages and outright ignore speakers. That behavior is disrespectful. That form of behavior does not build relationships it own works to erode them.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 4, 2017 at 12:32 pm

@SusanHos, I was limiting my comments to this thread, specifically the interaction betweeen Townie and Bryant Meek. I did not express an opinion on behavior at BOE meetings. I have not attended a Norwalk BOE meeting. If the behavior you describe is characteristic of this board, then I would agree that the optics are not conducive to an atmosphere of mutual respect. But I was not responding to anything that may have occurred at a BOE meeting.

MarjorieM December 4, 2017 at 5:36 pm

Donna Smirniotopoulos, a comment created on a blog or in response to a media forum often contains grammatical errors. It is considered by most to be petty criticism to point these errors out. The best intentions can lead to negative outcomes when autocorrect takes over! Typos are another problem altogether. Therefore I won’t embarrass you by pointing out your punctuation error when you used quotation marks before the period in your sentence above. That would be petty, don’t you think?

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 4, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Thank you Marjorie M for pointing out that error. I don’t find that petty. I just wish you’d been absolutely correct about the period’s location corrupting the meaning. The MLA says to punctuate inside the closing quote of a word. But the British style puts the period outside the quotes because the period is punctuating the entire sentence and not just the word “their”. The placement I chose was a matter of style. Either way the sentence makes sense.

Also I’m not the 47 year NPS veteran and former school principal that Mr. Ditrio is. Mistaking “then” and “than” or “there” and “their” in a sentence is a relatively grave error when repeated, especially when repeated. The words don’t have the same meaning. “Their” is a plural possessive pronoun and “there” an adverb. Even autocorrect usually picks up this kind of mistake. When I saw the usage errors repeated by an NPS veteran of nearly 50 years in connection with an article in which Mr. Ditrio defends educators against what he terms harassment, I wondered if there weren’t legitimate concerns tied to performance that Mr. Ditrio failed to recognize, just as he failed to recognize the difference between “there” and “their” above. All better now?

Skyler R December 5, 2017 at 7:13 am

Love you Donna!
The old school — Ditrio, MarjorieM, Townie, SusanHos — they think they know it all. The funny thing is they love to dish it out but they can’t take it.
The fact is that NPS is changing, the old guard has lost control and progress is being made. The old guard is kicking and screaming and Ditrio is probably their loudest leader but their fiefdoms no longer exist ….they used to complain on NorwalkSpeaks but they’ve now moved on to NON as their last gasp.

Joanna Cooper December 5, 2017 at 9:02 am

I’m confident that Sara Legister’s grievance will be settled in her favor. I met her when she started working for NPS about eight years ago and she has been one of many central office SPED administrators I have worked with. Sara is a professional. She possesses a comprehensive understanding of the SPED system and the unique history and challenges of Norwalk SPED. She sees through the lenses of various perspectives: administrator, teacher, mother and minority. She has a deep understanding of SPED laws, procedures, of disabilities and their impact on learning and “appropriate” service deliver models. Sara is kind and considerate to parents, students and staff alike. She took the time to get to know her students and understand their unique needs. I do know she was absent at times but she often worked hours beyond the work days she missed. She is great with communication. While the union maybe guilty of defending the “status quo” Sara Legister is not a “status quo” administrator in any derogatory sense of what that means in Norwalk.

She is the most senior administrator left and has been there longer than Joe Russo, the only other one. She is the only minority administrator in the department and we need quality minority staff representation. We are lucky to have her in Norwalk. The rest of the central office administrators are new (2-3 years max) hired by Dr. Adamowski and Mike Lyons’ BoE. I’m thankful new SPED staff were hired. We needed them. The office was close to empty. I agree Sara was tasked too many jobs for one person. “Legister is responsible for all of Norwalk’s out of district placements, four elementary schools and the Department of the Visually and Hearing Impaired, carrying a heavier workload than other administrators…” I know she had other additional schools that were not listed here. I imagined she had been given the extra jobs because there wasn’t anyone around to take them before all the new hires. Sara had numerous huge jobs with massive paperwork involved in each and every case.

I don’t know what Sara’s procedural mistake may have been regarding the issues here but I can understand how a “mistake” could happen with an impossible case load like hers in a department with a history of being a mess and in constant transition. I do know that Sara has integrity and she is a hard worker. She knows how to do her job very well. I highly doubt that she cost the district more money with her error alone. Sara is too smart and detail oriented to make a $74 thousand dollar mistake. Doesn’t sound like the Sara I know at all. I think it would be a tragic loss for NPS if Sara Legister were let go. She is an asset to the SPED department. I don’t think Dr. Adamowski is “harassing” her. Things will work out for her.

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

About Nancy

Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.