Updated, 11:34 a.m.: Minor edit to clarify the context of the 2015 Mike Lyons email advocating Steven Adamowski as the choice for a new superintendent.
NORWALK, Conn. — As the Norwalk Board of Education touts great improvement in its school system, two union leaders say morale is plummeting among the workforce.
“It’s not even about working conditions, it’s about the way they are being treated as people,” Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) Vice President Tony Ditrio said, as part of his complaints about Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski.
Talk at a recent NASA meeting “was really all about how depressing it is now and how they don’t feel that anyone cares about what they do, or cares about what they think,” Ditrio said. “None of the people who work in the school district, the majority of them, they don’t feel good about working here right now, and they are well paid.”
The Board hired Adamowski to be a hard ass and go after people, Ditrio said, citing a May 2, 2015, email sent by then-Chairman Mike Lyons to Board members Mike Barbis and Bryan Meek, endorsing Adamowski as the “certified ball-buster” needed to “clean this shit up.” The email was part of an exchange inspired by a surprise $500,000 Special Education cost overrun.
“You don’t get good results when people are feeling like they are being mistreated, and no one cares. They can try to hide it all they want, but that’s what’s going on,” Ditrio said.
Asked about Ditrio’s assertion of low morale, Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon, in an email, said:
“With 900 certified teachers in twenty buildings, there are many different experiences of working in the district. However, like Mr. Ditrio, the NFT is concerned about the plummeting morale in the district. Our members are working to achieve ambitious district goals with limited professional development, resources, and support. Research shows that school change efforts and staff morale are heavily impacted by the disrupted relationships, trust, and priorities associated with high administrator turnover, such as we have had here. Another contributing element is reduced self-determination in professional assignments, such as Elementary teachers being involuntarily assigned to new grades at unprecedentedly high rates. Finally, the scarcity of meaningful collaborative efforts contributes to frustration and poorly communicated initiatives. The NFT is working to gather data on these concerns and will present our findings to the Board at a later date. We wish to work with the Board to improve morale, and help the district move forward with meaningful change so that our students can be best equipped to take their places in the industrial, social and political life of our community.
“We remain committed to our students, Norwalk families, and the work of the Norwalk Public Schools.”
Board of Education members declined to comment.
The Board on Nov. 2, under its previous membership, unanimously approved a two-year extension on Adamowski’s contract, authorizing his employment through June 30, 2020.
“The effect of this will be that Dr. Adamowski will serve for five years as superintendent, which was the original commitment he made when he came to us,” then-Chairman Mike Lyons said, adding that he tried unsuccessfully to get Adamowksi to stay for six years.
“I have to note the tremendous amount of progress that the school system has made with Dr. Adamowski,” Lyons said, noting “very aggressive changes” to the school system, “more changes in a few years than in the previous four decades.”
As examples, Lyons listed the strategic operating plan, the three-year plan to fix special education and plans to build new schools.
“The changes continue and they are bringing concrete results,” Lyons said. “Closing the achievement gap by a third is drawing, as Dr. Adamowski just mentioned, attention from charitable foundations from around the state. … They think, ‘This is a place we want to invest money into, these people are actually changing things.’”
“We played musical chairs in Norwalk with the superintendent’s seat for so long that we needed that degree of stability, (Adamowski) is delivering it,” Lyons said. “I very much look forward to his continuing on to December of 2020.”
“The progress our schools have made over the last two years in raising the bars is a team effort,” Adamowski said, thanking teachers, support staff, school leaders and the Board.
Ditrio said he doesn’t think Adamowski will stay the two years.
“He never stays anywhere,” Ditrio said.
Adamowski’s resume shows that between 1979 and 1995 he did four four-year stints as superintendent, moving through four states. He spent two years as a senior fellow in Indiana and then two years as Delaware Assistant Secretary of Education, before becoming superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools in 1998.
In 2002, Adamowski “abruptly resigned” from that post, CityBeat reported at the time; however, the Hartford Courant puts Adamowski’s more recent tenure as Hartford superintended in a different light.
“In the past 25 years, just one Hartford superintendent has served longer than three years and eight months on the job: Steven J. Adamowski, the brash leader who took over in fall 2006 and retired from the district in mid-2011 after pushing through the city’s education reform plans,” the Courant reported on Sept. 6, 2016.
NFT Vice President Joe Giandurco spoke to the Board on Tuesday, welcoming new members and asking that they honor their campaign promises “to listen to the entire community, to build relationships”
It’s an “extremely exciting and challenging road ahead,” as “major strides” have been made but “major challenges” are ahead, he said, listing a “lack of communication and a negative perception,” as well as a need to repair the Special Education department and the relationship with SpEd parents, and “sick buildings.”
“The middle school redesign continues to leave a lot of unresolved problems and issues in its wake as it transforms the district,” Giandurco said. “We have mounting legal bills and issues which continue to drain valuable resources from our classrooms. The settled state budget does impact Norwalk to the negative, if only in a slight manner. We will be forced to make do with less. The Board faces strained relationships with its workforce. These issues haunt our great school district and impede its progress … I extend my hand in an offer to help this Board come together and build consensus and work with everyone for the betterment of our students. Partnering with us will foster a relationship of collegiality rather than one of contempt.”