Norwalk school union leaders warn of declining morale

While some say Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski deserves praise for what Board of Education member Mike Lyons called the “very aggressive changes” to the school district, others say a price is being paid by those who deal with Norwalk’s children every day.

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.”


Sue Haynie December 7, 2017 at 6:13 am

Union leader’s jobs are to advocate for the needs and wants of adult members, and they’ve been extremely successful at it. Too bad parents don’t have a Union.

For the NPS Administration and BOE, the needs of Students must come first. That this creates conflicts, so be it.

As an example of how this strong adult advocacy has trumped students’ needs, wasted time and cost $$$, look no further than SPED:

• A State of CT SPED certification means that educator is considered ‘highly qualified’ to teach Every subject, in Every grade K-12 and in all 13 categories of SPED , this is impossible to do well;
• Tenured staff can’t be required to get additional training, certification, etc. beyond that mandated in their contract;
• Highly likely that a SPED teacher who was certified in CT prior to 2013 had no courses in how to teach reading at their college of education. (35%+/- SPED kids are SLD/Dyslexic);
• School assignment is based on union seniority not student need;
• Perennial shortage of Special Ed teachers (as well as HS math, science, tech, etc) due to union rules, everyone’s paid the same;

These are systemic problems with SPED that are typical not just in Norwalk or CT, but nationwide. It’s what happens when adult interests run the show.

Patrick Cooper December 7, 2017 at 9:04 am

The forever activist Norwalk unions are whining. So very sad for you and your minions, NASA & NFT. I believe it was Einstein (of the bagel company) who advanced the corollary: when the unaccountable are eventually held accountable, morale falls.

No doubt these unions are saying – we are not being treated well. Member berries nostalgia for a time when they made the rules, set their own contracts, put plants on the BOE and inside the administration to assure defeat of any reform, ran every superintendent out of town, and created chaos to assure complacency. It must hurt to know all that is left are the single most bloated compensation and work rules contracts in the state relative to performance. And lest we tax paying parents forget – it’s all about the kids. Riiiiiiiiiiight.

All anyone must do is go back and look at the howling from anonymous posters right here on NoN (or this week, when it’s become DoN) when Adamowski was hired. Hatchet job by Jonathan Pelto and his pro-union anti-reform hacks. This is about the politics of power, nothing else.

The last point is universal: if the staff is so miserable – just leave. I mean, what would compel you to stay – other than the check? Oh right, I must remember – it’s not real, the teachers are fine – it’s just the union leadership that spews this boat-load of overheated oxygen.

Nancy – I know these stories of education, race, unions, and so on – are good click bait. But the substance of this news article falls somewhere between “Xerox HR posts new cafeteria line rules” and “I-95 had traffic today, again”. Tony D complaining is equally newsworthy.

Al Bore December 7, 2017 at 9:46 am

Morale is down because they are all being held accountable for their performance which is about time in Norwalk. I am held accountable for mine and have to prove myself everyday it is called work for a reason. I am sure Dr. Adamowski has no problems with any of his staff that is preforming. High pay should equal high performance.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 7, 2017 at 9:58 am

Most NPS staff are required to pay union dues regardless of how satisfactory they believe their leadership is or how much value they put in the union as a whole. Maybe this is why morale is low. They’re not given a choice regarding a big chunk of their pay. Also the “strained” relationships cannot have been helped by the recent statements and actions of some union leaders.

carol December 7, 2017 at 10:11 am

it’s about time the teachers and administrators were held accountable,they have had a free ride for to long. clean out the trouble makers and dead wood and lets move on.

John S December 7, 2017 at 10:16 am

Do the comments from Mary, Joe and Tony have any substance? Was there a survey done amongst teachers and Administrators or is this just the Union heads complaining?

All of these Union leaders are Pessimists by nature. Just look back at any comment anyone of them has made in the past 5 years. Not a positive comment about anything!

@ Al Bore – Exactly! FINALLY there is accountability and no more hiding behind the disfunction.
In almost every profession you must continually evolve yet NPS was stuck for several years just trying to keep a superintendent in town for more than 2 years.

The great thing about America is you are free to work wherever you want.
If Norwalk is so bad to their employees then go work somewhere else.

Piberman December 7, 2017 at 10:23 am

It’s an old story in Norwalk where until fairly recently the Unions had a seat at the BOE table
And printed a vituperative monthly called Vanguard that skewered the Central Office and the BOE with equal vigor. In Norwalk taxpayers work for the public Unions. Ce la vie.

wineshine December 7, 2017 at 2:01 pm

@ Donna, with all due respect, without the union, they wouldn’t have the breadth of benefits they enjoy, nor is it likely that the average salary of a Norwalk teacher would be north of $76/year for ten months work. I think the overwelming majority of them would feel their dues are well-spent. If they don’t maybe they’re not intelligent enough to hold the position.

Education expenses are 51% of total budget. We spend over $16,000/per student each school year. Norwalk teachers enjoy living wages and benefits This taxpayer wants accountability, performance and positive results. This taxpayer also wants any teacher who’s so wrapped up in the microworld that they think they’re morale is due to anyone’s thinking but their own, to feel free to leave the system.

Enough teacher bashing December 7, 2017 at 6:02 pm

The comments bashing the educators of the city are abhorrent. The salaries in this district are in line with many other districts, but are higher because of the challenges that an urban population present.
Many of the educators in this district have more higher education degrees than their peers in corporate and work for half as much. Those of you saying teachers only work 10 months are grossly out of touch with education as a profession. Imagine if every teacher in town only worked according to their contract- you would be down to 5 clubs in the high schools, no after school help, no field trips, no new programs, no curriculum training during weekends or holiday breaks, no mentoring, and if you really get picky- most classrooms wouldn’t even have tissues because the teachers even pay for those.
Don’t worry though- teachers know which parents are out to support them by the way their children respond in the classroom. The (bad) apples don’t fall far from the tree.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 7, 2017 at 6:27 pm

@Enough teacher bashing, I would be surprised if any decent teacher would judge a child based on his or her opinion of the parents. So if the teachers know which parents support them and they also know the “bad apples” whose parents don’t, do the teaches approach all these kids equally? Do bad apples get worse treatment because their parents are bad? No one needs to bash teachers. Your last sentences come off as an indictment of the profession. I doubt many teachers would endorse its message.

Interesting December 7, 2017 at 9:51 pm

@Al Bore, well said. Interesting how it seems more parents are happy with the changes in Norwalk’s education system while more and more teachers/administrators are not. You hit the nail on the head…..teachers/administrators are finally being held accountable where for years they have skated by. FYI: There are many teachers out there that are also happy with these changes. You still have many teachers in our district that do put kids first. Let’s please not forget that. But it is clear that we also have teachers that do not.

Lauren December 8, 2017 at 5:51 am

I think the blatant lack of respect for teachers on this thread might actually be what’s wrong with the Norwalk public school system. As others have mentioned before the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree

Enough December 8, 2017 at 6:11 am

It really amazes me how out of touch the general public is with how schools operate. Finally teachers are held accountable? Did you not know they have annual reviews like the corporate world? Oh wait but they don’t get bonuses. Or the fact their jobs are 7 days a week between emails, grading, planning, etc. Nope no extra pay past the contractual time. Ah, yes or how about this “great” middle school redesign where 90% of the teachers are teaching new subjects with materials the district threw at them, and said use it without any insight into their opinion on whether or not it’s actually a top quality product? Furthermore, how are teacher loads of 175 students a small learning community? You people bash, and bash, bash teachers to death. Yet, you never once look at it from their perspective.

Skyler R December 8, 2017 at 4:39 pm

@ Enough … no one is bashing teachers. In fact, Norwalk is really lucky to have such a great teacher corps. I think you are totally over-reacting here. But you need to get your facts right … 90% of middle school teachers are teaching new subjects? More over-reacting.

If it is so awful here, please feel free to move on. Based on my friends who work at NPS, most of them are very happy. But Enough, you and Mary and Ditrio can pack your bags!

Interesting December 8, 2017 at 10:34 pm

@Enough…..90%???? Where are you getting that from??? Try more like 10-15%. And don’t forget, teachers cannot teach a subject that they are not certified in. Just because they haven’t taught it doesn’t mean they are not qualified to teach it. Give me a break. I do agree that the SS and Science teachers have it rough. Teaching 160 students may not be an issue, but keeping up with grading, reports, parent contact and maintaining continuity for teaching same kids every other day is the true challenge. Not sure if middle school students are ready for that in a core academic area. I don’t see how these students are getting good quality instruction with every other day.

Just wondering December 8, 2017 at 11:13 pm

I wonder how many internet tough guys are actually responding to this article with actual facts. Unless you are a teacher, how about leaving them alone. How else would you really know morale is down? Because you know “a few” teachers? Wow, that must make you an expert. This banter does nothing for anyone except make the person posting feel better that their opinion is out there

Teachers – keep doing an amazing job. Don’t let these keyboard tough guys get you down.

wineshine December 11, 2017 at 3:18 pm

Just wondering, “tough guys”? Every figure I quoted was the result of research. I know that’s a foreign subjec to some, but you know what? My taxes pay teachers’ salaries, and I have every right to comment as I see fit. How would I know morale is down? Well, the union leaders say so. Are you disputing that? Here are some other tibits: Norwalk HS, unrated nationally. Why? Math proficiency: 14% English proficiency: 36% College preparedness: 28%. No one wants this to improve more than I. But you coddle and accept the status quo, and that’s a big problem. Same old Norwalk.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 11, 2017 at 5:55 pm

@wineshine, maybe some of us need a primer in the new internet vocabulary. A “tough guy” is someone others disagree with whose facts cannot easy be refuted. Other words for “tough guy” are “serial harasser” and a person who “continuously makes false statements.” Notice that in all of these instances, the persons making the charges never actually dispute either facts or opinions with evidence. They dispute with character assassination. We should teach this in debate classes. No need to rebut evidence. Just attack the person’s character and call it a day.

wineshine December 13, 2017 at 9:04 am

@ Donna, ain’t it the truth!! I heard a former Facebook employee on CNBC yesterday opine that social media has given the public a platform with which to dismantle the fabric of society. Some folks out there think that if they just utter the words, “ugh, disgusting” or “racist much” or some other millenial catchphrase, that they’ve actually said something.

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