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‘Blindsided’ Norwalk parents seek answers after Thursday surprise

A post from Norwalk Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch’s Facebook page: from left, New Rochelle Board of Education member Naomi Brickel, Goorevitch and Debbie Whitman, who has been nominated to be the new Norwalk Early Childhood Center director.

Updated, 1:26 p.m.: Story edited; correction, Mike Barbis, not Mike Lyons.

NORWALK, Conn. –Norwalk Public Schools is poised to fill a vacancy that’s been open since mid-summer – prompting a letter of protest Monday from “deeply concerned” parents.

“We feel blindsided, excluded, disappointed and extremely discouraged by the actions, or lack thereof, by the Norwalk Public School district,” a letter signed “NECC PTO, Inc.,” “The NECC School Community” and “Norwalk SpedPartners” said to Board of Education members, asking that the Board table Tuesday’s appointment of Deborah Whitman as permanent director of the Norwalk Early Childhood Center.

Whitman is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) for the New Rochelle School District, where Norwalk Special Education Department Chief Yvette Goorevitch worked before being hired by Norwalk. 

The job pays $161,000 a year, according to the agenda for Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

The Norwalk Early Childhood Center opened in September 2016, and parents have recently blasted aspects of the program, from classroom sizes and the ratio of special needs children to “typicals” to security issues and safety in the parking lot. Goorevitch has recently highlighted changes already implemented in response to concerns and acknowledged that some issues would take more time to address.

SpEd Partners Co-Chairwoman Margaret Kozlark confirmed Monday that SpEd Partners had been party to the letter; NECC PTO executive Board member Kim Burke-Connors confirmed that the PTO was involved. “NECC School Community is parents/family members of NECC students,” Burke-Connors wrote.

The organizations in their letter said that they had found out that Whitman was selected on Thursday, with no notice from Goorevitch even about the existence of a candidate although the NECC PTO specifically requested to be kept in the loop, and had met with Goorevitch on March 29.

Goorevitch “has professed to embrace collaboration with parents in an attempt to heal years of distrust and disappointment,” the letter said. “Because of this, NECC PTO, NECC parent community and SPED Partners were stunned at the lack of collaboration and communication.”

Two inhouse candidates applied but were not responded to, the letter said, requesting explanations and resumes.

The letter said:

“This hire will be the third Administrator at NECC in the last 12 months. NPS needs to follow protocols and procedures, open their way of thinking and hire qualified candidates WITH input from parents and teachers, not stand-alone decisions from those who are not held accountable. As parents and community members, we are stakeholders in the Norwalk school system and expected to be involved in the hiring process from Day 1 – not one day before the vote is decided by the Board of Education. Clearly, communication and lack of protocol continue to be an ongoing problem, and this is just yet another example.

“We are deeply concerned, on many levels, that no input was given by parents or teachers and we ask that vote be tabled for another meeting so that all the above questions and requested documents be presented. In addition we request that ALL qualified candidates be interviewed for this crucial position.”

BOE Letter – NECC Admin

 

Goorevitch, in a statement, wrote, “The search for the NECC Administrator has been in process since the beginning of the school year. Several candidates were considered and the position was reposted twice. Several internal candidates were interviewed, while others did not meet the qualifications of holding a Special Education Certification and the 092 Supervisory Certification.”

Neither Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis nor BoE Ad Hoc Special Education Committee Chairman Erik Anderson responded to an email asking about the letter sent by the NECC parents.

“There seems to be some misunderstanding of BoE procedures regarding this proposed appointment,” Board of Education Negotiations and Personnel Committee Chairman Mike Lyons wrote.

While the letter said, “District policy states that Principal level employees are subject to meet with a hiring committee (or school governance counsel) {sic} consisting of parents, teachers and central office staff,” Lyons said, “NECC is not a ‘school’ under state law, it has no SGC, and procedures that would be followed by a school with an SGC simply don’t apply to this program.”

“NECC is an inclusive PreK program where students identified for special education receive services for 1-2 years, before they enter the traditional school system.  Although we are fortunate to have a separate center in which to house the program, it is not a standalone school. As a result, the position is that of a director, not a principal,” NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams wrote in an email. “Unlike principals, the position reports to Yvette Goorevitch as Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services. The Board typically vets and votes separately on the hiring of principals and other senior level administrators, so this is not a departure from standard procedures.”

Lyons said that Whitman was selected by Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski, not Board members, and, “there is nothing even remotely unusual about the procedures followed here.”

There’s no consistent process, Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) Vice President Tony Ditrio wrote, in response to a NancyOnNorwalk inquiry.

“NASA is still trying to find out how this process was carried out,” Ditrio wrote. “It seems that the new hiring process is to hire in a secretive fashion that does not include following any consistent process.  This is true even when a governance council is in place and with NECC and Central Office it is even less transparent.  They do have certain contractual obligations to follow that we believe are being violated.  We realize that they can hire who they choose without our consent or support but it is foolish to not include us in the process.  In this particular instance we have concerns about certification and qualifications needed to be a building administrator.  NECC has suffered for two years already with leadership that has no idea on how to run a building.  Does this person have any experience as a building administrator?”

“For some time now, teachers have expressed concerns about communication district-wide, and the scarcity of collaboration in planning and decision-making,” Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon wrote. “NPS staff have had to manage the negative impacts of the turnover of administrators not only at NECC, but also the Curriculum Office, Human Resources, and elsewhere. We believe in the benefits of an inclusive process.”

The late notice to NECC parents “feels antithetical to the communication process,” Ad Hoc Special Education Committee member David Heuvelman wrote to NancyOnNorwalk.

Heuvelman is father to a SpEd student who does not attend NECC, but said NECC parents are “very vocal and frustrated about this process and lack of partnership the district has shown to the parents with this positions hiring.”

“Communication is the key issue that continues to plague our school district,” Heuvelman wrote. “Mostly the lack of good transparent communication between the parents and the district that can help parents feel like partners in this process of finding the best education for our kiddoes, and not combatants in a game of educational whack-a-mole.”

“Confidentiality in a job search is an important prerequisite for attracting highly qualified candidates,” Wilcox Williams wrote. “Candidates who have current jobs are reluctant to participate in an ‘open search’ process. Ms. Whitman was introduced to PTO representatives and teachers at the school today, as is consistent its other searches we’ve conducted.”

The NECC PTO executive board met with Whitman on Monday, Burke-Connors wrote.

“We were appreciative to have the opportunity to meet with Ms. Whitman and had a productive meeting but would have liked both parents and teachers to be part of the hiring process and have met and interviewed the final candidates,” she wrote. “We feel the hiring process has many flaws such as the lack of a School Governance Council, despite multiple requests with the answer being NECC is a program and not a school. It is our hope that the internal processes at central office, specifically the HR policies and procedures be examined and reevaluated. We also hope that this brings to life the importance of open and constructive communication.”

“Qualified candidates in this area are difficult to find, so we are fortunate to have someone with Ms. Whitman’s credentials ready to join us,” Wilcox Williams said.

“Ms. Whitman has spent time in the District, and has met with parents and staff,” Goorevitch wrote. “I know her extensive experience and training as an outstanding special educator, an experienced Early Childhood Educator and a Certified BCBA and coordinator. I have been honored to collaborate with Ms. Whitman for many years as colleagues in Columbia University and in a prior school district. It is without hesitation that I recommend Ms. Whitman for consideration for this appointment to lead our Early Childhood Program at NECC. She will be an asset to the school district for many years to come.”

18 comments

Susan April 17, 2018 at 7:34 am

Wow just wow, what more can be said. Communication issues and Special Education, this district fails so many on these two issues. The fact that leading members of the BOE remain silent is also telling.

Teachers and leaders in this community have been screaming for more open and collaborative communication for months only to be ignored. Maybe now with parents facing the brunt of being dismissed the BOE will change its behavior and open the lines of dialogue.

P.S. The Budget still is not settle, could we still face cuts?

Bryan Meek April 17, 2018 at 10:09 am

Remember all those in depth stories on the nationwide executive searches for city department heads? Yeah, me neither. Meanwhile the city streets are literally crumbling, drains are clogged and not being cleaned, the treatment plant is about to explode from all the new apartments, and our crews are busy picking up lawn signs. This fascination with every little issue inside NPS, while the city steers rudderless, is the essence of fake news.

Parent April 17, 2018 at 12:40 pm

John S: If you think that is low, then you would be floored by what has been and continues to be done to sped children!

John S April 17, 2018 at 1:26 pm

@ Parent…. I don’t disagree with you in regards to the NPS SPED issues. I just think that taking a personal photo from an individuals facebook page and making it the prominent image to the article is a bit low.

Sped Parent April 17, 2018 at 1:29 pm

@Bryan Meek, I find it telling that you describe Ms. Goorevitch’s repeated lack of transparency, collaboration and communication “a little issue inside NPS.” Given the large share of the BoE’s budget that is spent on sped, this is no little issue in that it has plagued Norwalk sped for years and years, and the end result has cost taxpayers so much more money than otherwise would have been the case. (Oh and hurt many, many kids, their families, etc. in the process).

Donna Smirniotopoulos April 17, 2018 at 2:22 pm

The NECC position is not a principal level position and is not subject to the same SGC input. This person reports directly to the Chief of Specialized Learning. If the wrong person was hired, Yvette Goorevitch will have to answer for this mistake. Recognizing that sped mistakes carry both a fiscal and a human cost, the potential danger here seems limited to the realization that Ms. Goorevitch hired someone without first asking permission. She may be permitted to hire employees at this level according to her employment contract. Parents can only feel blindsided if they were legitimately entitled to participate in this specific hire and were presented from doing so. And from what I’ve read, it doesn’t sound like this is the case.

sped parent April 17, 2018 at 4:58 pm

There is never any accountability in Norwalk sped…so the “risk” you identify – Ms. Goorevitch having to answer for her mistakes — is downright laughable. The only ones left to answer for these mistakes are the taxpayers and the kids. What this represents is Norwalk sped’s repeated lack of transparency and trust, which is a disaster for everyone involved. Until anyone understands the real problems, nothing will ever get fixed.

Donna Smirniotopoulos April 17, 2018 at 5:49 pm

@sped parent, was this position one that required parental input in the hiring process? Did Goorevitch actually violate a rule or would parents prefer that their opinions mattered more with regard to hiring? Unless there’s an understanding that sped parents are active participants in the hiring process at this level (not a principal). it is difficult to account for the sense of outrage. How can this be a disaster already? As Bryan Meek noted, taxpayers are not invited to the negotiating table when the mayor hires an assistant or a new department head. We do like transparency in city government and we expect this when appropriate. So the Common Council might approve the creation of a new position for the mayor. But they wouldn’t necessarily put citizens on the hiring committee. I am not sure in this instance it would have been appropriate to invite only certain parents into this process and not others.

Sped Parent April 17, 2018 at 7:45 pm

Donna, once again you miss the forest for the trees as regards sped. As I said sped will never come close to being fixed and it will continue to cost taxpayers much more money than need be unless and until the issues are fully understood.

Donna Smirniotopoulos April 17, 2018 at 9:02 pm

Sped parent, was a rule broken or not? The failure to consult parents on this hire cannot be logically construed as a disaster for everyone involved simply because some who wanted to have a say didn’t get one. I hope Ms. Goorevitch’s choice for the new NECC Director will be the right chcice for the children and the staff, which in turn will make the parents and the taxpayers happy.

Sped Parent April 17, 2018 at 10:14 pm

Donna, I never said that was the real issue; you keep speaking to me about issues I never raised. In the meantime, how exactly would Ms Goorevitch answer for any issues involved in this hiring, if any were to arise? What specifically would that involve?

Donna Smirniotopoulos April 17, 2018 at 11:05 pm

@Sped Parent, you have mentioned the lack of transparency and trust. How do those two issues relate to this specific hire? Earlier you suggested that this lack of transparency and trust is “a disaster for everyone involved.” I’m struggling to get a handle on what exactly you were expecting from the BOE and Ms. Goorevitch when/before the new NECC director was hired, and were these expectations reasonable, given the size of the district and the number of stakeholders (recognizing that there are other who aren’t special education parents who might also want to have a say in who the NPS hire below the level of principal).

Ms. Goorevitch was hired less than one year ago, yet the desire to assail her every move seems to have been acid-etched into the SpEd parent community nearly from the start of her tenure. What’s in it for Adamowski and Goorevitch to screw this up on purpose? It’s not like the don’t know this is a tough crowd.

Educator April 18, 2018 at 9:18 am

@Bryanmeek, why can’t you ever answer for your failed leadership? You consistently redirect and mislead the public, your constituents. Maybe you should stop trying to bankrupt the city with all the SpEd money you are using (or not using) and address the real issues that have plagued the BOE for years.

Susan April 18, 2018 at 9:33 am

The issue continues to be transparency and how the BOE behaves. That the bottom line. Secret discussions made in back rooms don’t allow for openness.

Bryan Meek April 18, 2018 at 9:58 am

@Susan. That’s rich. You hide behind a screen name and accuse the BOE of secret discussions, when everything was done out in the open of last night’s public meeting and on a recorded live broadcast. Fortunately for this city, the small numbers of the perpetually aggrieved and entitled can have their say but not their way.

Sped MOm April 18, 2018 at 3:50 pm

I find it fascinating that while insisting on collaboration from sped parents, the district doesn’t feel this should be a 2 way street. The person who was chosen may indeed be the best choice, but we’ll never actually know, will we?

Susan April 20, 2018 at 9:35 am

I hid for fear out of central office. My screen name allows for me to point out the inaccuracies that you create. Special Education remains a problem, transparency and budgeting a problem.

What cuts will be announced in may? The city provided the funds while you tried to squirrel away more than a million for next year. Finance is the true joke.
The insurance saved the city nearly 3 million, and yet you requested over 9. If the teachers didn’t fairly negotiate an insurance change you would have need 12 plus million. Yet the BOE bashes the teachers and staff and as in favor of the status quo. building projects and programs are over budget before we begin. We roll everything out and then fix. Norwalk builds the plane while flying it.
Give me a break.

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