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West Rocks controversy intensifies as some cry ‘witch hunt’

Supporters of West Rocks Middle School Principal Lynne Moore rally June 19 at Norwalk City Hall.

Updated, 9:43 a.m.: Copy edit

NORWALK, Conn. — It’s possible that West Rocks Middle School will lose both its principal and its vice principal before school resumes Aug. 29.

Embattled WRMS Principal Lynne Moore attended a pre-termination hearing last week and WRMS Vice Principal Joe DeVellis is scheduled to meet Monday with Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo.  Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) Vice President Tony Ditrio believes that DeVellis will be shifted to another school.

“Dr. Costanzo did not say what he was doing but rather that the meeting was to discuss Mr. DeVellis’ 2018-19 assignment. He also mentioned that he should have a union rep, which means he is probably planning some kind of involuntary transfer,” Ditrio wrote.

Ditrio added that a shift would be “out of the blue” and called it “part of the harassment plan that has been put in place,” for certain school leaders including Moore.

Ditrio has previously blasted Norwalk Public Schools administrators and Board of Ed members, in December charging that morale is plummeting among school staff.  Ditrio also accused Board of Education members Bryan Meek, Mike Lyons and Mike Barbis of ethics violations after testimony in a lawsuit brought by a former employee revealed that some board members were excluded from communications.

A group of Norwalk parents, upset about the possible removal of Moore and DeVellis from WRMS, is set to meet Monday with Mayor Harry Rilling, who is ex-officio the chair of the Board of Education.

Parents hope “to discuss our displeasure with this administration’s misguided and bullying attempts to thwart the success of WRMS’ leadership positions (Dr. Moore and Mr. Devellis). They are on a witch-hunt!” wrote David Young, a West Rocks School Governance Council (SGC) member, in an email to NancyOnNorwalk.

“This development has generated much concern throughout the community. When citizens ask to meet with me, it is my obligation as Mayor, to meet with them,” Rilling wrote Saturday, explaining that he’s discussed “this ongoing issue” with Adamowski previously and was contacted by an SGC member asking for a meeting.

The parents also plan to rally outside City Hall, said Blaire Anderson, who organized the June 19 rally in support of Moore.

DeVellis is “a great asset to West Rocks,” Anderson wrote, describing him as “dedicated, devoted, extremely knowledgeable” and “a key part of the foundation that holds the school together.”

She continued, “That Central Office is attempting to remove the Principal and simultaneously reassign the Assistant Principal, all within 4-5 weeks before the start of a new school year, shows their utter disregard for the students at West Rocks.”

Anderson believes “Central Office and the Board of Ed are more focused on their mission to change the administration at West Rocks to people who are fully aligned with their way of doing things, than on the best interests of the students. It’s all very concerning, on a lot of levels.”

Young, who spoke at the June 19 rally, echoed Anderson’s thoughts about West Rocks leaders and wrote, “Dr. Adamowski should look inward at his own instead of trying to railroad and create silent tow-the-line subordinate leaders of his schools.  His reputation is one of destruction not forward thinking and continuous improvement…. He wishes he had just an ounce of what these people have brought and continue to offer our community!”

“David said it well,” wrote Dan Koppel, another parent who spoke June 19. “I would just like to add that Dr. Moore and Mr. Devellis actually care and aid in the education of our children.  What Dr. Adamowski and the BOE are doing by cutting positions and defunding programs does just the opposite.  How can you trust the administration at city hall that acts with impunity and clandestinely operates only to hurt the children of Norwalk?”

Barbis on Sunday deferred questions about DeVellis and Moore to Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski, “who is responsible for the evaluation and assignment of administrators,” Barbis wrote.

Norwalk Public Schools Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams has said NPS cannot comment on personnel matters but on Friday answered a question about DeVellis by writing, “Administrative assignments are reviewed every summer and changes are made as needed. Improving instructional capacity and academic performance of our middle schools has been a focus under our Strategic Operating Plan, and that has resulted in some assistant principal assignment changes in past summers.”

The parents “feel that the current {WRMS} administration is exactly what the school needs to keep our students happy and safe, and to continue the academic progress that the school has made in recent years,” Anderson wrote to NancyOnNorwalk.

The Next Generation Assessments for 2016-17, the most recent school performance results that are available, give WRMS an overall accountability rating of 70.3, up from 64.1 in 2015-16.  In Norwalk that rating is second only to Roton Middle School’s overall accountability rating of 73.2, up from 67 in 2015-16.

Some attribute the progress at WRMS to interventions, an Adamowski-led initiative. West Rocks interventions were specifically mentioned in August as a strategic operating plan goal that had been met.

Moore reportedly met with Adamowski on June 19 to discuss her employment. Moore and Ditrio went to City Hall on July 16 for a Loudermill hearing, a pre-termination hearing for a tenured public employee, sources say.

Moore faces five charges, Ditrio said.

“I can’t give you the exact charges but I can say that they involve issues that should be handled in a much less formal way.  They all have to do with implementation of the Middle School Redesign plan and were initiated by {Interim Chief Academic Officer} Craig Creller,” Ditrio wrote.

Moore was sent four letters of reprimand between 2009 and 2016, with then-Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera, then-Superintendent of Schools Salvatore Corda and Dadonna each accusing her of insubordination.

“In none of those letters was any form of discipline involved,” Ditrio wrote. “They were merely expressions of a difference of opinions.  I believe that only Dr. Corda met with Dr. Moore before writing the letter.  Tony Daddona was ordered to write the letter before he left.  I am pretty sure that Dr. Rivera’s letter was the result of being told to go to West Rocks and inquire about Dr. Moore.  Dr. Rivera was probably given the same marching orders as Dr. Adamowski.  It was clear to many of us that Mr. Lyons was not happy with three minority Board members and their positive relationship with Dr. Moore.  Dr. Moore was never disciplined until Dr. Adamowski came to Norwalk.”

Ditrio, who retired last year from his post as Kendall Elementary School principal, said that in his 50 years in Norwalk education, “we never terminated any administrator.”

Terminations are done in accordance with a process outlined in state statutes, he said.

When was the last time the administration reassigned a principal?

“The last time ‘recently’ was when they moved the Cranbury Principal downtown (2015), before that they moved the Marvin Principal (around 2012) and before that the Kendall Principal (1999).   In each case the school had an opportunity to choose the new principal.  It has always been true that each school should have an opportunity to choose a Principal,” Ditrio wrote.

While Ditrio and some parents view the moves as unfair treatment of devoted educators who ruffle feathers of NPS leadership, others, including some current members of the Board of Education, may believe that these types of personnel actions represent a long-overdue effort to hold school administrators accountable for performance.

Lyons in 2015 wrote to then-Common Council member Bruce Kimmel, “We are really trying to change things here – not to settle for mediocrity any more. You know better than almost anyone what a nest of self-interested old-timers NPS is; cleaning this out is going to be like cleaning the Augean stables.”

Lyons listed Moore in the email as one of the “Four Horsemen” – along with then-Human Relations Officer Bruce Morris, former Deputy Superintendent Tony Daddona and Ditrio – who were part of the “massive forces of the status quo at NPS” who needed to go in order to “break the decades-old logjam and move forward” with reforms.  In the time since, Morris’s position was eliminated and Daddona and Ditrio retired.

Another 2015 email features Lyons complaining that Daddona had given “ALL NINETEEN principals ‘exemplary’ reviews this year,” which “effectively will prevent {Superintendent} Steven {Adamowski} from doing anything to any of these principals for at least two years (of REAL reviews).”

Lyons did not reply to a Saturday email requesting comment.

The State Department of Education threw out all of Daddona’s reviews, Barbis wrote Saturday.

“Those comments underscore the importance of rigor and accountability in the evaluation of administrators,” Barbis wrote Sunday. “We have every confidence in Dr. Adamowski and Dr. Costanzo as they fulfill their statutory responsibilities to evaluate principals.  While Mr. Ditrio may prefer a meaningless evaluation process in which all administrators are simply given exemplary ratings, accountability of administrators and teacher through the evaluation process is appropriate and in the best interests of all of the students we serve.”

“Daddona was criticized for not doing evaluations correctly while Dr. Costanzo has done the same in reverse,” Ditrio wrote. “In Mr. Daddona’s defense he had many more people to evaluate than Costanza {sic} had and many other duties.”

“Evaluation is supposed to be a growth opportunity but they use it as a hammer,” Ditrio wrote.  NASA intends to file grievances on the evaluation procedures used by Norwalk Public Schools, Ditrio said.

“Evaluation is not a subject of collective bargaining in Connecticut and it is not subject to grievance under the NASA contract,” Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis said Sunday.

“Please note that Dr. Costanzo has followed the state-mandated evaluation process with fidelity in all cases,” Barbis wrote. “Ratings are self-generated as a result of goals set for student achievement and other prescribed, weighted factors. This process was not followed prior to 2015-16. The evaluation process is prescribed by State law.”

13 comments

Mike Barbis July 23, 2018 at 7:33 am

Administrators regularly get re-assigned … just last year the Assistant Principal at Roton was moved as was the AP at Ponus Ridge — in addition, the Principal from Briggs was moved to BMHS … these transfers occur regularly and they occur during the summer. That’s the nature of public school administration.

Ditrio knows better and Blaire Anderson needs to get up the learning curve

Sue L July 23, 2018 at 9:52 am

This is so ridiculous. Welcome to the real world, Dr Moore. Finally you are being held accountable for all you have done to hinder teachers and other administration from doing their jobs. Not to mention the damage some children have endured through your leadership. West Rocks needs this change. It’s long over due. Those supporting her is just a small, select population of the community; not a true representation of what the public really thinks.

John S July 23, 2018 at 10:24 am

“Moore was sent four letters of reprimand between 2009 and 2016, with then-Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera, then-Superintendent of Schools Salvatore Corda and Dadonna each accusing her of insubordination.”

So 4 different Superintendents have documented insubordination?

How many teachers have filed complaints/grievances against Dr. Moore? (other than the lawsuit where she is accused of violating a teachers civil rights) https://ecf.ctd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/show_public_doc?2005cv0736-40

Has she ever been terminated from other employment?

I understand parents defending her but I think its clear that West Rocks needs a fresh start.

Long overdue July 23, 2018 at 10:28 am

Dr Moore has had a long history of inappropriate behavior far more severe than the incidences mentioned. It is a shame That someone did not do something to address this issue 10 years ago. That being said I can understand why parents are uneasy coming back to an entire new admin. I am not sure anyone understands the reasons for removing Mr. Devellis . He has always seemed like a good man who supports students, parents, and staff. They should be a little make transparent with the reasons here if his is in fact more than a rumor that he may be moved from west rocks.

Norwalk Teacher July 23, 2018 at 10:36 am

To correct what Tony Ditrio said about Dr Rivera was “probably” given orders to go to West Rocks to inquiry about Dr. Moore: Teachers were in process of filing a grievance for her poor leadership. Teachers pleaded with Dr Rivera to come and do something about the chaos, disorganization, bullying, etc due to poor leadership. Not sure who Ditrio is referring to as who gave “orders” to Dr Rivera, but it was the staff that wanted something to be done.

Change is good July 23, 2018 at 10:45 am

A bully will always get what they deserve in the end. Lynne Moore is due to get held accountable for her actions. I’ve seen first hand the results of her management style and the effect it has in her teachers and staff. A transfer is not acceptable, she should be terminated immediately. Her assistant principal can be transferred but should be closely monitored since he clearly isn’t very effective and allowed her behavior to continue all these years with saying a word. These parents supporting her, the few that there are, are completely in the dark as to what actually happens at West Rocks. There are some outstanding people working at West Rocks who could step into the administrative role and do great things for both the staff and students. Let’s end this dysfunctional dynasty once and for all please.

Teacher July 23, 2018 at 11:44 am

@John S. one of Dr. A’s very own is accursed in Federal Court of violating a teachers civil rights at his previous district, yet the BOE stand by him…

Why I don’t personally know Dr. Moore I due believe whats good for the goose is good for gander. The BOE stand quite

Patrick Cooper July 23, 2018 at 12:15 pm

@Teacher – really? God help our children if you teach “english”. That is a remarkable garble – and quite hysterical it would be in defense of ….. the accursed.

Rick July 23, 2018 at 2:53 pm

Great article great posts this should all brings us back to what others have been saying and suggesting in regards to free press its not free.

Today the NY Daily announced massive layoffs to its editorial team on Monday. They are going to focus on crime, civil justice and public responsibility.

One thing that was said says it all no matter who you are and what you read it hits home.

Former editor-in-chief Jim Rich said “If you hate democracy and think local governments should operate unchecked and in the dark, then today is a good day for you,” he said.

So when thinking about the articles and whats uncovered on a daily basis supporting this informative and sometimes over the top city actions or lack of them we have one thing to say,

Thank you Nancy, today shows what free press is all about , it comes with a price and no one here can do without what you and those who assist you do daily.

https://money.cnn.com/2018/07/23/media/new-york-daily-news-layoffs/index.html

Patrick most of us are lazy when it comes to posting , maybe Bob W will see this and let me offer a dictionary to all donations letting you set the requirements Bob.

Spanish and student dictionaries and large print for those like me who post without glasses for larger donations.

I have a few laying around so first come first serve

Bob let me know if you can work this out with Nancy and critters.

Just think its almost time to think what goes well in a back pack for school soon.

Question July 23, 2018 at 4:41 pm

Could anyone comment on what a vice principal on special assignments means and why he was placed on this?

CT Yankee July 24, 2018 at 12:25 am

My kids suffered the injustice of Moore back in 2002 & 2003. We pulled them out of West Rocks for 8th grade. It’s long past time for her to be shown the door in the most unkind way possible. Call me if you need volunteers to shovel out her personal belongings, I’ll bring the trash compactor.

Piberman July 24, 2018 at 9:10 am

Consider the contrast between the BOE and Central Office Professionals that take employee performance seriously how our Mayor and Common Council do “business”. Always avoiding Prof. Search in favor of soft hires. Hiring an ‘Economic Director” from a small town that doesn’t have any. Hiring a Planning Director from a small leafy town without any City experience. Givinga major salary boost to a Mayor’s assistant with the glorious title of “Chief of Staff”. Imagine if we had professional management at City Hall. We’d all pay lower taxes.

TONY DITRIO July 24, 2018 at 3:07 pm

I would just like to clear up some misinformation from Mr. Barbis. In two articles Mr. Barbis says:
” Administrators regularly get re-assigned … just last year the Assistant Principal at Roton was moved as was the AP at Ponus Ridge — in addition, the Principal from Briggs was moved to BMHS … these transfers occur regularly and they occur during the summer. That’s the nature of public school administration. Ditrio knows better…”

This is misleading at best. The transfer of administrators rarely ever happened before Dr. Adamowski came to Norwalk. It has become a summer practice under his administration. Last summer the Assistant Principal from Ponus was moved to fill a vacant position at Roton. This vacancy was created when they transferred the Roton Assistant to Jefferson in order to give him experience to be an Elementary Principal, a significant promotion. This is how Dr. Adamowski operates. He chooses who to promote and who to punish. The moving of the Principal from Briggs was necessitated when they cut her position at Briggs.
Mr. Devellis is being transferred simply as a form of punishment and intimidation. In all of these moves no parents are ever involved in what happens in their schools. Dr. Adamowski creates Governance Councils but does not ask their opinion on important school matters.
Barbis knows better.

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