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Terminated Head Start site director slams Norwalk Housing Authority

NHA Head Start 16-0112 Norwalk  (20)
Being fired by the Norwalk Housing Authority was the best thing that could have happened, Sheila Magyar said.

NORWALK, Conn. – “Atrocities” occurred at the Norwalk Housing Authority’s Head Start program on a regular basis, according to a former site director.

Sheila Magyar was terminated by the Authority in June.  She was refused unemployment but appealed and won.

In July, Magyar sent an anonymous email to Norwalk early childhood officials and a state public health official. In August, Magyar sent the letter anonymously to NancyOnNorwalk.

In December, the Administration for Children & Families (ACF), Office of Head Start, suspended the Norwalk Housing Authority’s Head Start program, leading NoN to contact the anonymous informant.

Magyar agreed to go public.

She had been smashing her head against a brick wall when she worked for NHA, she said.

“They came in too hard, too fast, and they thought they were big and they were going to be able to run it and they knew nothing about early childhood education. Nothing. They kept too many people from the old regime,” Magyar said. “How many changes are you going to be able to make when they weren’t running it properly before and these are the people you are leaving in place to show you how to run it?”

The anonymous email had been sent to the Office of Head Start, she said. No one ever contacted her, she said.

An excerpt:

“I have never in all my years of employment (not just education employment) worked for people who are so self-serving, uneducated, vindictive, backstabbing, liars, cheats, and who will throw anyone under the bus to save their own ass (excuse the language). They hide information, change information, put blame on innocent people, never take responsibility for their own actions, and in overall if you’re not in their ‘click’ of staff that worked under N.E.O.N. for years then you are free game for them to throw any and all garbage your way. … If you do not sit in the director’s office and pray & preach their gospel then you are also on the outside (& I mean literally they pray & yell in there like they are in a Baptist church…yelling “AMEN” “Hallelujah”, etc…). I have always thought there was legally a law about separation of church & state, but either way it still makes for an extremely uncomfortable place to work if you don’t follow these beliefs like they do.”

The email continues with an explanation that she had gone to work for Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) as a Head Start teacher, was shortly thereafter promoted to management and told it was her field and to figure out the job herself.

When ACF suspended NEON’s Head Start program, CDI Head Start of Denver – a company that specializes in running programs on an interim basis – hired her, she said.

“I thought it was great working under CDI because they really know everything regarding Head Start, so I was beginning to actually learn many things that I sadly was not aware of under the regulations & standards of Head Start,” she wrote.

“I was sorry to hear that CDI would be leaving, because when I found out the Housing Authority was taking over it truly made me nervous,” Magyar said. “I do not live in Norwalk, but had heard several rumors that the housing authority could not properly run housing, so how in the world would they run an early childhood head start/school readiness program? I decided to leave because I thought it would be a bad choice professionally to stay on. I said my goodbyes on the last day of CDI, but when I got home I received a call from Patricia Marsden-Kish asking me to reconsider. She said with my education (I have 2 masters) and experience that they really would like me to stay on. I explained my fears of them not knowing this ‘business’ so to speak, keeping on several staff that in my opinion should not be kept, my salary was also rather degrading for my position/positions, and she assured me all of these things would be reviewed & taken into consideration because they were going to have a top notch program! Well once again I was played for a fool because none of this happened.”

Marsden-Kish still works for the Housing Authority, Executive Director Curtis Law said last week. He promised to have Marsden-Kish call, but the call never came.

Magyar’s long email continues with an account of going to work for the Housing Authority.

“Norwalk Housing Authority (NHA) were adamant that this was not N.E.O.N. and that we would all be drug tested, interviewed, and they would be running a quality program where the staff get paid (there was a lot of discrepancy with pay in the end of N.E.O.N.),” Magyar wrote. “Well I must say that the only truth to their immediate take over statements were that we would be paid, and blame it on ignorance but that should have given me the clue to run as fast as I could. After starting though I could not collect unemployment and I do have a family to support, so now I was trapped in what was probably the worst experience in any company I have ever worked for.”

“I will go on to explain more in detail the shadiness, out of compliance, horrific leadership, lengthy hiring process (incorrect & out of compliance for working with children), and downright cover-ups that the wonderful NHA and their newly acquired head start/school readiness program has been doing for over a year. I have been documenting what has been going on since I started because I realized that one day I may need proof if I was suddenly terminated because they needed a ‘fall guy’, and alas that is where we are today. I will just make bullets of several things that I have documented & witnessed, but you may contact me at any time to discuss if you would like.

  • “Several staff left at the takeover & we did not have enough staff for classroom & ratio coverage. Teachers gave up there lunch breaks on a daily basis.
  • ”Not enough management so I was doing the work of education, disabilities/mental health, & center supervisor
  • “Management kept from prior entity or rehired that do not know the first thing about running a program this large, or in actuality training new management in their roles & responsibilities …
  • “Children constantly moved to other rooms & the proper combination forms were not being completed regularly, leaving 1 teacher by herself w/10 children because there were not enough teachers, denied children when we had a certain number & would go over ratio so they were not allowed to come for the day (kind of like first come/first serve)
  • “Besides myself, upper management would not cover lunch breaks or bathroom relief breaks (called teacher relief) in a regular manner so staff gave up taking a lunch break. Lunches could have been given if management just pitched in. I ran around the building like a chicken with its head cut-off to ensure teachers & aides could at least go to the bathroom. A teacher once had an accident because of people not giving relief by claiming they were too busy, in a meeting, or they just wouldn’t answer their phone. I was constantly told just tell us where you need help & when I did it went in one ear & out the other. They would forget what class they were supposed to cover (then ask the teacher to give up his/her break), make people wait too long for teacher relief, or would only cover during nap time because they didn’t want to be in a class if the children were actually awake. … unbelievable in a program about children!!!
  • “Management hired that do not have degrees or education to be in the position they are in. {names removed}
  • “Health content area never up to date. ... Our nurse consultant came to me practically on a nervous breakdown because there were expired physicals, expired medications (even Epi-Pens), incorrect medical plans from doctors, incomplete forms from doctors, missing signatures, etc…When this was brought up to health manager she just said she feels uncomfortable excluding children because their forms are incorrect or expired and she forgot to remind them in a timely manner. THIS IS A MAJOR VIOLATION WITH OEC!!!! She was just spoken to by the DIRECTOR JANICE JOYNER to get it done and keep on top of it from now on!!!! No write up, no disciplinary action, but we could have been shut down if OEC came in for an inspection and found this out. Oh wait Janice did ask me why I’m not on top of this when it’s not my job because they constantly make you responsible when there could be trouble, so it doesn’t come back to her or {name removed} when they are clearly above me, and know all the regulations (or are supposed to).
  • “ALL STAFF not trained in their roles & responsibilities (proof from the last bullet). No staff handbook given for teachers or management, but if something is not correct they will definitely put the blame on you or someone else as long as it is taken from them.
  • “No leadership from director, or NHA in any aspect of the organization!!!! The director Janice Joyner does not seem to clearly know her role between that of Patricia Marsden-Kish because she can’t seem to make a decision without clearing it or getting it overturned by Patricia. She speaks about God at managers meetings and ‘All Staff’ meetings which is so inappropriate. She asks people to pray, speak to God for help & guidance, and in actuality she is the one who should be giving the help & guidance. She does not let the organizational chart flow correctly and intervenes when she feels like it or she personally knows the staff (she has worked with several people for a long time & knows them personally outside of work). She does not separate her personal & professional life, reprimands staff that she doesn’t like or know personally & lets others do whatever they want, and she yells & picks on those that she feels she has power over or are weaker than her. Here is another example of what she said to one teacher who decided not to take the position of becoming an education manager: “Teacher said, I am declining the position because I don’t think it’s worth it for the pay they’re offering me. It’s not much more than I make in the classroom. Janice replied, I am disappointed in you. I am with my pastor now & we are casting out the demons of those that don’t want to be on my team. Maybe because of this attitude this is why your son is sick all the time.” UNBELIEVABLE!!!
  • “Ratios are constantly going over every morning between 8:15-9:30 in several different rooms. I made managers & Family advocates (FA’s) constantly aware their help was needed at these times. I did the schedule at the front desk so I could use that aid in a class to help because others would complain if they were asked. I would do this on regular basis because I got sick & tired of asking for help, or being told ‘Why are you using Adriana, Lilly, FA’s for coverage? They have work to do & can’t do it if you use them in classrooms.’ My response, ‘Ratio & coverage are one of the most important things that we need to take care of, & I can’t do it alone.’ When I spoke up like this I got attitude or was told I needed to adjust my attitude. Even our T/TA person that only came to the sites periodically questioned why I was always at the front desk, but it was because I got sick of asking, practically begging for help. There were days that I would cover at the desk 3-6 per day…
  • “There have been several incidents not reported, or incidents reported but staff not being terminated like myself. Last year a teacher left her classroom with 11-12 children with a parent and they just wrote her up…no report was made & they did not use their ‘zero tolerance’ and terminate her. Another teacher threatened a child, she said, “if you hit me I’ll hit you back & if you kick me I’ll kick you back.” She was terminated, but it was not reported (& they had just offered her a promotion to education manager when it had been rumored she was like this in her class, but just hadn’t been caught & others were afraid to report her). Another teacher was terminated with no prior write-ups for a supervision issue, but this was not reported. Two teachers & the education manager Adriana Fuchs were involved in a supervision issue last October…It was reported but staff involved were only written up as a verbal warning…no termination yet again! At Ben Franklin site 2 teachers were involved in a supervision issue, again reported, but no teachers were terminated. A teacher left children out of ratio to run to the bathroom, she was caught red handed by me & the decision was made to terminate her because it was her 2nd incident. An aid that thought she might get in trouble changed her story & they reinstated the teacher, but alas it was not reported within the 12 hours even before the aid changed her story. The incident I was held liable for involved at least 10-12 other staff & 4 of them were managers besides myself…one teacher was terminated along with myself, but nobody else was even written up. Call me ignorant or naïve but I only followed the pattern of what my “supervisors/leaders” have trained me to do, and that was speak to someone above me (Patricia Marsden-Kish) who told me it was not reportable. I quote (give or take a word) what she said to me, ‘Mr. Law & myself have been discussing why we always have to report on ourselves & we feel that not everything is reportable and we shouldn’t always be turning ourselves in so to speak.’ It was only because someone from the community said they saw the child at the playground next to our school that they decided to cover their asses & report it a week later. Right before I was terminated another supervision incident happened at BF including 2 aides & the education manager…it was reported but nobody was terminated. These are just several examples of incidents, but there are more…too many to list.

Law said he had no idea what Magyar is talking about. Joyner doesn’t work for NHA anymore and he would not provide contact info for Joyner, he said. NoN attempted to contact Joyner through Facebook but there was no reply.

The email continues:

  • “Children with behavioral concerns have been suspended from the program or the threat of suspension has occurred. One child in particular who is being raised by his grandparents was of serious heartbreak to me…it was wrong to exclude him, so I came up with a plan to put a 3rd person in the class until he went to his share placement program with Norwalk public school. It was one thing that made me remember why I was there, and the first good thing I was happy about in a long time. This affected my schedule by pulling a staff for 3 hours a day, but no matter what complaints I received from education manager, & other managers (well if we need that staff for coverage you’re going to have to pull him & grandma will have to pick up child, etc…) this was the right thing to do. We are not only in the community to help for financial purposes of the families we serve, but the emotional stability as well, especially in regards to children with special needs….EXCLUDE THEM…have them picked up for “bad behavior”, this is not why I went into this field!!!
  • “The education manager at Ely does not even come close to knowing her role or responsibilities. {paragraph removed}
  • “The salaries are not consistent with teaching staff and management. I held on for almost 1 ½ years with the promise of more money only to find out that the person the hired in my previous position of disabilities/mental health made almost $15 more per hour than me. {… details removed…} This does not make for a happy working environment for staff, children, or the families we serve.
  • “People have been hired without proper clearance from fingerprints & background checks. I personally met with {name removed} regarding another matter & she asked me if I knew the address of the police department in my area because my background check kept coming back for incorrect address , and I was already there for about year (give or take a month).
  • “They do not go over policies & procedures with anyone… they just tell you to sign or else…then use you that against you later… ‘Well you signed this or signed that you received them so that means you agreed or understood!!!’
  • “I also was involved in doing timesheets, and do not believe that everyone was paid properly out of the separate funding sources. Management should be out of all & I do not think it was done that way. Aides did breaks in several funding sources and that was not always separated in the payroll system if they did not fill out their timesheets correctly, or forgot what breaks they did in which classroom from the beginning of the pay period. I know I sorted through them but after they left my hands I do not think it was entered into payroll properly because they don’t know who works where or gets paid from which source…I think this is a serious area that needs to be looked into because this is where the last entity had their problems.”

The email continues with references to the “good old boy” attitude.

“They are closing classrooms & moving children again because they don’t have enough staff, ratios in the mornings are dangerously high (25 children with only 2 staff, etc…), staff having to give up lunch breaks again, more staff being fired for supervision issues, staff being suspended for reasons that don’t make sense, and so much more!!! I struggled for too long, made myself physically sick, and became an emotional basket case in my frustration to make things better. I will gladly admit I was relieved to be terminated even if it was just to cover their own asses. I am not sorry that I am gone, but I am sorry that the staff & community will continue to suffer under their so called ‘guidance & leadership’.”

Magyar, in the recent phone call, said that the woman who replaced her has since been let go. Law confirmed that.

Many “good people” have left the Housing Authority, Magyar said.

“They’re all good people, I don’t make judgements,” Law said.

“All I know is (Magyar) was the site supervisor, there may have been things she should have done,” Law said.

Magyar detailed the circumstances under which she was terminated.

She had been at the desk in the Ely center, she said, when she heard an announcement that a child was out of the Head Start area. She ran outside, but the child was soon apprehended.

She was far from the first manager out of the building, she said.

“They were all outside well before I was even told there was an incident,” Magyar said.

Marsden-Kish was in charge, as Joyner was out of town, she said. Marsden-Kish told her not to write up the incident, saying she had been talking to Law and they were frustrated that they had to report everything, she said.

She did as told, and did not write it up, she said. She went on vacation, and when she returned she was told that she should have written it up, she said. Someone from the housing next door had seen the little boy outside the area he was supposed to be in, and she had been thrown under the bus, blamed for the problem while she wasn’t around to defend herself, she said.

“To me, when you have an incident, the first people on site are supposed to report it,” Magyar said. “… When your supervisor tells you not to do it, you don’t do it.”

She won three appeals and was granted unemployment payments, she said.

She provided NoN the paperwork to prove these claims.

She waited three weeks after being fired before writing the above email, she said. She wanted to make sure that, “I am not writing this out of anger, I am not writing this out of vengeance, I am writing it to get it off of my chest and let the rest of my baggage go,” she said.

Life is much better now, she said.

Magyar said she now travels the country as a consultant, reviewing Head Start programs.

“I realize now how badly run the Housing Authority is. These programs I have gone to are unbelievable. Things make sense, things are cohesive, people communicate and there’s actually an order,” Magyar said.

“It’s been the best thing ever that has happened to me,” Magyar said. “I just feel bad because there are some decent people over there. Just the ones that are not. They could make so many improvements if they just teachers more opportunities… They had some really good people and now people are leaving left and right, and they are losing the good ones. They really are. One woman, she’s one of the best teachers I have ever known, and she just left.”

Comments

14 responses to “Terminated Head Start site director slams Norwalk Housing Authority”

  1. Kathy Gallagher

    This is the gift that just keeps on giving, the NEON Fiasco. No one from that organization should have been retained. The Housing Authority couldn’t do its own job and should never have gotten this one – Norwalk politics at its finest. She sounds more like a disgruntled employee than whistle blower, but these are the issues cited in its shut down.

    Stepping Stones has a great early childhood program. Did they make an application in the past? And would they even touch it now?

  2. Carlotta

    My daughter was in that program now she is seventeen , last year my older daughter try to put my grandchild in the program and this lady who was in charge of the application lost our documents like 3-4 times , after several call and some time pass by we went back and told us that we need to reapply because they change manangment and she gave us another application and told us that we need to get all the documents again, so that what we did and when we went back she was not in the building and we gave the application to tha lady who was in the front desk when she saw the application she told us that we had the wrong application that they did not use that anymore We told her who gave it to us , and even this lady put her name and phone number in a sticky yellow note in front of the first page , so ,the person in charge of the front desk that day apologize and gave us the right application , long story short my grandchild never attended head star they never call or anything.

  3. EveT

    Reading this makes me beyond angry. Our kids deserve a competently run program. How on earth can kids learn to be responsible, competent citizens if this is the environment and the example the so-called adults are providing?
    And it’s my tax dollars, all of our tax dollars, being used.

  4. Sheila

    Not disgruntled just needed to get it off my chest & move on Kathy…. But the rest you wrote is correct, even about Stepping Stones.

  5. Sheila

    Oh yeah and remember I wrote this 7 months ago & because of their current situation was asked if they could use it & I said yes.

  6. Christine M.

    Maybe I’m missing something, but why is the Housing Authority running Head Start? Shouldn’t Head Start fall under the Dept. of Education?

  7. Sheila

    In the final paragraph I want to clarify that they should be giving teachers more opportunity for growth. I also want to clarify that the they have not lost all the good staff. There are many excellent teachers, assistants, aides, & family advocates that are still there but with the poor leadership & guidance it makes it hard to stay & that’s why many have already left. The only good thing left there are these staff members!!!

  8. tony

    We should have Norwalk Kiwanis club take over this from norwalk housing

  9. ARC

    I can vouch that this information is true. Unfortunately, my mistake was deciding to work as an intern at this program. While I went in thinking I would be able to learn something about early childhood education and feel more prepared entering the work place in only a year or two, I took nothing from this place except the few friendships I made who told me to never work there even if I was offered a job. I am a college student and have no professional experience working in educational programs, and was confused as being a new hire several times and was told by several employees that I was better than half the people working there already. There were multiple incidents of classrooms being out of ratio and certain managers would close their doors and avoid answering their phones instead of offering to help. I’ve only volunteered at daycare centers and worked as a head camp counselor, and even I know that ratio is a pretty basic concept and I was dumbfounded that these professionals with years of experience could not grasp it. In addition to that, I would wind up getting stuck at the front desk answering phones as well as addressing patrons coming in instead of being in a classroom or working with management like I was supposed to as stated in my learning agreement. Just as a volunteer/intern, I felt as though I was on a more professional level than most and my time there has set me back rather than excelled me forward.

    There is so much drama in this place and I was never given work to do by management after offering my services several times within the time I was there. I was not given guidance by most of the management and felt belittled rather than supported during my time interning there. The only people who helped me throughout this internship were the Site Director, who was not even supposed to be responsible for me, and an outside mental health consultant. DO NOT INTERN HERE. I’m warning you, you will not take anything out of your time working here and I’ll give you the advice that was given to me by several employees. Get out while you can!

  10. Keep It Real 100%

    Why do we keep allowing this, just say no to the NHA, and when you mention NEON remember Mr. Mann?
    Well he is now the treasurer of the local branch of the NAACP, you cannot make this stuff up, wonder how that will play out over time.
    It sounds as if the same “take care of your buddies” theme is rampant in this organization.
    Einstein said it,the definition of insanity; repeating the same things over and over and expecting a different result.
    @Jane in a previous thread in regard to you telling me to simply ask for the financial information from NHA, I did that on Jan. 13, have not heard back as of yet. I’ll give it another week and get back to you.

  11. Left Brain

    Yes …. Remember Joe Mann and how his questionable tactics brought NEON down and by extension Head Start. […] Some time ago, he spearheaded getting me “fired” from a job I knew better than anyone. He did it because my political views clashed with his and he made sure I lost my pension. Karma’s a bitch and I know it will come back on him. Too bad these beautiful little people suffer for the […] likes of him.

    This post was edited to remove personal insults and attacks, as per our comment policy.

  12. Blind Sided

    The teacher that was accused of threatening was a very good teacher and never got into any trouble about this issues ever. If they were so threatened by the staff why did they keep on their staff and even prompted her seems a little odd when Janice had a say in weather this person got the job. Yet they lost a good teacher because I have had serveral famliy members in that class and the teacher was AWESOME……………….
    What did that staff have on them that they were so threaten by this staff?
    All they do is lie over at NHA and tell a bigger lie

  13. Mrs. Ruby McPherson

    Mr. Mann did not miss manage Neon, it was after he stepped down. Bring in Patricia Pheases was a mistake. Why bring someone in who don’t know what she should and have to rely on others who guide her wrong. Money was there. If not how was Pat able to give other people an salary increase. Herbet Grant who sign the check for the Stamford Loan to CTE, Chip Anderson just to name a few. Its not just those agencies, but once people found that they could get grant money instead of using in kind work. Look around at all of the non profits and see who gets big salary for what they claim is there passion for helping people. Take away grant funding and see what happens.
    Excuse the spellings

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Ruby

      Then-Mayor Richard Moccia stopped the NEON $1.3M city grant based upon a 2011 audit showing NEON, under CEO Joe Mann, mismanaged or mishandled more than $400,000 in government funds intended for Head Start. Pheanous-Wilson was brought in after Mr. Mann resigned and, as we reported, saw that the money was not available but continued to staff and run unfunded programs. After she left and Chiquita Stephenson took over, the spending continued, paychecks were written on an account with no money to support them, and NEON continued to try to place the blame for its woes on Mayor Moccia for cutting the funding.

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