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Two Board Members Request Duffy Principal Be Placed on Administrative Leave

Ellen Burchill Brassil and Lib Brassil Spinella are also requesting that the West Hartford Board of Education hold a special meeting to publicly receive testimony from Duffy Principal Kathleen Tracy and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen List.

The two Republican members of the West Hartford Board of Education have addressed a letter to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen List and Board Chairman Bruce Putterman, requesting that Principal Kathleen Tracy be immediately placed on paid administrative leave.

Ellen Burchill Brassil and Lib Brassil Spinella, who co-signed the letter dated July 19, have also requested that the Board of Education hold a special meeting so that testimony from Tracy and the superintendent can be publicly heard.

The full text of the letter has been printed below.

The request by the two board members comes in response to a which was delivered to administrators and board members on Monday. It contained the signatures of 90 people, as well as 39 comments regarding Tracy's leadership of Duffy.

Most of the comments were made anonymously. However, some parents agreed to share their stories publicly in a .

Board Chairman Bruce Putterman, who has previously said that this is a personnel decision which is the responibility of the superintendent, said that he is disappointed that this matter has turned political.

"We are not going to conduct personnel reviews in the press or in public. In fact, this Board of Education is not going to engage in personnel issues at all. That is the superintendent’s job," Putterman said.

"Last Friday, the superintendent told all board members, including the Republicans, what Mrs. Tracy had proposed to Dr. List about her future. They each agreed to reflect on that proposal while the superintendent was away on vacation. The Republicans did not object at the time. It’s unfortunate they waited until the superintendent went on a well-deserved vacation with her daughter to object," said Putterman.

In response to the question of whether concerns about Tracy's performance have been raised during the principal's annual reviews, Putterman said he could not comment.

"My understanding of CT General Statute 10-151c is that personnel records can’t be disclosed without the permission of the person whose records would be disclosed. Records of 'personal misconduct' are public records and don’t require permission to be disclosed, but in this case, the complaints about Mrs. Tracy are not about personal misconduct, they are about how she does her job," he said.

"When the dust settles, there will be a post-mortem on every aspect of the process that led to this situation, with the aim of improving the process for responding to parent input," said Putterman.

Brassil said that this issue has been "festering for a long time," and that it is time for the Board of Education to address it. She said the parents she has spoken with, who were willing to speak out, are to be commended.

"This has been a long-standing issue. The board has a responsibility to provide a culture of responsiveness; clearly we have some work to do," Brassil said. "We serve the citizens of this town," she said.

Rick Ledwith, Executive Director of Employee Services for the Town of West Hartford, said that neither he, nor Assistant Superintendent for Administration Tom Moore, nor Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Curriculum Eileen Howley could comment on the letter at this time.

List is currently on vacation out of the country with her daughter, and will return late next week.

The following is the text of the letter which was sent to Dr. List and Board of Education members. According to Putterman and Ledwith, it was received on Friday, July 20.

July 19, 2012

Dear Dr. List, Chmn. Putterman, and Board of Education Colleagues:

As you are aware, in recent days, substantial public attention has been paid to the grievances of many parents of children in the Louise Duffy Elementary School district in regard to the actions, decisions, and relations of Duffy School Principal Kathleen Tracy. We write to you today to impress upon both Dr. List, Superintendent of Schools and our colleagues on the West Hartford Board of Education, the importance of our immediate action to address the concerns of our town’s parents, the petitioning request by parents for Principal Tracy’s resignation, and the policies and mechanisms of the board and administration that govern the Town’s response to these events in the past, present, and future.

To that end, we request that Principal Tracy be immediately placed on paid, administrative leave from her duties as Principal of Duffy School or be given a temporary, alternative assignment of responsibilities. We ask that a plan for Duffy School’s administration during her absence be developed and provided to the Board of Education and to the parents of children who attend or will be attending Duffy School without delay. We believe that the vote of no confidence provided in the petition by parents, and the accompanying allegations and diverse opinion of events and that of Ms. Tracy, warrant her removal pending the Town’s judgment of a permanent resolution and satisfaction that appropriate policy and systems are in place for handling situations such as this. Ms. Tracy’s leave of absence will help to alleviate the sense of uncertainty and apprehension our parents and children might feel if they return to school in little more than a month to find Ms. Tracy at the helm with no clear solution to their concerns.

In addition, we are asking that a special meeting of the West Hartford Board of Education be called so that our board as well as the public can receive testimony from Dr. List and Principal Tracy regarding how existing policy affected the decisions and courses of action by the board, administration, faculty, and parents in addressing these problems. We must take this opportunity to assess how we got to where we are today, what measures were taken over the years to remedy the concerns of parents in this matter, and how we can improve upon existing policy to ensure as best we can that something like this does not happen in the future. Most importantly, a special meeting will provide transparency to those we serve and work for-parents and the general public, and will facilitate their best recommendations as to how we can improve upon policy set forth by our board.

We await the timely response from Chairman Putterman and Superintendant List regarding our request for Ms. Tracy’s leave of absence or reassignment and for a special meeting by the Board of Education. Given that the next regular meeting of the Board of Education is not until September, 2012, we ask that
this special meeting occur by August 3, 2012 to allow for as much time as possible for us to address these problems before the start of the upcoming school year. We urge all of our colleagues to join us in this request so that we may be unified in our goal of implementing the very best policy as a board as well as bringing swift resolution to this issue. The integrity of Duffy Elementary School and that of our school district as a whole depends on our ability to ensure we are putting into practice the best policies not only to avoid situations like this, but to provide the assurance to parents that ample resources are available to them for addressing their grievances and opinions without fear of consequence to their children in our school systems.

Thank you for your prompt consideration.

Sincerely,
Lib Brassil Spinella

Member, West Hartford Board of Education

Ellen Burchill Brassil

Member, West Hartford Board of Education

*signed electronically

<<Sent Via Email and Postal Mail>>

Cc: Mr. Thomas Moore Assistant Superintendent for Administration

West Hartford Resident July 21, 2012 at 05:03 PM
We find ourselves in a situation where an-out-of -control media event surrounding a school issue is becoming politicized. The notion of holding a special public meeting which sounds frighteningly like a court trial is astounding and sickening. Simply because the 90 signatories of the petition are howling for blood, it by no means represents what many other Duffy parents feel. Indeed, it appears based on conversations throughout the school community that the signatories are by no means the majority. Truly, a "temporary assignment" for Ms. Tracy of some kind would create uncertainty for Duffy students and is unwarranted. Ms. Tracy can and should certainly begin the school year as she always has. Any problems that exist should be dealt with discretely and within the human resources guidelines. No one is suggesting we bury anything under the rug. But we need to keep an eye on the future and make sure we are establishing a process we can live with moving forward. Moreover, the sense of dichotomy this is creating within our community is horrifying. People have expressed fear of retribution by petitioners against people who don't agree with them. Hopefully, this isn't the case. But you have to wonder, when things have reached the state they have. Duffy is a wonderful school with wonderful families. The emphasis should be there and the Superintendent's office should take care of personnel problems.
John Lemega July 21, 2012 at 06:42 PM
The Republican minority on the Board seeks the convocation of a kangaroo court to encourage the character assassination of a respected principal in our system. Since they seek the suspension of Ms. Tracy in the interim, it appears that the Brassil sisters have determined that Ms. Tracy is guilty of offending a small minority of parents at Duffy and that she should pay for this "offense" with her job. Bruce Putterman's response to their suggestion is completely appropriate. The status of Ms. Tracy rests with the superintendent, not with a minority of the Board. The Brassil sisters' politicization of a sensitive personnel issue is unconscionable. Not surprising, but unconscionable.
Baxi July 22, 2012 at 02:14 AM
To the three women who have lead this effort and taken this story to the press, you've managed to do something I haven't seen in a long time in West Hartford. You've created a division among Duffy families that will prove to be far more damaging than anything I've seen presented as evidence against Kathleen Tracy. Wondering if you had considered what this could do to our community.
Nanci Wylde July 22, 2012 at 10:27 AM
Thank you Baxi
Matt July 22, 2012 at 03:45 PM
what is surprising is the utter lack of reading comprehension evidenced in your comment with respect to the letter. It is nothing short of disgusting that Bruce Putterman has turned this into a dem vs. rep issue. What Mr. Putterman and his colleagues should be doing is joining in the effort with Ms. Spinnella and Ms. Brassil and parents to get to the bottom of why parents concerns have fallen on deaf ears for the better part of ten years, and what the board should do from a policy standpoint to avert this disaster in the future. Instead, Mr. Putterman resorts to the only amateur, junior league response he can by crying "politics", and trying to punt responsibility elsewhere. Total wet-noodle of a man. It's plain as day in the letter that the request for a special meeting of the board of ed is not to provide trial for Ms. Tracy, but to address the very real policy deficiencies that have created the need for a petition supporting a principals removal before anyone from the administration or board would listen to them. Complaints have been adding up for ten years, and it shouldn't take a petition and front page story to get the board of ed and administration to do something about it. Mr. Putterman's bungled handling of this situation is such a stain on our town. So disappointing.
JDF July 22, 2012 at 08:48 PM
I was in the 5th grade during Kathleen Tracy's first year as Duffy principal in the 2000-2001 school year. Looking back as a 22 year old college graduate I am surprised that this has not been brought to the School Board’s attention sooner. Her methods of discipline were certainly not a sort of "tough love" as some seem to assume, but more of a power trip against kids who were too young to stand up for themselves. I’ll cite one example but there are plenty more. I remember a classmate of mine was accused of vandalizing a stall in the boy's bathroom; when Mrs. Tracy caught wind she immediately decided the student was guilty without actually looking into the issue, and as punishment this child was forced to acquire a bathroom key from the main office every time he had to use the facilities. As you can imagine, the student was the subject of ridicule and teasing for the remainder of the school year; the worst part was that it was a student who was already dealing with bullying and this incident just made matters worse. The following year at Sedgwick the actual culprit admitted to the act and laughed about it, meanwhile this innocent kid had his final year at Duffy made even worse due to Kathleen's "guilty until proven innocent" mind set. I remember reading George Orwell's "1984" later on while I was at Conard and laughing to myself about how "big brother" reminded me of Mrs. Tracy. (continued)
JDF July 22, 2012 at 08:51 PM
In case I’m coming off as some little brat who would complain every time he did not get his way, I should also say that during this year at Duffy I had Mr. Richard Wells as my teacher, a U.S. Marine who truly had a “tough love”, strict attitude and was not the kind of teacher who would let you get away with being a trouble maker. Do you think I complained about him as a teacher? Absolutely not, Mr. Wells was without a doubt the best teacher I had during my 12 years in the West Hartford public school system, he truly made an effort to get to know and understand his students as individuals, which made his discipline methods truly effective
JDF July 22, 2012 at 08:52 PM
...... My classmates and I appreciated his style of discipline and truly had respect for him. Kathleen however was just accusatory and seemed to make punishment her number one priority, even if it was completely unjust. We used to joke that she worshipped a picture of Judge Judy in her office because she would never listen to our side of any story. I study biomechanical engineering now as a graduate student, not psychology, so I can only speak for myself with respect to lasting effects from Kathleen’s style of discipline. However if a child was a usual suspect in Kathleen’s mind, they would be accused and made to feel like they did something wrong even if they were completely innocent. This was certainly the case with me. The quote “Kids are like dogs, you knock them around enough they'll think they did something to deserve it” comes to mind. As you can imagine, this wasn’t the best thing for my self-esteem at the time, it took me a long time to get over that stigma and become the student I am today....
JDF July 22, 2012 at 08:52 PM
....I can also only comment as a former student and not a parent, but I’m not surprised to hear stories from parents about Kathleen belittling their parenting skills. I don’t know if she still offers parenting classes today, but I know she used to. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I feel that in order for someone to criticize one’s parenting skills, they should at least have a kid themselves. I’m not arrogant enough to think I’m qualified to offer lessons on how to fly a plane when I’ve never been inside a cockpit.

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