UPDATED 5:40 p.m.
Duffy Principal Kathleen Tracy, who is currently on vacation, offered her response to the petition expressing "no confidence" in her leadership which was delivered by a group of parents to the administration on Monday.
"This caught me by surprise. Honestly, I think my record stands for itself. When you're a public figure you are subject to these kind of things," Tracy said late Monday afternoon.
Tracy said that the Duffy community is large and diverse, and expects there to be differing viewpoints. She said that the group of parents who signed the petition was actually a very small number, representing only 70 of the several hundred families currently enrolled at the school. She said many signers no longer have students at the school, and just had an "axe to grind."
"Sadly, this is the forum that they use. It divides the community," Tracy said. She said her role is to think about the larger community.
She stressed that Duffy has been recognized as a National School of Character, a designation presented after a lot of scrutiny.
Tracy said she is sad that a group of parents is unhappy. "But I can't control happiness," she said. Tracy said she would be open to meeting with any parents, at any time, to discuss their concerns.
She also said that she has received many calls from parents who are very supportive of her role, and who are upset about what has happened. She said she would like to mend fences, and has "no animosity" toward those who have criticized her.
"It comes with the territory if I'm really moving forward. I think part of the reason they feel intimidated with me is because I stand up and I'm fearless. I think that scares people."
Tracy said she doesn't know how this situation will move forward, but added, "I want to leave Duffy on my terms."
A petition expressing "no confidence" in principal was delivered Monday to the district's superintendent and the West Hartford Board of Education. It was signed by more than 90 current and former Duffy parents, many of whom added comments detailing their dissatisfaction with the leadership of Principal Kathleen Tracy.
Tracy has been Duffy’s principal for 12 years. The last three PTO presidents, as well as many current and former board members, were among those who signed.
“We are in receipt of the petition and the letter that accompanies the vote of ‘no confidence,’” said Rick Ledwith, Executive Director of Employee Services for the Town of West Hartford. Ledwith spoke on behalf of Superintendent Dr. Karen List is currently traveling out of the country.
“Clearly we have an issue which demands immediate attention and we’re committed to working with parents to meet their concerns,” Ledwith said.
Ledwith said that the administration respects the Duffy parents and is committed to responding to their concerns and “creating an environment for all families to feel welcome in the school community.
Board of Education Chairman Bruce Putterman provided the following comment Monday afternoon: “The Board of Education only has responsibility for managing one person – that’s the superintendent – and we trust her to manage all district personnel effectively.”
“A vote of no confidence means that the community members do not believe that Ms. Tracy has the ability or willingness to make the changes necessary to become an effective leader. If honesty and open communication are foundations of professional relationships, and if we believe we should respect, support and value each member of our educational community, then Duffy School's principal, Kathleen Tracy is not making the grade,” read a portion of the letter which accompanied the petition and was addressed to the administration and Board of Education.
The petition states that Tracy fails to personally exemplify what they call the six pillars of character education – “trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship – and that the community members “regularly feel deceived, disrespected, unfairly treated, intimidated and manipulated by Kathleen Tracy.”
Those who signed the petition were told that once it received more than 75 signatures, it would be brought to the attention of the administration and those signatures would be made public.
“Personally I feel sick about the whole situation. I wish it hadn’t come to this,” said Shellie Giroux, a former Duffy PTO president who is now president of the Sedgwick PTO and PT Council. She stressed that this is not a personal vendetta, and that she personally has had a good working relationship with Tracy.
The group of parents working to distribute the petition brought its existence to the attention of West Hartford Public Schools last week, and initially agreed to take it down pending further discussion.
However, Giroux said they decided to reactivate it because they wanted to “move away from the culture of invalidating the concerns of parents and students.”
“We owed it to the people who signed it. We had to go forward, to be the voice of the children. They deserve better,” said Meg Murphy, who was Duffy PTO president for the 2011-12 school year.
Murphy said that Duffy is a great school, with great parents. “But we can be better. We are trying to bring things to light, looking to change things.”
Parents who created the petition stressed that this is not a new situation, and claimed in their cover letter that, “parents have felt this way for years. Historically, those who have taken an active role at Duffy report a constant struggle with leadership. In fact, many have been personally attacked. In order to suggest a change in an activity or policy, one must prepare to be treated like an opponent, endure a marathon of attempts to feel heard, and get used to hearing the word 'no' repeatedly. Most people don't get that far, because there is an overwhelming sense that if one is to challenge Kathleen, the risk of retribution is great. The perceived threat of putting one's children at an educational disadvantage is too dangerous, keeping many parents from presenting questions or concerns. This pervasive feeling has taken its toll on community involvement, too, as volunteerism has dropped by 33 percent in the past two years.”
According to Giroux, the petition was originally created in January, by a group of concerned parents, but did not really “get rolling” until it was sent out to the PTO’s email list several weeks ago. Giroux stressed that it was not an effort of the PTO, but rather that the board decided it would be best to distribute it as widely as possible to give everyone a voice, so that it would not appear as if this was a “small, clandestine group.”
“This is such a difficult and sad situation, for everyone involved. But it has been difficult and sad for years and years – through many sets of Duffy parents. It started about ten years ago with a letter writing campaign and has continued ever since. People have been trying to voice their concerns and their experiences to no avail,” said Sabrina Mock-Rossi, whose signature also appears on the petition.
“This is not about a group of a few unsatisfied parents who were upset that they did not get the teacher they hoped for. This is not about a difference in personalities. This is about an abuse of power, an atmosphere of intimidation and retribution, a lack of true educational leadership and inspiration, and most importantly this about the mistreatment of many, many children. To those parents out there who are saying that they have not had a bad experience with Kathleen, then I say that is wonderful. But just because it did not happen to you, does not mean it not happen to dozens of other people. She has mistreated parents which is one thing, but she has seriously mistreated children,” Mock-Rossi said in an email.
She said it is “high time” for the situation to be dealt with.
Dawn Sarro, a former resident of Short Rd., abutting the Duffy playground, and whose three sons attended Duffy, heard about the petition Monday. Sarro’s twins, who are now 20, were Duffy students when Tracy became principal.
“You should know that Duffy parents have been talking about her removal for years and I am thrilled to see that something is being done. I, for one, would gladly make myself available to document the numerous incidents that occurred (yes, I was advised to keep a journal with details and dates of each incident). Ms. Tracy is particularly hard on boys – and caused my sons such anguish. I cannot believe it has taken this long for this to surface – but I applaud your efforts and hopefully other children can be spared the pain and abuse suffered at the hand of this woman,” Sarro wrote in an email to Murphy which she allowed to be shared with Patch.
"Ms. Tracy oversteps her boundaries as the principal, using her position of authority to manipulate parents and intimidate students," said former Duffy parents Amy and Turk DeGraff. "She bullied our daughter and caused our family unnecessary stress for our last year at Duffy," the DeGraffs said. Their daughter will be a senior at Conard this fall.
Murphy said that she and others who submitted the petition are awaiting a formal response from the administration. Comments attached to the petition, which could be added even by those who did not sign, were also included in the package emailed Monday.
“We wanted to work this out, but the clock is ticking,” said Murphy. Classroom assignments will be mailed out to parents on August 1.
“We’re committed to providing the warm and welcoming environment conductive to learning when our students, parents, and teachers return at the end of the summer,” Ledwith told Patch.
“If the administration would do what’s best for the children, that would be great,” Murphy said.
Kathleen Tracy could not be reached for comment.