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UPDATED: West Hartford Administration to Address Petition Against Duffy Principal

Parents have gathered more than 90 signatures on a letter expressing 'no confidence' in Kathleen Tracy, who has led the elementary school for 12 years.

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."

ORIGINAL STORY

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.

The petition is still live through Survey Monkey.

“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.

Keith Griffin July 16, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Ronni - good, balanced job with the principal's comments. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, especially if a large number of signatures are from parents of former students. It doesn't seem right that those no longer active in the Duffy community can have a say in school leadership. Problems should have been addressed back then.
Turk DeGraff July 17, 2012 at 03:43 AM
I agree with you Keith and the fix to the problems was attempted but it sounds like it continues. We're still in the community and if the current parents need support it's important for them to know that other families have suffered. Having to get lawyers involved for the voices to be heard and filing complaints with the police isn't right in our school system. Tried to put this behind us but if this has continued it's important to have the history. We're still part of the community.
Dawn Sarro July 17, 2012 at 10:19 AM
For the record, I have no "axe to grind". The fact is that this situation has been going on for some time, and the history is important for officials to realize that they have ignored this situation long enough. The comments of former Duffy parents are relevant. At least we longer have to fear retribution against our kids since they are no longer in the school system. Wake up, West Hartford - you have a problem here.
Michelle Colburn July 17, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Keith you are missing the point - it is difficult to address concerns when your child will face the retribution of the principal. The only safe time is when your child is no longer at the school. It is actually for this reason that I feared signing the petition myself, but I do wholeheartedly agree that a change in leadership needs to happen.
Colleen E. Stewart July 17, 2012 at 01:57 PM
What did this woman do?? I want to hear specifics.
Jonathan Hochman July 17, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Ninety families expressed these concerns and signed a petition in the face of potential retaliation against their children in the school system - whether those children are at Duffy or some other WH school where the administration may feel allegiance to their fellow principal. I am sure more than 90 families are concerned, but many didn't speak up. It is a mistake for Kathleen Tracy to dismiss these concerns as just the griping of a few people. Her salary is paid by the public and she should serve their interests, not her own. Leave on her own terms? I think not. The Board needs to tell the superintendent that they are watching her actions and that they expect her to resolve this matter. This situation was allowed to fester too long. The superintendent should monitor the principals and nip any problems in the bud.
Jonathan Hochman July 17, 2012 at 03:05 PM
I want to add that when Bruce Putterman says, “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,” he is not doing his job properly. There's a big public relations problem at Duffy School, which is precisely evidence that the superintendent hasn't been managing district personnel effectively. The Board should be expressing its concerns and vowing to get to the bottom of this problem either via the superintendent, or her successor. Putterman shouldn't be disavowing responsibility. The Board is responsible for the superintendent and everybody she hires or allows to continue in their position. I suppose there's some small chance this might be a mass hysteria, but more likely there's a real issue.
tony dante July 17, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Those are strong words that are lacking any factual support. If you have a problem with the woman than state specific incidents where a student or family was harmed. This is a very cowardly attack. If there are 645 students, take 10% or 65 kids and or families who have an issue with her leadership and I am sure you will see a correlation between those 10% and their academic performance. Any guess what that might be?
Honora Kenney July 17, 2012 at 05:59 PM
I agree about the vagueness. What is the problem?
Pam July 17, 2012 at 06:02 PM
To follow Jonathan Hochman's comments, Kathleen Tracy was informed that this process could happen and could tarnish her record (this was immediately following her decision to NOT retire): her statement was along the lines of "They won't get any signatures". They got signatures. I can tell you first hand that several other parents I spoke with told me POINT BLANK they would not sign because they are just trying to fly under Kathleen Tracy's radar until their children are out of there. To those curious aboput specifics: just to summarize, children are ROUTINELY sent to the principals office for discipline and the parents are never informed. They are sent there for relatively minor offenses, first time offenses (i.e. not lining up in time at recess, asking to go to the bathroom while in line coming back from recess). They are brought in repeatedly for the same offense for which they were wrongly accused (i.e. weekly meetings for using a bad word......but it bever happened, the accuser confessed that he had lied after the accused had met with Kathleen weekly for 4 weeks AND THE PARENTS WERE NEVER INFORMED).
Pam July 17, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Tony - how do you know they lack any factual support? I have a child going into third grade at Duffy in September. I can tell you FIRST HAND there are more than 65 families. I can tell you first hand that parents have told me they are just trrying to fly under Kathleens radar till their kids get out of there. These complaints have been going on for YEARS and have come from many families. Do you have kids who attend? Do you know Kathleen Tracy? What's the basis of your statements?
Pam July 17, 2012 at 06:06 PM
To elaborate, parents told me they would not sign when I forwarded the petition to them and they expressed fear that their children would suffer at Kathleen Tracy's hand if they did.
Pam July 17, 2012 at 06:07 PM
To follow Jonathan Hochman's comments, Kathleen Tracy was informed that this process could happen and could tarnish her record (this was immediately following her decision to NOT retire): her statement was along the lines of "They won't get any signatures". They got signatures. I can tell you first hand that several other parents I spoke with told me POINT BLANK they would not sign because they are just trying to fly under Kathleen Tracy's radar until their children are out of there. To those curious aboput specifics: just to summarize, children are ROUTINELY sent to the principals office for discipline and the parents are never informed. They are sent there for relatively minor offenses, first time offenses (i.e. not lining up in time at recess, asking to go to the bathroom while in line coming back from recess). They are brought in repeatedly for the same offense for which they were wrongly accused (i.e. weekly meetings for using a bad word......but it bever happened, the accuser confessed that he had lied after the accused had met with Kathleen weekly for 4 weeks AND THE PARENTS WERE NEVER INFORMED).
Pam July 17, 2012 at 06:13 PM
My son was sent to the principals office for reprimand and punishment at the expense of missing his academics, was reprimanded by the teacher who sent him, had recess time taken as a punishment and then was reprimanded again the next day by the same teacher who sent him to the principal's office because she wanted him to tell his teacher what happened. Three reprimands, punishment, principal's office, missing academics and are because once in three years he was late lining up after recess? If my child did something horrible enough to warrant a trip to the principal's office, I want to know. If the principal does not value a parent's ability to assist in promoting good behavior, she is clueless (and egotistical). If she has nothing better to do than handle these minor infractions, she is in the wrong position.
Dave Francis July 17, 2012 at 06:54 PM
For every signature I'm certain there are a number of familes very supportive of Ms. Tracy. Two words Tony: Helicopter parents. Three words Tony: Trophies for participating. We've all gotten soft, very soft. - Dave Francis, Duffy '66 PS - Miss Phelps (3rd grade) used to whack my hand with a ruler, and my parents told me I probably deserved it!
Donna July 17, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Did you ever think that since most families in WH have 2+ children - the 90 signatures represent around 180 to 200 Duffy students? Now that is a significant portion of the Duffy population that is not happy!
Hope July 18, 2012 at 02:36 AM
I have teacher and parent friends at Duffy and I know this has been going on for years. They feel bullied and are afraid to go to the principal with concerns as they are afraid of speaking their mind for fear of retribution. Teacher moral at Duffy is low. The high marks for the school are a testament to the teachers, not the principal. Many of the teachers go out of their way to avoid confrontation with her. It is sad that it has taken this community so long to speak their mind. As a taxpayer, I am very concerned about the state of the leadership, or lack of, at this school. The school district administration needs to seriously do something about this situation. Obviously there is a problem that needs to be fixed. These voices need to be heard and not swept under the rug as axes to grind. If all these people took the time to sign a petition, there is a real problem with this principal.
Rajkumar Oberoi July 18, 2012 at 07:55 AM
Controllers should go deep into the collaboration of 90 parents because there can be an element who might have been hurt beyond tolerance & has mustered thin support. But quality of education is supreme if it is saddled in the school, controller should go in deep scientific study tools to solve the problem.
Lynn La Roe July 18, 2012 at 12:47 PM
Wow!!  I am not from West Hartford, have never had a child in the West Hartford school system, nor am I familiar with any of the specifics of this issue.  Based on the article and all of the comments, though, it brought back memories for me (which are never far from the surface) of one of the most agonizing periods in my family's life, especially my son's.  I live outside Tampa, FL and my children attended elementary school at the top-rated school in the state.  I was homeroom mom, substitute teacher, and a volunteer who logged hundreds and hundreds of hours at the school - I was truly a "fixture" there who was well liked by all of the staff.  Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to protect my son from bullying.  The crazy thing was that it wasn't bullying by another student but rather bullying by his own teacher!  
Lynn La Roe July 18, 2012 at 12:49 PM
He was in third grade at the time and school had been a generally positive experience for him until then.  His teacher and I got along extremely well and I was shocked when I realized the extent to which she was humiliating, belittling, and emotionally abusing my son.  You see, I am one of those parents who does not put blinders on when it comes to her children.  I despise parents who believe their children are perfect little angels and who are always saying, "Oh no!  Not my Johnny/Jenny.  He/she would never do something like that."  Cory's teacher would send notes home or pull me aside at school and tell me about his problems and misbehavior and I would come down on him with various punishments and explain that he needed to shape up, tow the line, etc.  He wasn't (and still isn't) perfect and I am sure he did his fair share of misbehaving in class.  It took until midway through his third grade year, though, to finally realize there was so much that I was missing. 
Lynn La Roe July 18, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I watched my little boy change right before my eyes.  His self-esteem and grades started to plummet.  He became so easily angered and frustrated.  We never knew what was going to set him off.  My reasonably outgoing child was becoming sullen and withdrawn.  It is breaking my heart all over again as I type this when I think about the way I blindly trusted a teacher over my child and he suffered such pain as a result.  I understand those parents who don't want to sign the petition out of fear of retribution towards their child.  
Lynn La Roe July 18, 2012 at 12:51 PM
When I finally realized what was going on Cory still had another three or four months of school left.  I was afraid to go to our principal (yes, I do realize that in th WH case it is actually the principal and not a specific teacher but the feelings are the same) because our principal had a policy of not changing a student's classroom/teacher.  If I was so well liked by his teacher (her homeroom mom and favorite sub) and she was treating my son like garbage then how much worse would it be for him if I made waves?  That is what I struggled with so instead I encouraged Cory to hang in there until the end of the year and do the best that he could and know that his dad and I were there for him and that we believed in him.
Lynn La Roe July 18, 2012 at 12:54 PM
It was extremely stressful for our family all the way around.  In the meantime I started researching other options - private school, other public schools, and homeschool.  Finally, after much heartache, the end of the year arrived and my child was emotionally "broken."  I went to our principal on the last day of school to request a meeting with her a couple weeks down the road once the year end craziness had settled.  She was quite surprised and more than curious because I had never requested a meeting with her in the four years we had been there and I told her that my husband wanted to be there as well.  Mike always left all the school stuff to me.  She encouraged me to tell her right then and there what was going on and as I explained and gave examples she got progressively upset and told me that I should have come to her sooner.  I told her I couldn't take the chance that she wouldn't move Cory out from under this teacher.  She was heartsick to the point that she got physically sick right in front of me.  
Lynn La Roe July 18, 2012 at 12:54 PM
She promised me that Cory could have any fourth grade teacher I chose for the following year as she knew I was especially close to a couple of them.  This was coming from a principal who never allowed or even considered teacher requests.  She told me to go home immediately and get everything documented in a letter that she could send up to the administration above her.  That is exactly what I did.  From what I heard through the grapevine, the teacher was sent to another school and had to go back for remedial teacher training.  I'm not sure whether that was the case or not because all I cared about at that point was my son.  He was like Humpty Dumpty who needed to be put back together again!  I know it isn't for everyone, but we ultimately chose to homeschool.  It was the best decision we ever could have made for our son and our family as a whole.  
Lynn La Roe July 18, 2012 at 12:55 PM
I am happy to report that Cory is now a homeschooled senior in high school who is dual enrolled as a full time student at our local community college.  He currently has a 3.84 GPA and, although he will never be quite as outgoing as his mom or his sister, he is a friendly, very bright guy with a good head on his shoulders who makes me so very proud of him!!  If the accusations against Ms. Tracy are true then it is imperative that parents do whatever they can to protect their children and their children's education.
Lynn La Roe July 18, 2012 at 01:01 PM
*toe the line (oops)
Bruce Oppenheimer July 19, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Do a better job parenting your kids and maybe they wouldn't have problems at school. Stop babying your children and teach them discipline and respect and you wouldn't have to worry about these problems. Focus on your children, not a petition. Stop blaming other people for your failures as a parent.....
Bruce Oppenheimer July 19, 2012 at 06:04 PM
If West Hartford School system has nothing to do with, why are you even bothering leaving a comment. Talk to a psychiatrist about your problems. Not a thread.
DL July 23, 2012 at 12:33 PM
You few will make your children victims all through their lives as well. Discipline, respect and more parental attention (on manners even) will serve your children far better. Sent to the office for a bad word? Or for misbehaving? See above. I've seen the office with the comfy couch. Be thankful for Ms. Tracy strong honest character. Hopefully she will set an example for most.
Jonathan Hochman July 23, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Bruce, I went through the WH school system and know that we have good teachers, bad teachers, good administrators and bad administrators. Anybody who habitually supports or opposes authority figures is probably wrong some of the time. Your comment does not show any critical analysis that might distinguish good from bad. Sometimes a self-righteous administrator is unwilling to listen to anybody else. A kid can be wrongly accused, convicted and punished. Kids feel injustice very severely and they should not be taught that "might makes right" and "just do what you are told". We do not want to create a totalitarian society.

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