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Newtown Supt. Tapped for Stratford Job Before Sandy Hook Shooting

The recommendation to the Stratford Board of Education was made before the mass school shooting in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012, according to Stratford BOE Chairman Gavin Forrester.

Newtown Superintendent Janet Robinson, who has led that district since 2008, plans to take the helm of Stratford Public Schools this summer after the position is formally offered on Wednesday.

It's the first public acknowledgement of a hiring process that took place before the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting drew national attention to the Newtown School District.

"This process took place last fall, and I felt that the Board of Education in Stratford was really interested in students' success," Robinson told Patch Monday evening. "I thought the kind of things we've done for success in Newtown would work in Stratford."

Robinson is currently in California, where she is attending the American Association of School Administrators conference. She stressed the appointment hasn't been confirmed yet, but says she plans to accept.

At a Stratford Board of Education meeting Monday night, Chairman Gavin Forrester confirmed Stratford would move ahead with the appointment Wednesday.

"Since she was quoted [in the press], I see no benefit leaving things to speculation," said Forrester.

Pending the official appointment, Robinson is slated to start July 1. Until then, Margaret Lasek, who was ,  will remain as head of Stratford schools.

'GREAT ENTHUSIASM'

In a letter to staff, parents, students and the community, the Stratford school board chair praised Robinson's work and said she was carefully vetted for the position.

"It is with great enthusiasm that the Stratford Board of Education announces the selection of Dr. Janet Robinson as the next Superintendent of Schools for our 7,000 students and staff," said the undated letter, which added that "Robinson was appointed on Wednesday, February 27, 2013." (Patch received the letter February 25.)

"The board extends a special recognition to the Superintendent Search Committee, a knowledgeable and diverse group, who devoted time and talent to the process," said the letter.

In the letter, Forrester said more than 20 candidates submitted resumes, and that the search board conducted four rounds of interviews and "extensive" reference checks.

"Through this process, Dr. Robinson rose to the top of a very competitive group," he said.

Forrester said just days -- even hours -- before the shooting, the board was in position to announce Robinson as future superintendent. Stratford Education Association President Susan Vance said she got an email the morning of Dec. 14 with a meeting agenda, dated later in December, listing the announcement.

But after news broke, the board agreed it wasn't the right time. An email went out hours later saying the matter was now "up for discussion."

"We held off for many reasons, sensitivity being the key one," said Forrester. While she has received national acclaim for her work after the shooting, that's not the reason she was hired, the school board chairman said.

Just days before Dec. 14, Forrester said, three board members conducted a site visit in Newtown last fall to meet with students, administrators, staff and community leaders and learn about Robinson's role as superintendent in the town.

"They provided universally glowing testimonials about her skills, knowledge and character," he said.

'A TESTIMONIAL TAPESTRY'

A California native, Robinson had mostly worked in warmer climes before coming to Connecticut, teaching in Florida and getting her Master's Degree in Hawaii. Before her first superintendent posts -- prior to Newtown, she helmed districts in Preston and Derby -- she worked as a school psychologist and classroom management consultant. All told, Robinson has worked in education for four decades.

"Staff, parents and board members who have a firsthand understanding of Dr. Robinson’s work provided a strong testimonial tapestry about her skills, knowledge and character," said Forrester in his letter. "They described her as caring, engaging, supportive, a highly professional person who has grace under pressure and with a simple mantra, 'Students First.'"

Her tenure in Newtown has seen both nationwide praise and controversy, especially since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. She testified in Washington, DC, recently received the Peace Islands Educator of the Year award, and will be honored as Superintendent of the Year by the University of Connecticut in March.

But she faced criticism at home from board members for her remarks on two Newtown elementary school choirs, and faced other contentious issues in the years before the shooting, including a long debate over bus contracts. In the summer, her contract was extended by two years rather than the standard three.

DOUBT OVER ROBINSON SELECTION

At the Stratford school board meeting Monday night, Lordship Elementary School PTA Treasurer Cyndi Casinelli expressed doubt whether Robinson was the right pick for Stratford.

Casinelli said she's talked to Stratford teachers who know Newtown teachers that say Robinson "has made statements that are out-and-out lies." Casinelli claimed Robinson's relationships with Newtown teachers are "strained," and furthermore said she would consider petitioning the appointment.

"It's an incredibly important postition," Casinelli said. "We want somebody with a great relationship with their staff."

But Forrester, the school board chair, maintained that Robinson is a perfect fit in Stratford.

"She has a deep understanding of education and through her efforts has been able to form a highly collaborative team of leaders in the district," said the letter.

"She holds all students, staff and families to high expectations, but provides the necessary support needed to reach these expectations," he continued. "Dr. Robinson has the intellect to understand the complexity and the character and quality of mind to make the tough decisions and stand by them. Her vision is described as forward thinking yet practical."

Forrester said the board is organizing an official reception for Robinson for sometime in the Spring. In the meantime, he said he hoped Robinson would be able return from California by Wednesday to finalize the agreement.

"It may take some of the suspense out of Wednesday's meeting," he added.

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Before confirming that the job for Stratford superintendent would indeed be offered to Robinson, the Stratford Board of Education Monday passed a budget and adopted a 180-day school year.

Rusty Nail2 February 27, 2013 at 10:26 PM
M. Lasek got hosed. She has given her all to the Stratford School System from Eli Whitney to Stratford High and has done an excellent job. Why not give her the position (if she wanted it)? Sometimes the best answer is right in front of you.
disheartened resident February 28, 2013 at 05:01 AM
Hey did CBG strategies find her...you know John Harkins friend State Rep. Jason Perillo's firm. Harkins buddy Perillo was the guy who found the new EMS director Phil Onofrio we didnt need then when Harkins hired him (Onofrio) Perillo got Onofrio's job and Harkins paid Perillo OUR tax dollars to do it. I guess we'll find out if Jodi Harkins gets the Newtown Superintendent of schools job if these crooks are up to their same old tricks! HMMMmmm
onceuponanewtown February 28, 2013 at 05:55 PM
That was done by forcing out most sped students, just saying! Check the numbers and verify for yourself. We have the lowest % of sped students for our drg - how wonderful, how did we manage such magic? Protect your kids and ask questions after the given answer.
onceuponanewtown February 28, 2013 at 05:58 PM
ps. Derby was left in shambles, google archives of their town newspaper.
Debbie February 28, 2013 at 07:28 PM
I was wondering the same thing. When Margaret Lasek was appointed the "acting" superintendent,I felt that was a great move for our town's school system, which has been going downhill for a number of years now.I used to be proud to talk about our school system.Now I hope my children move to other towns for my grandchildren's schooling.Margaret Lasek would have been the best choice.

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