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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.

--

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.

Baffled Resident February 26, 2013 at 01:36 AM
I called this 2 months ago.
Chris Stevens February 26, 2013 at 02:43 AM
I called it 3 months ago.......
Matt Kascak February 26, 2013 at 03:13 AM
I think we all figured this out. However. Who is reLeasing letters from board prior to the actual meeting taking place where the vote is to take place. There is something seriously wrong with the process
Tommy MacKay February 26, 2013 at 04:10 AM
Robinson makes $196.9K now- and we pay the supt. $140K currently. I hope Stratford didn't match or exceed her current pay-because we cannot afford it!! Stratford cannot afford to plow the roads properly to get the kids to school to take the tests that Robinson will oversee. I hope she takes a pay cut in her new job or this will be the biggest scandal Stratford has ever seen- and it will play worldwide due to the Newtown connection.
Victoria February 26, 2013 at 04:49 AM
She is one of the worst school super intendants in history and glad to have her out of my town soon!!
Jezebel282 February 26, 2013 at 11:15 AM
$210,000/year. http://stratfordk12.org/images/customer-files/BoardofEducation/201314suptproposedbudget.pdf
Baffled Resident February 26, 2013 at 11:59 AM
Cornish wasn't actually earning $140K though. She was at a reduced rate because she was double-dipping(for lack of a better term). Unfortunately, ~$200K seems to generally be the minimum for this type of job in CT.
Patricia Clark Sperling February 26, 2013 at 02:02 PM
Curious question: what role, if any, did the survey that was filled out by teachers play in the pick? I have heard that the atmosphere and climate of East Broadway has changed significantly (for the better) since Irene Cornish and her assistant left. I certainly hope that this is not "dangling candy in front of a baby" and then taking it away so we go back to the nightmares of Irene Cornish! Treat your staff better, you get better results. Unfortunately that wasn't the way of the BOE since Ray O'Connell.
recourses February 26, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Victoria - did you go to Newtown schools? I'd hope they'd teach you to spell superintendent correctly.
Victoria February 26, 2013 at 04:29 PM
Recourses- Sorry for my iPhone auto correct. Yes, I've lived in Sandy Hook since I was a baby. I'm in my early 30's with children in the school system. It's hard to like someone who keeps making promises since 2008 here but goes against it. She did it great job bringing our test scores up but otherwise, she needs to stop making promises to her staff and never getting it done.
Michael February 27, 2013 at 12:51 PM
As the parent of a Sandy Hook first grader who experienced first hand the shooting at the school, I can say without hesitation that this is the best news I've heard in months. Janet talks a great game and even sends wonderful emails that make it sound like she's doing great things, but when it comes to meaningful action in the classroom she is a complete failure.
Patricia Clark Sperling February 27, 2013 at 02:31 PM
$200K should not be the minimum when the current economic condition of Stratford is taken into consideration! That is absolutely ridiculous. Our salaries are way out of range for both the BOE administration and the Town administration. The budget that has been “approved” by the BOE board and passed on to the Town Council has the $210,000 salary for the Superintendent listed. What if the Town Council kicks it back and says cuts need to be made? If Janet Robinson enters into this contract at a salary of $210,000 – cuts will need to be made elsewhere and it will affect our children in some way. Janet Robinson’s contract with Newtown was not going to be renewed – that was published in a Newtown newspaper in the summer. A search about her contract not being renewed brought up an interesting article from the Newtown Bee. I suggest you all read it!
Baffled Resident February 27, 2013 at 02:41 PM
Is any community in this state "happy" with their school superintendent? It appears that the majority of towns/cities are dissatisfied with their superintendent. Look at Milford next door. How many superintendents have they ran out of town over the last 5 years? 3, IIRC. Give the lady a chance before demonizing her. JMHO.
Mike Reynolds February 27, 2013 at 03:19 PM
I hope she is ready to deal with the numerous education experts that seem to populate Stratford.
Patricia Clark Sperling February 27, 2013 at 03:26 PM
With what we just got rid of? Are you kidding me? The climate of the BOE was like a freezer. All employees were walking on egg shells when Irene Cornish and her assistant were there. It’s warmed up significantly since Margaret Lasek took the reins. The BOE Board sent around a survey – asking what people would like to see in a superintendent. I doubt the survey was even part of the consideration in the hiring process. I have heard (and because I am the wife of a BOE employee get this first hand – so there is no mistake) that people are happy to come to work again, they aren’t having anxiety attacks waiting as they go to work for the demeaning treatment they encountered for so long! There is an article in the Newtown Bee about the BOE Board in Newtown voting to NOT renew Janet Robinson’s contract. It was in the summer of 2012, so it’s fairly “recent” insofar as the reasons are concerned. It talks about her evaluation, etc. I suggest you all Google it and read it. Sounds like Irene Cornish all over again, but who knows, right?
Theresa February 27, 2013 at 03:49 PM
It wasn't just Cornish...her assistant is still there.
Patricia Clark Sperling February 27, 2013 at 03:50 PM
Not Elaine Watson ~ Cornish's EA, not assistant superintendent.
Baffled Resident February 27, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Everyone is well aware of what Newtown parents generally felt about her. Do we know what parents in the other places(Derby/Preston) thought of her? Going from Derby to Newtown may have just been a bad career decision on Robinson's part. Totally different dynamics between the 2 districts. Perhaps Newtown was just a bad fit? Give the lady a chance before you rip her to shreds.
Patricia Clark Sperling February 27, 2013 at 04:16 PM
Sure Baffled ~ let's just let her sign that contract for a $210,000 salary before the budget is approved by the Town Council so, when they reject it, her salary is secure and cuts need to be made from OUR KIDS! Sure, give her a chance, hopefully she's not Cornish in sheep's clothing!
Baffled Resident February 27, 2013 at 04:23 PM
I don't understand where you're going with this Patti. The salary is what it is. You're not going to get somebody to take the position for 140 or 160 or whatever. That's what the market is bearing, whether we like it or not. If you(and other parents) would put this much passion into lobbying Stratford reps. to get Stratford its proper share of ECS money, your concern about potential BOE budget cuts would be a non-issue.
Kevin Fitzgerald February 27, 2013 at 08:06 PM
Don't let the hearsay and unsubstantiated allegations about the Newtown Superintendent worry you. She has earned overwhelming support in Newtown from students, parents and many officials. The issue here in Newtown is a small but untouchable handful of elected officials who do not value a strong education program because that means ever-increasing taxes. So they get seats on the BOE with promises that they will cut waste and micro-manage the district's business. When they can't find the waste and realize the district is very well-managed, they become frustrated and start manufacturing reasons to blame the Superintendent. They become obsessed. They secretly record PTA meetings. They intervene on issues they have no training in. They blame her for saving $3M on bus transportation. They blame her for defending the Sandy Hook School. It's a wonder she stayed this long. You are lucky to get her Stratford.
Anonymous February 27, 2013 at 08:14 PM
I knew about this about 5 months ago. I am related to somebody o the Board of Ed. That's why I get pampered by teachers
Michael February 27, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Kevin I can tell you from a parent who has a first grader at the Sandy Hook school that Janet has not taken seriously the mental health and safety concerns of parents and faculty at the new Chalk Hill school. Her lack of action and attention in the classrooms with 6 and 7 year old children who survived the shooting and are experiencing various states of trauma has bordered on criminal.
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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