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Strife Roils District Under Frechette's Watch

The superintendent's buyout was the latest in a long line of controversies beleaguering Middletown public schools.

 

Former Schools Superintendent Michael Frechette's nearly $300,000 settlement agreement, released this week, marks the latest in a list of controversies that has hounded Middletown public schools during Frechette's tenure.

Days after Frechette announced his resignation last week, a number of personnel changes took place in quick succession. The assistant superintendent Barbara Senges said she would retire March 30 to care for her aging parents and William G. Grady, a member of the Board of Education, stepped down Feb. 29. On Wednesday, former Superintendent David Larson was hired as the district’s interim superintendent. Also Wednesday, Frechette's buyout sum of nearly $300,000 was released by Board Attorney Christine Chinni.

The roots of the administrative shakeup go back to at least September of 2010, when a a high school student was tasered during a scuffle with police for allegedly stealing a Jamaican beef patty in the cafeteria lunch line. The incident led to the controversial decision to remove school resource officers from the high school and middle school for a number of months. They were later returned. The boy's mother is suing the city.

In January, teenager Monique McClain returned to a Meriden magnet school a year after her family pulled her out of Woodrow Wilson Middle School after she bacame the victim of intense and prolongued bullying. She, her grandmother and mother unsuccessfully lobbied school officials to give Monique an out-of-school tutor after the family declared administrators powerless to stop the bullying.

Lawsuits between the city, union and Board of Education began under former Mayor Sebastian N. Giuliano, who last July 19 filed a court injunction to block the filling of an open central office business manager position.

Giuliano accused the board of violating the city charter, personnel rules and the collective bargaining agreement with the city’s municipal union by hiring an assistant payroll supervisor.

The longstanding dispute continued Aug. 16, when the state’s Board of Labor Relations ordered the school board to reinstate a unionized central office position that the board had refused to fill since 2008.

When Mayor Dan Drew took office last November, he pledged to improve communication between the city and school board. In less than two months, his administration made significant strides in ending the hostilities with the board.

In late November, Drew announced a successful negotiation to a labor dispute that was filed after school board staff worked at the high school shelter during October's snowstorm.

On Dec. 28, Drew, the school board and AFSCME Local 466 said one of two lawsuits between the city and the board was dropped and the second was nearing resolution. 

Last September, Frechette and Senges were criticized for the district’s poor standardized-testing performance when eight city schools didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind legislation. For math and reading, Bielefield, Farm Hill, Macdonough, Lawrence elementaries and Keigwin and Woodrow Wilson middle schools and Middletown High didn’t meet AYP. Snow School did not meet AYP for reading.

One of the results was the creation of federally mandated governance boards at Bielefield and Woodrow Wilson to assist those principals with school-specific goals. While quite common across the country and in Connecticut, these are the first two in Middletown.

In February, the school board announced a more than $1 million deficit, money the school district must find somewhere and return to the budget, possibly in a 10-year repayment plan.

Middletown’s so-called “scream rooms” made national news in January after Farm Hill PTO President Apryl Dudley’s Jan. 6 letter to the mayor and Board of Education brought to light the use of seclusionary or timeout rooms on non-special education students. Principal Patricia A. Girard took a leave of absence Jan. 30 and several investigations were launched, including by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, the and the state Department of Education.

By Jan. 13, the board had eliminated the rooms as a means of handling students with behavioral issues and longtime school administrator and DEAL special education teacher Mark Proffitt took over Farm Hill.

On Feb. 14, the city’s special education community took another hit when former Middletown High and Woodrow Wilson special education teacher Christine Powell was charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year old male student. She pleaded not guilty on Feb. 22 and returns to court March 20.

An examination of the warrant revealed district teachers and paraprofessionals had significant concerns about her behavior with the student.

One paraprofessional quit over what she felt was an inappropriate relationship between Powell and the boy when he was in middle school and another raised concerns about the situation, at least twice, with an administrator.

No one in the district brought these concerns to law enforcement, despite a state law that mandates teachers, administrators and teacher's aides report suspected child abuse.

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jane March 16, 2012 at 11:31 AM
Time to move and take the loss - that's how I am feeling lately- too afraid that my child will end up hurt while waiting for them to realize the closure of deal was not successful
bea41660 March 16, 2012 at 12:11 PM
So glad my grandchildren are home~schooled ! One of my daughters works fulltime & still home~schools my grandson!!! Be blessed!
wyatt March 16, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Very good article, Cassandra. It really puts the ills of the school system in perspective.
tippy7 March 16, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Frechette and Senges shouldn't be our scapegoats. They're far from perfect but they did make significant strides in the right direction for our district in the past seven years. These issues are not all their fault and they will not magically disappear overnight with the change in leadership. This is ridiculous.

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