NORWICH, Conn. — Norwich Superintendent Dr. Kristen Stringfellow was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into personnel complaints on Monday.
The decision was made with a majority vote at Monday's BOE meeting at Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School.
The board announced that it has appointed Susan Lessard, principal of Stanton Elementary, as acting superintendent of schools during the investigation.
The board stated it will not comment on the specifics of their decision however, the chair did mention putting Dr. Stringfellow on leave does not mean the board has come to any conclusions on any allegations of misconduct.
“I feel relieved, I think they made a good decision," said Bill Priest, President of Norwich Teachers League.
Priest represents more than 300 teachers at Norwich Public Schools. He feels this decision by the board has been a long time coming.
"I don't think you have an investigation when the person you're investigating is roaming the halls. You know, nobody's going to talk," Priest said.
The conversation comes after a survey by the state's largest teacher's union, the Connecticut Education Association, found that 96% of Norwich teachers fear retaliation from the district's top administrators if they speak up. The CEA also found that more than half, about 160 teachers, have left the district since June of 2022.
“For various reasons. Some want to work closer to home but others, they want to move to another district because they didn’t like the kind of toxic culture they felt existed and was fostered here," Priest said.
Now that Dr. Stringfellow won't be actively working within the district, Priest hopes that will change the course of the upcoming investigation.
Out of respect for the due process of that investigation, Priest said he couldn't give specific examples of any wrongdoings; however, he did elaborate on the specific fears of the teachers.
"There’s a fear that your evaluation might be marked lower, or you might be transferred to somewhere where you might be working in one building, then you find yourself in a different building," Priest said.
The decision from the board comes after two separate rallies were held by union members ahead of board meetings over the last several weeks.
At the first rally on Sept. 12th, FOX61 spoke with a retired teacher who described part of why she left the district.
“If you have a concern, it turns into a complaint and then all of a sudden you are re-assigned to a position maybe. Or I was told if I don’t tell her who told me this piece of information I would be, she was going to do something about it. I felt intimidated and I retired," said Libby Yalen, who retired two years ago after working for Norwich schools for 29 years.
The latest turn of events has some Norwich parents feeling like they're left in the dark, worried about how this all will impact their children's education.
“I was shocked, and I don’t know what’s going on," Nothan Zing, mom of two said on Tuesday. "But, somethings not right.”
FOX61 is learning this is not the first time Dr. Stringfellow has been involved in an investigation like this. In her last role as superintendent in South Kingstown, R.I., an investigation concluded she didn’t follow proper procedures during a series of potential layoffs. Stringfellow left to come to Norwich shortly after resigning from her role in R.I., later saying it was all politically motivated.
As for the investigation in Norwich, the board is hiring a third party to get it done. Priest said the board hopes to have the results by the end of November.
He hopes *this* investigation will end in a positive result for the teachers in his district.
"I hope they speak up now and they’re not fearful that something’s going to happen to them," Priest said.
FOX61 reached out to Dr. Stringfellow for comment and was told, "The superintendent will not be making comments on last night's meeting."
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