For two months, votes of no-confidence in Stamford’s school superintendent have trickled in.
They began in early March with Westhill, the city’s largest high school, where two-thirds of the tenured teachers cited a lack of confidence in the superintendent, Tamu Lucero, saying she leaves them out of important decisions – particularly one to switch to a block schedule in the fall.
That was followed a week later by a no-confidence vote from the city’s smallest high school, the Academy of Information Technology & Engineering, where 42 of 51 tenured teachers cited the same reasons.
In late March it was Turn of River Middle School, where 86 percent of tenured teachers supported a no-confidence vote. They criticized Lucero for working from her office during the pandemic, when they had to be in their classrooms. They are unhappy with a new disciplinary policy that talks with unruly students instead of suspending them. The middle-school teachers also said they have no say in such decisions.
In late April, nearly all of the tenured teachers at Davenport Ridge Elementary School backed a no-confidence vote, and 89 percent of teachers at Strawberry Hill, a K-8 school, did the same.
Teachers said they’ve gotten little credit for their work during the pandemic and – again – that they are ignored when it’s time to decide changes that affect them.
Now parents are gathering no-confidence votes online.
A Change.org petition,”Stamford Public School Parent Voice,” launched Monday, cites understaffing of paraeducators, social workers and school psychiatrists at a time when students need emotional support. It says the district is shorting services for special-education students.
The petition says disruptive students are not adequately disciplined, citing fights and arrests. Bathroom doors are locked because students vape and do drugs there, it says.
The district does “not have a funding problem,” with a budget of more than $300 million, the petition says. “We have an allocation and distribution to the correct program problem.” Lucero, whose latest compensation package totals $406,000, is one of the highest-paid superintendents in Connecticut.
The petition raises the fact that large percentages of Stamford students test below proficiency in math and reading. Indeed, the state this year has Stamford listed as an Alliance District, meaning it is one of Connecticut’s 33 lowest-performing school systems, based on a District Performance Index calculated using scores in English and language arts, science and math.
The petition also cites the complaint raised by teachers: “Parents’ voices are continuously being dismissed,” it reads.
As of Friday afternoon, the petition had 475 signatures.
Superintendent no-confidence votes are proliferating in the United States. The common wisdom is that COVID-19 caused too much disruption for school systems to handle, and the pandemic exacerbated problems that predated it.
It’s not the fault of the superintendent, according to the president of the Stamford Board of Education, the spokesman for Stamford Public Schools, and leaders of the Parent Teacher Council of Stamford.
School board President Jackie Heftman said members recognize that the last two years have been challenging, and know that Lucero’s ongoing efforts to reach out to teachers and staff members are successful.
The no-confidence votes, Heftman wrote in an email, “are a very different matter” that has to do with the teachers’ union.
“At a time when the Stamford Education Association is electing new leadership, including a new president, individual teachers have taken upon themselves to conduct votes in a manner guaranteed to achieve a negative outcome, for reasons that are unclear,” Heftman wrote. “These votes have been conducted without giving the superintendent the courtesy of prior discussion, and the results have been announced in the press without the opportunity for constructive dialogue with the superintendent or the board.”
Heftman said she received an email from a teacher at Strawberry Hill School saying that a no-confidence vote was taken after the organizers shared with teachers a document, “Things to Consider When Voting.”
It was “a laundry list of frustrations,” Heftman said, many of them matters outside Lucero’s control.
A complaint about a lack of substitute teachers is a district, state and national problem, Heftman said. A complaint about unfilled kindergarten positions is a board responsibility, she said, as is the size of the COVID bonus paid to teachers, another complaint. Another one about student testing requirements can be blamed on the state Department of Education, Heftman said.
“When teachers are given such a list of complaints and then asked to vote, a negative vote is inevitable,” Heftman wrote. “It is disappointing that a few teachers would promote such a flawed process, and the board does not consider these ‘no-confidence’ votes to be a fair or accurate assessment of the performance of the superintendent or the administration.”
Stamford Education Association President Diane Phanos, who has said the union supports the teachers’ votes, did not return a request for comment.
School district spokesman Justin Martin said the administration is not concerned about the criticism from teachers, and now parents. School bathrooms are not locked because of vaping and drug use, and the administration has not “seen any rise in incidents or trends that indicate our schools have any more or any less behavior or discipline issues than any other school system,” Martin said.
Stamford has “a large number of shortages across the system in all areas,” and the district “is aggressively recruiting professionals and doing our best to retain our current employees,” Martin said.
The school board and the district seek input from teachers, staff members, students and parents by holding “regular small-group forums and community-wide meetings,” Martin said.
On the parent-signature front, Jennifer Forman of the Parent Teacher Council said the group is organizing a petition in support of the superintendent.
Forman provided a letter from the council saying that “no amount of planning could have prepared any of us for what transpired during the global pandemic.”
The administration had to “adhere to often changing health guidelines, all the while addressing pre-pandemic issues such as truancy, special education challenges, unsafe family environments, major facilities problems, and the need to provide subsidized meals for many of our students,” the letter reads.
“Administrators also faced the compounding challenge of traumatized students, teacher and staff absences due to high infection rates in December and January, and a nationwide shortage of workers.”
Stamford is a complex school district with more than 16,000 students speaking 65 languages, 1,500 educators and 23 schools, the letter says, and “it is simply not possible to get the buy-in of every single stakeholder.”
The letter continues, “It is understandable that uncertainty creates a sense of frustration among many of us. However, a vote of no confidence against our superintendent, Dr. Lucero, who is highly competent, calm, balanced and committed to the welfare of our student body, is highly self-serving and wrong for Stamford.”