No-confidence votes at five schools last year showed a lack of support for Superintendent Tamu Lucero among teachers; now their union has weighed in on whether her contract should be extended.
A survey by the union found that 75 percent of the teachers who responded think Lucero should not get an extension, Stamford Education Association President John Corcoran said Friday.
Among the 1,498 teachers in the union, 745 – about half – responded to the single-question survey, Corcoran said. Responses were evenly spread among elementary, middle and high school teachers, he said.
The results show that 563 teachers think Lucero’s contract extension, pending before the Board of Education, should be denied, Corcoran said, and 182 think it should be approved.
“You can argue why only half the membership voted, but that’s normal for us,” Corcoran said. “That’s more votes than we get when we ratify a contract.”
The SEA’s 412 non-tenured teachers “tend not to vote,” Corcoran said, since they can be easily terminated.
“There’s another group of teachers who don’t believe surveys are anonymous. They don’t want their name out there,” he said. “Retaliation is real. We’ve seen it.”
Corcoran said he discussed the results with Board of Education President Jackie Heftman, who questioned the level of response to the union survey.
“I don’t understand that,” Corcoran said. “When the administration does a survey, they take the results at face value and run with it. A couple of months ago, Central Office sent out a survey about how school employees want to communicate with administrators and they got 925 responses. And that was a survey of teachers, custodians, para-educators – everybody.”
Stamford Public Schools has 2,462 district- and grant-funded positions, according to the Board of Education budget. That would mean that, assuming most of the positions are filled, about 38 percent of employees responded to the Central Office survey.
Corcoran said the union survey was prompted by news that the Board of Education was to vote Feb. 28 on whether to extend Lucero’s contract one year. It expires in June 2024 so, without an extension, the school year that begins in September would be Lucero’s last. She has 10 years in the district and took the $406,000 top post in 2019.
In the days before Feb. 28, the union office got emails, phone calls and texts from members who wanted to tell the school board how they feel about the extension, Corcoran said.
That wasn’t surprising, given the tension of the last year, he said.
A controversy over Lucero’s effort to switch the high schools to an unpopular block schedule persisted for months. Lucero pushed the schedule even though teachers said it was devised without their input, and two high school principals determined it wouldn’t work.
Teachers at two of the high schools – Westhill and the Academy of Information Technology & Engineering – voted no confidence in Lucero. Parents initiated online petitions. Teachers at Turn of River Middle School, Davenport Ridge Elementary School, and Strawberry Hill K-8 school, which were not affected by the schedule change, also voted no confidence in Lucero, saying they, too, are left out when important policies are decided.
Teachers in general said their efforts are not supported, their work goes unrecognized, and they are fed up with the atmosphere of distrust and fear of retaliation in the district.
Citing the discontent among teachers, members of the Board of Education last June voted against extending Lucero’s contract.
When union members learned that the board would again consider extending it on Feb. 28, they were so concerned that they decided to proceed with a survey even after they heard that the vote has been tabled for now, said Ruth Walden, a Westhill High School teacher and vice president for high schools on the SEA executive board.
“After the no-confidence votes last year, we thought, ‘We have to do something; we have to test the waters – what are teachers feeling if this is extended for another year?’” Walden said.
Kate Tobin, a Westhill teacher and member of the SEA executive board, said Heftman sent SEA members a note after learning there’d been a survey.
The school board president wrote that “a survey is not a panacea for positive change and what’s important is collaboration and listening to each other,” Tobin said.
She agrees that a survey is not a solution, Tobin said, but she’s not clear on what administrators mean by collaboration.
“This is my 19th year in the district, and I can’t tell you how many committees I’ve sat on,” Tobin said. “We’re told by (Central Office) that they want a teacher’s voice, I give my time to committee work, and it never leads to anything … You go to committee, they say we will talk about this issue and try to come up with a solution, but instead a solution has already been decided and the committee is just supposed to rubber-stamp it. It’s hugely problematic time and again.”
Nancy Mould, a teacher at Davenport Ridge Elementary School and a member of the SEA executive board, said teachers have reached a breaking point.
“A whole bunch of things have chipped away at us. We tried to collaborate as much as we could, but it got to the point where we took votes of no confidence and now we are here with a survey about whether to extend the superintendent’s contract,” Mould said. “In the meantime we’re hemorrhaging teachers.”
Corcoran said the district had to fill 200 teacher slots last summer.
“We’ve had hundreds of resignations … and it’s only going to get worse,” Corcoran said. “I have no idea how many we will have to hire come this August, but I know one out of three teachers who leave are special education.”
Walden said 25 percent of the district’s special education teachers have left in the last couple of years.
“It was heartbreaking to do the survey and the no-confidence votes. Nobody took joy in it,” Mould said. “We love this district; we didn’t do this lightly.”
Walden said that, after last year’s no-confidence votes, Lucero visited the schools to talk with teachers. But the effort missed its mark.
“Apparently there is still a disconnect that needs to be remedied,” Walden said. “It was more of Dr. Lucero asking teachers to support her budget with the Board of Finance and Board of Representatives, which we understand is also a priority. But we were expecting her to dialogue with them on their issues.”
Walden said she met with Lucero Wednesday.
“She said she was going back out to the schools, since teachers during the first go-round didn’t feel as if their concerns had been heard,” Walden said. “She assured SEA leadership that that would be her priority.”
Corcoran said Lucero has supported teachers who needed extended sick leave and better class coverage, and helped get them stipends for increased workloads.
“You can’t blame the superintendent for everything,” he said. “You can say the school board has a big part in the blame. They don’t do a good job following up on the superintendent’s goals and objectives.”
Lucero, Heftman and Kathleen Steinberg of the district’s Public Affairs Office did not return a request for comment on Friday.
Walden said she wants all in the district to thrive.
“As a black woman, I am extremely proud of having (Lucero) as my superintendent. She is the first black woman so appointed, and I want to see her succeed,” Walden said. “But in order for her to do that she must listen to, validate and value her teachers and right now an overwhelming number do not feel that. She needs to remedy this and she has told SEA leadership it is her priority moving forward.”