Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Education

Connerton Elementary comes under school district scrutiny

LAND O'LAKES — Amid complaints and petitions, Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino is reviewing the leadership at Connerton Elementary School.

Fiorentino has visited the school twice in two weeks to look into whether the 848-student facility requires changes at the top.

"Right now, I'm still gathering information," Fiorentino said Thursday. "I have gotten phone calls and emails that absolutely support Anna (Falcone, the principal), and I've gotten phone calls and emails that have not supported her."

She expected to have a decision before classes start in August.

That's not quick enough for at least one School Board member.

Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley, who represents the area, said tensions have simmered at the school since it opened in 2010. There's been plenty of time, she said, for Fiorentino to act.

"This has gone on long enough," Hurley said. "I'm not here to say what to do. I'm just asking her to step up to the plate and do what she thinks is best."

In recent weeks, the fractures have shown. A small group of disgruntled current and former employees and parents protested in front of the school, complaining about teacher assignments and generally poor morale.

On Tuesday, the group's leader, former employee Peggy Lopez, submitted 114 signatures petitioning for Falcone's removal.

"The implication is that we have to choose between good scores and good administrators," Lopez said.

The schism stems from Connerton's transition from Sanders Elementary School, which was closed with plans to rebuild it in a couple of years.

Until then, Connerton was expected to serve essentially as the temporary site for a relocated Sanders. It soon became clear, though, that the reconstruction project wouldn't happen anytime soon because of the down economy.

As a result, Connerton took on its own identity as a new school. A new principal, Falcone, took the reins amid a spate of principal changes that affected six schools. And she was told to hire the staff she needed to make Connerton successful, without any requirement to absorb everyone from Sanders.

Some faculty members landed positions at Connerton. Some didn't. And some of them felt betrayed.

Falcone said she understood the stress and upset that has lingered, as well as new complaints about teacher reassignments she made at year's end. It's been no party for her to hear all the negative comments against her, either, she said.

But her goal, she said, has been to create a high-performing school.

"Sometimes change is hard. But it's needed," Falcone said. "The changes I made are going to benefit all the students."

School Board member Steve Luikart, a retired assistant principal, said he hopes Fiorentino keeps some perspective as she weighs what to do at Connerton.

"I've got to look back and say, It's not about the parents. It's about the kids," Luikart said. "Prove to me that what they're doing is harming kids and I'll step forward and I'll yell and scream as loud as anybody. But they haven't shown that to me."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.

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