Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Education

Connerton Elementary's interim principal hopes to rebuild relationships

LAND O'LAKES — Aimee Boltze has a clear agenda as she takes the helm of Connerton Elementary School on Monday.

She wants to build positive relationships within the school that had been plagued with complaints about bullying and controlling leadership over the past year. Boltze said she plans to ask the faculty and staff what they love about the school, and what things they want to see grow, as she aims to take Connerton forward.

"We're a team," said Boltze, who will move from her post as a human resources supervisor to become interim principal. "It's not me above anybody. The only way I can lead is if I have a whole team around me, and we're all willing to work together."

Superintendent Kurt Browning appointed Boltze to run Connerton through the end of the school year after removing Anna Falcone last week as principal. He said Falcone was insubordinate in her repeated attempts to obtain confidential responses to a recent climate survey that did not portray Connerton positively.

Only a quarter of the staff in that survey agreed that key decisions are made collaboratively, and a third said adults "feel free to suggest and undertake innovative strategies to meet current challenges." Among parents, just over half agreed that the school administration is responsive to their concerns.

Browning said Falcone insisted that the survey had been compromised with responses from outside the school and demanded to know who had submitted answers, even when told the information would not be provided. Falcone already had been under scrutiny for about a year, amid complaints that she was an intolerant and manipulative boss.

Falcone could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

At least two teachers — one veteran and one rookie — sent emails to the superintendent in recent weeks describing the stressful and hostile environment they said Falcone created, and saying they wished to transfer out as soon as possible if she remained.

News of Falcone's dismissal, with a recommendation that she be fired, was greeted positively in the community, said School Board member Joanne Hurley, who represents the area.

"I did hear from people this week saying whatever the reason, they are absolutely thrilled there is going to be a change in leadership and the school will have a fresh start," Hurley said.

Board member Steve Luikart said he had heard that Falcone might tender her resignation before the dismissal comes up for a vote. If that happens, he said, he might recommend that his colleagues not accept the resignation and instead vote to terminate her employment, given the egregious nature of her insubordination.

Hurley praised Boltze for acknowledging the school's past problems and committing to address those head on.

"There have been damaged relationships," she said, "and those relationships have to be repaired."

Boltze, formerly district director of staff development, has not been a principal or assistant principal in the past. She joined the district's principal preparation program several months ago, and has been consulting at Connerton in recent months along with principal mentor Renee Sedlack, who will continue to offer weekly guidance to the school.

Boltze said she planned to give teachers more say in how the school operates, while continuing to push for top academic results. She acknowledged the appointment is only temporary, but said she didn't intend to treat it that way.

"I don't know what the future holds, but I'm going to give it 150 percent. I am absolutely committed to that school," Boltze said. "If I have the opportunity (to win the job permanently) because we can work through some things and in two months we're in a better place, that would be a wonderful opportunity."

Assistant superintendent Amelia Larson said not to expect any final decisions on leadership at Connerton until after classes end. At that time, she said, the district administration will review all the schools that need changes and make them in tandem.

"We are looking at all the schools to determine who needs to move where," Larson said.

Veterans and Seven Oaks elementary schools will need new principals because of retirements, while Gulf Highlands elementary needs a principal because of a promotion. Shady Hills and Quail Hollow elementary schools are closing temporarily for renovations, displacing leaders at those schools. And climate survey results might point to other campuses in need of fresh perspectives.

"We are going to look at everything to see what is the best match," Larson said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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