Friday, April 20, 2018
Education

Supporters come to ousted Connerton Elementary principal's defense

LAND O'LAKES — For months, James Kyle and other parents of children attending Connerton Elementary School didn't speak up as they watched some in the community bash principal Anna Falcone.

They figured their kids could learn the lesson that not everyone always gets along, and then the disagreements would blow over.

"We should have been more vocal," Kyle said.

Now with Falcone facing termination over accusations of insubordination, her supporters are speaking up. Some have begun circulating a petition to retain Falcone as Connerton principal; some are writing letters to district officials praising Falcone's leadership and deploring her treatment.

"Mrs. Falcone has always expected excellence of herself and of her staff members. She strives for it in her personal life as well as in her profession. She would never expect someone to do what she herself would not be willing to do," Connerton data entry operator Toni Moles wrote in a letter to the Tampa Bay Times and to the superintendent's office. "Education is her passion and it shows."

Superintendent Kurt Browning is scheduled to meet with Falcone on Thursday to hear her appeal of his recommendation that she be fired. He said he didn't expect her to resign, noting that she's hired a lawyer.

He also didn't want to say anything more about the situation, suggesting that his charging letter explains his position clearly.

In that letter, Browning calls Falcone insubordinate for repeated efforts to obtain the names of respondents to a confidential school climate survey, even after being told not to pursue the information.

"I also find that these actions will further erode the respect and confidence that your colleagues, students, parents and other members of the Connerton school community have in your ability to serve your school and the district at large," Browning wrote.

Browning removed Falcone from her post last month. He plans to ask the School Board to formally suspend her without pay on Tuesday, and then to end her employment on May 7.

Neither Falcone nor attorney James Schifino returned calls or emails seeking comment.

Kyle, who has a fifth grader at Connerton, said he was appalled by Browning's move to oust Falcone so soon before the annual FCAT testing. The school has become a somber, stressed place since, he said. He said Browning's action was ill-timed and too harsh for a "completely professional" principal who had created an A-rated school.

"I could see them all having a discussion behind the scenes that nobody knew about," Kyle said, suggesting he would not fire a principal for the actions of which Falcone is accused. "But coming out in public and doing all that is really ridiculous."

Kyle joined a mix of co-workers, friends and parents in standing up for Falcone, who hasn't been in the school since being relieved of duty right before spring break. She is negotiating for time to access her work computer so she can retrieve some of her files.

"I feel strongly that Mrs. Falcone is not just a great teacher and administrator, but a wonderful mentor and an individual with a strong passion for education. She personally inspired and mentored me to go from a secretary to work in the classroom," wrote Paola Sanchez, formerly Falcone's secretary. "Seeing her vision, commitment, and work ethic made me want to make an impact on children."

Jane Heisey, who sits on Connerton's advisory committee, wrote School Board member Joanne Hurley a letter not so much supporting Falcone, but deploring the handling of her situation.

"So far, there hasn't been one statement in Ms. Falcone's defense or to even clarify what she allegedly did. It is so completely one-sided that it makes me feel that Ms. Falcone has been treated unfairly," Heisey wrote. "She is being treated like someone who was caught doing something inappropriate or harmful with a child, not as someone who allegedly, might have made an error in judgment. To remove her so hastily on the last day before Spring Break, with just 8 weeks of school left makes little sense to most parents."

Hurley responded that she would make it a priority to ensure that Connerton is treated properly amid the changes.

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.

Comments
Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts today

Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts today

High school students from around the Tampa Bay area are participating in the National School Walkout today commemorating the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 and calling for gun law reform.A large group of students from St. Petersburg High g...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

High school students from both sides of Tampa Bay will commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings on Friday, although in very different ways. In St. Petersburg, students from several schools will gather at noon at City Hall f...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teachers’ aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer...
Published: 04/19/18
Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

LARGO — Starting soon, Pinellas County public schools could be using a nationwide violence prevention program founded by families of those killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012.The nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise, with ...
Published: 04/19/18

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teacher aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer p...
Published: 04/18/18
After Parkland, these students became activists. Will their movement last?

After Parkland, these students became activists. Will their movement last?

TAMPA — Sam Sharf’s parents thought he had the best position on the Plant High School football team. As back-up quarterback, he could impress the girls but rarely played enough to get hurt.Now a junior, Sharf is off the team so he can focus his energ...
Published: 04/18/18

Gannon University’s Ruskin growth includes $21 million addition

RUSKIN — Gannon University is experiencing some serious growing pains and as a result, SouthShore is going to see a big change in the landscape. When it opened its doors in 2015 as a satellite campus for its home school in Erie, Pa., Gannon occupied ...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18

Enrollment growth anticipated for Pasco County charter schools, with two more to open in the fall

Most of Pasco County’s more established charter schools expect to see their student population remain stable in 2018-19.Even so, enrollment in the county’s charter schools is expected to grow by about 1,100 children — or nearly 25 percent — in the fa...
Published: 04/17/18
Sunlake High sophomore wins summer scholarship to Ringling College of Art and Design

Sunlake High sophomore wins summer scholarship to Ringling College of Art and Design

LAND O’ LAKES — As a child, Taylor Young started doodling with crayons as a hobby. Now at age 16, this Sunlake High School sophomore has received a full scholarship, valued at $6,000, to attend the Ringling College of Art and Design Summer Pre-Colleg...
Published: 04/16/18
Manatee County high school student calls for ‘bracott’

Manatee County high school student calls for ‘bracott’

A Florida high school student who said she was told to cover up her nipples after not wearing a bra to school is planning a protest in response. Lizzy Martinez’ "bracott" will take place today at Braden River High in Manatee County, according to Twit...
Published: 04/16/18