LAND O'LAKES — Anna Falcone says she never tried to get any confidential information. And she wasn't trying to disobey her bosses, either.
Rather, the recently ousted principal of Connerton Elementary said she was simply trying to make sure that the unflattering results of a recent school climate survey came from current employees, not disgruntled ex-staffers.
"I did not want inaccurate information to go out so my group of haters could start another frenzy," she explained, noting that she had been under fire since being hired as principal to convert the closed Sanders Elementary into Connerton.
Her efforts to verify the results, however, ended with Pasco school superintendent Kurt Browning removing her from office the day before spring break and recommending that she be fired for insubordination and misconduct.
He said she attempted to subvert the confidentiality of the climate survey despite repeated warnings by superiors to stop.
Falcone, speaking publicly Wednesday for the first time since her suspension, said the superintendent acted with such haste that her school PTA president, staff members and parents knew about her removal before she could tell her own family. Browning didn't even speak to her directly or give her a chance to clarify the facts in question, she said.
"I was baffled. They treated me like a criminal," Falcone said, adding she wasn't even allowed to return to campus to pick up her two children after school.
The Pasco County School Board suspended Falcone without pay Tuesday. It will hear her appeal later this spring.
"I never breached confidentiality. I never was given a direct order," she said.
Falcone explained that, on seeing the survey results, she had instant doubts about their validity. She asked Bryce Pride, a supervisor in the district research office, to see if the responses came from email addresses of current staffers or previous employees.
Pride referred her to his supervisor, who handed her off to assistant superintendent Amelia Larson. Falcone said she went to Larson while also telling her direct boss, David Scanga, her concerns.
"Nothing was done secretly and nothing was done underhanded," Falcone said. "I knew very well she (Larson) wasn't giving me permission to do it. They were going to verify it for me."
Hearing nothing for days, Falcone said, she asked Pride for an update. Pride asked for a list of school employee email addresses to speed the process, Falcone continued, and she complied with the help of a staffer. A few days later, she got a list from Pride with a "yes" or "no" beside each of the email addresses she provided.
The School Board on Tuesday suspended Pride for three days.
A day after getting the list, Falcone got a visit from Scanga, who asked about her efforts to pursue her inquiry about the survey. She said she told him her actions were being misconstrued. A few days later she was called to the superintendent's office.
"This saddens me," Falcone said. "I have poured my heart and soul into this district, and they have just decided to end my career, humiliate me in front of my parents and the whole community for something that is not even true."
District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the administration will provide its evidence when the School Board holds its hearing to decide Falcone's fate.
"I don't think that many people would misunderstand her intent," Cobbe said.