Faculty Reacts to Thomas-Graves Termination

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Faculty Reacts to Thomas-Graves Termination

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On Friday, May 15, Superintendent Dr. Winifred Hamilton made a move for termination for Assistant Principal Angela Thomas-Graves and placed her on administrative leave. This was due to Thomas-Graves’s knowledge of and failure to report the teacher-student sex scandal that took place during the 2013-2014 school year. According to the investigative report by law firm Pullman & Comley, Thomas-Graves was informed of the inappropriate relationship and did not directly intervene to report it or stop it.

According to an email from Interim Principal Tony Pavia, special education teacher Leslie Pitiger will now be assuming the duties of the position of Special Education Department Head. Seeing as Thomas-Graves was also involved in all PPTs (Planning and Placement Team meetings), Dr. Pat Whitney, the IEP Compliance Coordinator at SHS and Westhill High School, will be joining Stamford High full time and will be running PPTs.

Following the move for termination, some faculty members got to work doing whatever they could to stop the termination from happening. A letter to the editor of The Round Table from Head of Library Media Jean Isler (also published in The Advocate) expressed strong disagreement with Hamilton’s decision regarding Thomas-Graves’s punishment. Since the letter’s publication, other faculty members have followed her lead. Several departments are writing to the Board of Education addressing their concerns and disagreement with the punishment.

An overwhelming majority of teachers also told The Round Table that they respect Thomas-Graves as a leader, and disagree with Hamilton’s decision to recommend her termination.  Quick to speak out in favor of Thomas-Graves were people in the departments over which she directly supervised, including Art and Special Education. According to Art Department Head Margaret Zielinski, Thomas-Graves is the “backbone” of their department. She noted that Thomas-Graves “kept [their department] going through hard times.” Art teacher Paul Cusano said, “It is ripping my heart out knowing she’s going through this [punishment],” a punishment which, according to Zielinski, “does not fit the crime.” Special Education teacher Brian Shanahan noted that Thomas-Graves “genuinely cared about the people who worked for her and her students.” Band Director George Beratis thinks Thomas-Graves “presented herself as one of the clear cut leaders [here]” and said that she “belongs here.”

Faculty members in Support Services couldn’t say enough good things either. Social Worker Leslie Chapman said that Thomas-Graves is an “asset to Stamford Public Schools” who is “an excellent administrator – as a human and a professional,” and one who “takes care of everyone at every level.” School Psychologist Barbara Boller described Thomas-Graves as an “incredibly courageous person,” and noted that in her 25 years in the district she has never met a more “dedicated and professional person.” Social Worker Christine Viala had similar feelings and likened Thomas-Graves to “a pillar,” saying that “without her, SHS won’t run the same.” She even added, “To many students she was known as school mommy,” and said that many teachers felt similarly and saw her as a mentor.

Many teachers from other departments share this sentiment. History teacher Michelle Malave noted that “she held the school together after the initial problems arose.” Security Guard Mike Gonzalez described Thomas-Graves as “very professional, very effective, very efficient.” Tara Karlson, science teacher said, “She had very, very high expectations – which is good; I grew to respect it.”

Interim Principal Tony Pavia said that Thomas-Graves’s absence is a “tremendous loss” to the Stamford High School community.

Close to 90 percent of faculty members interviewed by The Round Table noted that they would have confidence in Thomas-Graves if she were to return to the building as an administrator. Zielinski hoped that “the majority of the teachers recognize the injustice” of Thomas-Graves’s punishment, and the responses suggest that they do.

There was, however, a small group of teachers who did not feel positively about Thomas-Graves, though none work in departments she directly supervised. A teacher who wished to remain unnamed said, “She had her favorites” and added that they “did not see a big difference between Nordin and Thomas-Graves” in terms of involvement in the scandal. Another teacher, who also wished to remain anonymous, told The Round Table that “in a position of leadership you’re responsible to take action when something goes wrong, and [Thomas-Graves] did not.”

Regardless of whether or not they wanted her back at Stamford High School, faculty members almost unanimously agreed that they are exhausted by the entire disciplinary process. Math teacher Adam Scianna said, “this has become more of a political issue than a ‘protecting-our-students’ issue.” Malave noted that terminating another administrator is “unfair to the school at this time,” and Diane Burns, another math teacher, added that “being without leadership is taking a toll on the building.”

Perhaps summing the situation up best, physics teacher Kristen Amon said, “It’s like the stupid deflated footballs. I just want it to be over.”

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