Stamford School Board Votes Unanimously to Terminate Former High School Principal in Scandal

Stamford's Board of Education voted 8-0-1 at a special meeting Monday night to terminate the former Stamford High School principal after her suspension over allegations that she knew about a teacher having sex with a student and failed to report it.

Donna Valentine served as Stamford High School's principal when police say English teacher Danielle Watkins had sex with one of her students and provided him and another boy with marijuana. Watkins is now serving a five-year prison sentence.

Former Supt. Winifred Hamilton recommended that the district fire Stamford High School Principal Donna Valentine back in May before her retirement Jan. 1, accusing Valentine of failing to report suspicions about Watkins to state officials and police. Hamilton also moved to terminate Assistant Principal Roth Nordin. Both were suspended.

Valentine pleaded not guilty Oct. 2 to criminal charges of failing to alert authorities.

Attorney Mark Sherman previously told The Advocate newspaper that Valentine would request a hearing by an impartial arbitrator, who would make a recommendation on her employment to the Board of Education. If the board votes to fire Valentine, she can appeal the decision in state Superior Court.

Stamford's school board met Monday at a special meeting to review the analysis of the impartial hearing officer's "Findings of Fact and Recommendations regarding the performance, employment or dismissal of Dr. Donna Valentine," discuss and hear advice from the board's attorney "regarding deliberation meeting procedures and statutory process for developing Board's decision on the performance, employment or dismissal of Dr. Donna Valentine" and to talk about how to act in response to the investigation report "regarding the employment, performance, or dismissal of Dr. Donna Valentine."

The board ultimately voted 8-0-1 in favor of accepting the hearing officer's findings and recommendations and to terminate Valentine due to "inefficiency," "insubordination" to follow board rules, "moral misconduct" and other "due to other due insufficient cause" effective Jan. 26, as well as to allow its attorneys to provide Valentine with written notification of the board's decision. Board assistant secretary Mike Altamura abstained from all four votes on the matter.

Parts of the meeting went into executive session for private discussion.

NBC Connecticut has reached out to the district and hasn't received comments at this time.

Raymand Manka is serving as the high school's principal, according to the school's website

Hamilton previously rescinded her initial recommendation to terminate Assistant Principal Angela Thomas-Graves. Thomas-Graves was briefly suspended when the allegations first came out but returned to work after a week. In June, Hamilton recommended Thomas-Graves be suspended for a month without pay and her one-year transfer to a new role as head administrator of adult and continuing education, a position that's remained posted for two years. 

"Ms. Thomas-Graves brings a deep knowledge of Stamford and its communities as well as many years of experience here as an assistant principal," Hamilton said in a statement in June posted on the district's website. "Therefore she is an ideal fit for this position."

Assistant Supt. Michael Fernandes offered to resign, according to an announcement posted on the Stamford Public Schools website last week, but Hamilton asked that he rescind his resignation. He is the most senior school official involved in the case.

Stephen Falcone, executive director of human resources for Stamford Public Schools was suspended for at least one month, but he's still listed on the district website as employed in that role. Head of security Curtis Tinnin, security guard James Jordan and high school social worker James Cooney received letters of warning, Hamilton previously said. 

Hamilton announced her retirement as superintendent in May, effective Jan. 1, due to the scandal and her desire for the district to move forward and rebuild it's reputation, according to her statement posted on the Stamford Public School's website

"The violation of public trust created by the abuse of a student at Stamford High school, and all of the events that have followed, have led to the diminished trust and perception of Stamford Public Schools by our community and has distracted attention away from our primary focus of preparing students for higher education and success," Hamilton said in a statement from May announcing her retirement. "As superintendent, the day-to-day focus should be on students: ensuring effective leadership is in place; continuing to close the achievement gap; managing a $3 million budget cut; trying not to reduce our teaching staff; and planning for our increased enrollment challenges, as well as building a new school. Instead, over the past several months attention has been interrupted and shared the focus. Because I believe the children of Stamford deserve undivided attention, I am announcing my retirement, effective January 1, 2016. This timeframe should allow the Board sufficient time to conduct the comprehensive search this district needs to be sure Stamford gets the best Superintendent for our students and allows for a proper transition. I remain committed to ensuring the work of this district continues to move forward while that search and transition takes place."

James A. Connelly, who previously served as district chief for Bridgeport Public Schools for 18 years and served as interim superintendent in Killingly, Putnam, District 16 (Prospect/Beacon Falls), Montville, Woodbridge, Oxford and Naugatuck started as interim superintendent Jan. 1, according to the district's website

“Mr. Connelly has served as interim superintendent in many Connecticut school districts,” Stamford BOE President Jackie Heftman previously said in a statement. “The Board believes his broad experiences as superintendent, interim superintendent, and teacher give him the right skill set to lead Stamford Public Schools while we search for a new superintendent.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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