October 22, 2014

Region 4 School Board Hires Madison Lawyer for High School Investigation

REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of Education has hired a Madison lawyer to investigate reports of a gag order allegedly imposed on students and staff at Valley Regional High School in the wake of the departure of the school principal last month.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said Stacey Lafferty, a lawyer with a solo practice in Madison, has been hired to conduct the investigation that was authorized by the board at a Nov. 18 special meeting. Levy said Lafferty had served previously as a hearing officer for two student expulsion hearings in the district.

Levy said Lafferty has begun the investigation, and was at the high school Monday. Lafferty is expected to interview students, staff, and Levy herself, about claims by some students and parents that a gag order was imposed on students and staff before and after the Oct. 12 resignation of Eric Rice, the Chester resident who worked briefly as principal at the high school. There have been claims that students were ordered, under threat of sanctions, not to discuss the circumstances of Rice’s departure on school grounds.

Levy has declined to comment on the circumstances of Rice’s departure after less than two months on the job, despite reports that she had given Rice a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum for unspecified reasons in mid-September. The alleged gag order was cited in a complaint filed with the state Department of Education earlier this month by Essex resident Susan Magaziner.  The complaint was dismissed by state Commissioner of Education Mark McQuillan, but district lawyers also recommended the board sponsor a full investigation in to the alleged gag order.

Levy said Rafferty’s investigation would conclude with a written report to the board of education that will also be available to the public. Levy said she is hopeful the investigation would be completed before the school’s Christmas holiday break late next month.

Levy, who assumed the district’s top job in July 2009 after nearly three years as assistant superintendent, Monday also dismissed rumors that she is interviewing for other school administration jobs in preparation for leaving Region 4. Levy said she enjoys working for the Chester-Deep River-Essex school district, and has not interviewed for other positions despite the recent controversy over the principal’s departure and the alleged gag order. “I have not even thought about looking elsewhere,” she said.

Charles Stannard is a lifelong resident of Essex, and has covered various Middlesex County towns for two daily newspapers over the past 30 years.  He worked for the Middletown Press from 1979 to 1995 and the Hartford Courant from 1997 through last summer, and covered Chester, Deep River, Essex and Killingworth for the past decade.  Charlie lives in the Ivoryton section of Essex.

Region 4 School Board to Investigate Alleged Gag Order at Valley Regional High School

REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of Education voted Wednesday to hire an independent party to investigate reports that a gag order was imposed on students and staff at Valley Regional High School in the wake of last month’s departure of the former high school principal.

The board decided at a special meeting to retain an outside attorney to investigate the alleged gag order and report back to the board. The five members present at the meeting, including board treasurer Richard Strauss of Chester, who is Rice’s father-in-law, voted unanimously to begin the investigation as soon as possible.

Reports that students were ordered not to discuss the situation involving the principal under threat of sanctions by school officials surfaced before and after Rice’s Oct. 12 resignation from the principal job he held for less than two months. There were reports that Rice, a Chester resident, had been given a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum from Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy, who has declined to discuss the circumstances of Rice’s departure. There have been claims by students and some parents that students, including members of school athletic teams, had been ordered not to attend a Sept. 23 rally supporting Rice, and not to discuss the situation on school grounds. Kristina Martineau, who had been assistant principal at the high school for about three years, has been named as acting principal for the remainder of the current academic year.

The alleged gag order had been included in a complaint to the Connecticut Department of Education against Levy and the Region 4 board that was filed by Essex resident Susan Magaziner. State Commissioner of Education Mark McQuillan dismissed the complaint last week, but Magaziner has also submitted the complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s regional office in Boston, Mass.

Board Chairwoman Linda Hall of Deep River said an independent investigation of the alleged gag order was not required for the dismissal of the state complaint, though she acknowledged the school district’s lawyer, Ann Littlefield, had recommended the board investigate the allegations.

Levy who has denied the claims of a gag order on students or staff, said she wants the investigation. “If there was a gag order I want the truth to come out and quite honestly I deserve the truth to come out,” she said, adding “I want my name cleared.”

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Ian Neviaser, who had been principal at the high school before Rice was hired, said the state Department of Education would not conduct the investigation, though it had suggested the names of individuals qualified to conduct such an investigation. Hiring a lawyer for the investigation would cost the school district about $175 per hour.

District officials are expected to announce the person retained to conduct the investigation next week. The private attorney would interview students and staff at the high school. The individual would be asked to complete the investigation and present a report to the school board as soon as possible, though there is no deadline for completion of the investigation.

Charles Stannard is a lifelong resident of Essex, and has covered various Middlesex County towns for two daily newspapers over the past 30 years.  He worked for the Middletown Press from 1979 to 1995 and the Hartford Courant from 1997 through last summer, and covered Chester, Deep River, Essex and Killingworth for the past decade.  Charlie lives in the Ivoryton section of Essex.

Todd Ellison and Friends – Bringing Broadway to Connecticut Tonight

Todd Ellison, Broadway Musical Director

Todd Ellison, Broadway Musical Director,Lyme resident, and Essex native son, will be joined by friends from New York City to provide an exciting evening of entertainment on Monday, Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Valley Regional High School Theater in Deep River, CT.  After spending several years as the Musical Director and Vocal Arranger for Spamalot, Todd is currently Musical Director/Conductor for the ward winning musical La Cage Aux Folles.

Scheduled to appear with him are Jonathan Freeman who was the voice of Jafar in the Disney movie Aladdin and is now in Mary Poppins, Chester native Peter Lockyer who is currently in South Pacific and played Marius in Les Miserables, Mary Testa who was in On the Town and 42nd Street, and Dominique Plaisant of Broadway’s The Wild Party and Lestat. Also joining will be Deep River native, Ryan Driscoll -The Summer of ’42.

These outstanding Broadway performers are generously donating their talents to benefit three of Todd’s favorite causes: the Region 4 Education Foundation, the Lyme Public Hall Assn. Inc. (in honor of the late Elizabeth
Putnam), and Literacy Volunteers Valley Shore.

General admission tickets are $30 presale and $35 at the door. Tickets can be obtained at H.L Reynolds (Jane’s) Store in Lyme, the Bowerbird in Old Lyme, Grillo’s Package Store in Centerbrook, Literacy Volunteers Valley Shore, 25 Middlesex Tpke in Essex, and Valley Regional High School in Deep River. For information call 860 767-1202. The show is sure to sell out so get your tickets now.

Region 4 Goes Back to School Today

REGION 4— Region 4 schools open today for the 2010-2011 academic year with a new principal at Valley Regional High School and 21 new teachers (most replacing retiring teachers) for the five schools in Chester, Deep River, and Essex.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy Thursday praised the efforts of district custodians in preparing the school buildings for opening day. “All of our buildings are ready for children to walk in to and they look absolutely spectacular,” she said. “Our staff is ready and we’re excited about the new school year.”

The principal job at the high school opened up after Ian Neviaser, an Essex resident who had served as principal since 2008, was selected as the district’s new assistant superintendent. Eric Rice, a Chester resident who worked previously as principal of a science and engineering magnet school in Hartford, was selected for the principal job in July.

Peter Foxen, a Rocky Hill resident who has worked for the past decade in the Portland school system, is the new associate principal at John Winthrop Middle School. Thomas Peterlik of Deep River is the new director of food services for the school district.

An early retirement incentive program offered last winter to generate savings in the education budget led to the retirement in June of 17 veteran teachers. Nearly all of those positions have been filled, along with a handful of new positions that were created to meet shifts in student enrollment.

New teachers at the high school include John Harris-social studies, Maryann Donagher-art, Christopher Allegretti-math, and Deborah Montenegro-chemistry. New hires for the middle school include John Woitovich-special education, Matthew Mesite-math, Kathryn Ryan-math, and Cara Rothman as the new director of the school’s library/media center.

Diana Mirante is a new second grade teacher at Essex Elementary School. New teachers at Chester Elementary School include Nicole Larson-grade 4, Kelsey Parente-grade 3, Brian Klasner-teacher’s assistant, and Lori Lenz-art. The new teachers at Deep River Elementary School are Brian Drinkard-physical education, Jennifer Raney-grade 6, Rachel Anderson-grade 5, Jill Shakun-grade 1, and Catherine Miller- remedial reading and language.

Kristin Menard is the new reading and language consultant at Deep River Elementary School.

Three new teachers were hired for the supervision district, providing services for more than one school, including Gary Stevens-art, Dina Monaco-special education, and Angela Fachini-foreign language. There are also six new para-educators, including Jodi Azzinaro, Jill Joes, Kristie Scanlon, and Allison Quagan at Deep River Elementary School, and Lynn Fishkind and Suzanne deJongh at Essex Elementary School.

Levy said the new television station will be in full operation at the high school this year, providing video coverage of athletic events and other school programs. Work is also expected to begin during this school year on a solar photovoltaic unit to be located on the roof at the middle school. The project, which will be paid for by grant funds, is expected to reduce energy costs for the school.