NORWALK, Conn. – Is Norwalk’s superintendent of schools flying the coop? Some community leaders say yes. Others say they don’t think so. And at least one thinks it’s beside the point – she hasn’t done a great job. The rumors are swirling.
Superintendent Susan Marks released a statement recently saying she may take a leave of absence. But Democratic Common Councilwoman Nora King said she has heard from "reliable sources" that Marks may resign. “I can’t tell you who told me she’s leaving, but I have it from three really good sources right now,” King said. “I can tell you that unless some things change it’s pretty much a done deal, and I think the biggest part of the story is … a lot of people are asking her to not say anything until after the election, which I think is wrong. I think what our focus should be now is getting her to stay.”
Mike Barbis, a Sixth Taxing District commissioner, agreed. “I think there’s a good chance she’s out of here,” said Barbis, a Democratic candidate for the Board of Education in District E. “I think the body language and other issues are telling us she’s not going to be sticking around.”
King and Barbis are mounting a social marketing campaign to persuade Marks to stay, starting with a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Encourage-Susan-Marks-to-Stay-in-Norwalk-Schools/128887527211559.
But Board of Education Chairman Jack Chiaramonte was emphatic that Marks is worried about personal problems and has not talked about resigning. “I’ve spoken to Susan Marks, I’m the chairman of the board, if she were going to resign she would have come to me,” he said. “She may take some personal time, maybe, she hasn’t decided. But when she does she will let me know, and I will let the community know.”
He expressed his opinion with an Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” “She has a few private issues,” he said. “I wish people would leave her alone and let her do her job.”
Marks did not return a phone call asking for comment.
“I don’t think we should operate on rumors,” said Bruce Mellion, president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers. “The whole thing started several weeks ago, that she’s going to resign or going to leave. I don’t really have any direct factual information. I just think that the whole tone and tenor of that topic alone, whether it be resignation or leave, is very disconcerting to the entire community, the district, the employees, the students and so on.”
He said a survey of school system employees has shown overwhelming dissatisfaction with Marks' performance.“I don’t believe at the end of the day that she has been very successful so far in terms of what she’s done,” he said.
But Barbis begged to differ. “She’s done a tremendous job,” he said. “She’s brought all kinds of ideas into the school system, she’s brought in change, she’s brought in new curriculums.” He said his son has started participating in a new math program funded entirely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
"I'd like Susan Marks to know how many of the parents and families think she's done a tremendous job and really would like her to stay," he added. The effort to tell Marks that she is important and valued has begun on Facebook and will branch out to other mediums.
King believes Marks is leaving. “I think she’s pretty much like 99 percent out the door right now,” she said. “I think it’s a tragedy. I think it goes across party lines, and I’m ashamed of the people in my own party that are involved in it. I ashamed of the Republicans that are involved in it, and I’m ashamed of the union people that are involved with it. I think it’s a bad thing for Norwalk. … This is about education and moving Norwalk in the right direction.”
King, who is running for re-election, said Mayor Richard Moccia knows Marks is leaving and is one of those telling her to wait until after the election. Moccia said he had seen reports that Marks might take a leave for personal matters and said he is “not a mind reader.”
“Certainly I hope she stays and I think the majority of people hope she stays but that’s her decision,” he said. “I don’t know anything about staying to the election or after the election, or anything. My conversation was this: ‘I hope you’re going to stay, but your family has to come first.’”
King and Barbis say Marks hasn't been given the resources and support she needs in central headquarters and has been micro-managed. "Some of these members of Board of Ed need to take a couple of lessons on what their role is," Barbis said. "This is set up kind of like a corporation, where you have a chief executive officer and you have a board that's kind of guiding the executive officer. They're not (supposed to be) micro-managing the executive officer. Some of what has taken place at the Board of Ed meetings recently has been complete micro-management."
King concurred, saying, "I think we need to unite as parents, as taxpayers, as citizens, as politicians, as community leaders and make sure this doesn't happen."
Contact reporter Nancy Chapman at firstname.lastname@example.org.