Robinson Plans to Take Reins in Stratford

The Newtown Superintendent says she plans to accept the offer, the culmination of a process that took place last fall.


Newtown Superintendent Janet Robinson, who has led the district since 2008, plans to take the helm of Stratford Public Schools this summer after the position is formally offered on Wednesday. It's the first public acknowledgement of a selection process that took place before the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings drew national attention to the Newtown School District.

"This process took place last fall, and I felt that the Board of Education in Stratford was really interested in students' success," Robinson told Patch Monday evening. "I thought the kind of things we've done for success in Newtown would work in Stratford."

Robinson is currently in California, where she is attending the American Association of School Administrators conference. She stressed the appointment hasn't been confirmed yet, but says she plans to accept.

At a Stratford Board of Education meeting, chair Gavin Forrester confirmed Stratford would move ahead with the appointment Wednesday.

"Since she was quoted [in the press], I see no benefit leaving things to speculation," said Forrester.

Pending the official appointment, Robinson is slated to start July 1.


"Great Enthusiasm"

In a letter to staff, parents, students and the community, the Stratford school board chair praised Robinson's work and said she was carefully vetted for the position.

"It is with great enthusiasm that the Stratford Board of Education announces the selection of Dr. Janet Robinson as the next Superintendent of Schools for our 7,000 students and staff," said the undated letter, which added that "Robinson was appointed on Wednesday, February 27, 2013." (Patch received the letter February 25.)

"The board extends a special recognition to the Superintendent Search Committee, a knowledgeable and diverse group, who devoted time and talent to the process," said the letter.

In the letter, Forrester said more than 20 candidates submitted resumes, and that the search board conducted four rounds of interviews and "extensive" reference checks.

"Through this process, Dr. Robinson rose to the top of a very competitive group," he said.

Forrester said just days -- even hours -- before the shooting, the board was in position to announce Robinson as future superintendent. Stratford Education Association president Susan Vance said she got an e-mail the morning of Dec. 14 with a meeting agenda, dated later in December, listing the announcement.

But after news broke, the board agreed it wasn't the right time. An e-mail went out hours later saying the matter was now "up for discussion."

"We held off for many reasons, sensitivity being the key one," said Forrester. While she has received national acclaim for her work after the shooting, that's not the reason she was hired, the school board chairman said.

Just days before, Forrester said, three board members conducted a site visit in Newtown to meet with students, administrators, staff and community leaders and learn about Robinson's role as superintendent in the town.

"They provided universally glowing testimonials about her skills, knowledge and character," he said.


"A Testimonial Tapestry"

A California native, Robinson had mostly worked in warmer climes before coming to Connecticut, teaching in Florida and getting her Master's Degree in Hawaii. Before her first superintendent posts -- prior to Newtown, she helmed districts in Preston and Derby -- she worked as a school psychologist and classroom management consultant. All told, Robinson has worked in education for four decades.

"Staff, parents and board members who have a firsthand understanding of Dr. Robinson’s work provided a strong testimonial tapestry about her skills, knowledge and character," said Forrester in his letter. "They described her as caring, engaging, supportive, a highly professional person who has grace under pressure and with a simple mantra, 'Students First.'"

Her tenure in Newtown has seen both nationwide praise and controversy, especially since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. She testified in Washington, D.C., recently received the Peace Islands Educator of the Year award, and will be honored as Superintendent of the Year by the University of Connecticut in March. But she faced criticism at home from board members for her remarks on two Newtown elementary school choirs, and faced other contentious issues in the years before the shooting, including a long debate over bus contracts. In the summer, her contract was extended by two years rather than the standard three.

"She has a deep understanding of education and through her efforts has been able to form a highly collaborative team of leaders in the district," said the letter. "She holds all students, staff and families to high expectations, but provides the necessary support needed to reach these expectations. Dr. Robinson has the intellect to understand the complexity and the character and quality of mind to make the tough decisions and stand by them. Her vision is described as forward thinking yet practical."

Forrester said the board is organizing an official reception for Robinson for sometime in the Spring. In the meantime, he said he hoped Robinson would be able return from California by Wednesday to finalize the agreement.

"It may take some of the suspense out of Wednesday's meeting," he added.

SoMo February 27, 2013 at 03:08 PM
Bitter folks = internet access = never a good combo. Even in a town as nice as Newtown there will always be a few miserable folks.
carlistojoe February 27, 2013 at 04:40 PM
This board is an embarrassment. Leidlein and Roche put their petty jealousies ahead of the good of the town. Now let's see what they do. What makes anyone think that Leidlein can find someone better than Janet. Just what makes her qualified? We need a new Board. And Llodra should be shown the door too. At least we get to vote her out. How do we get rid of Leidlein?
Marilyn February 27, 2013 at 05:29 PM
You want a new board and new First Selectman, but the Superintendent is the best? Are you kidding me? If anyone deserves the awards that are being handed to Robinson, it is Llodra...she is the one that has led this town...and leading the discussion on SHES...that certainly is not her job! We need someone in NOW to make critical decisions about the future of the school district...not let Robinson drag her backside getting out of here and making those decisions for us!!
carlistojoe February 27, 2013 at 06:08 PM
Janet is the face of Newtown, not Llodra. Certainly not Leidlein. What is Llodra's position on gun control I wonder? Janet also was named Superintentant of the Year. Just makes Leidlein look worse, if that is possible.
SusanR February 27, 2013 at 07:34 PM
A superintendent’s job is beyond difficult. C'mon, the bus decision wasn’t Robinson’s alone that was discussed for years before Robinson came to town. Many of the accolades given Robinson all were determined before 12/14. Parents hate her because they feel she didn’t do right by their child & others love her because something she did was great for theirs. Superintendents are never applauded for anything. It’s their fault if budget doesn’t pass, if teachers need to be downsized, if buses are late, if test scores are low (but they get no credit if they're high), if a teacher is sick, if a principal doesn’t return a phone call. That’s their job. And that’s what they sign up for. I don’t know too many people who have the fight and resolve that she had to pick up on 12/15 and try to get this district moving forward again. Hate her because she was the one that finally put the bus decision to a board vote & because she said that the choir wasn’t associated with the school & because she asked for a 1% budget increase last year (when most districts were asking for 5%) and whatever. Can you give a single ounce of credit for her not leaving on 12/15 when she could have fled to Stratford or trying to do what was right for the students here when others had their own agenda. Newtown is supposed to focus on hope and love. Feel hopeful that someone else would do a better job, focus on that. Stop belittling someone who has tried her darndest to push this town forward.
Sawyer February 27, 2013 at 10:47 PM
1. The residents of Newtown, Are the Face of Newtown! And with the upmost respect: 2. Pat Llodra governs Newtown! 3. Janet Robinson governs Newtown School System! To glorify one person in the face of this tragic time in Newtown is a huge insult to "many" involved! At this point, give it a rest everyone, enough! Thank and wish Mrs. Robinson well! Onward Newtown!!
Marilyn February 27, 2013 at 11:40 PM
You must be confused with her award for Outstanding Superintendent of the Year from UConn....she hasn't been named Connecticut or National Superintendent of the Year! I don't love her or hate her, I just can't believe that someone paid that amount of money can't get along with the BOE...there is no common respect or leadership!
Rick Jones February 28, 2013 at 01:49 AM
I am not from Newtown, but next door in Brookfield. I cannot claim to know enough to take a position on the longer term issues between Dr. Robinson and the BOE. She certainly has been one of the positive forces post 12-14 and I admire her Pat Llorda and others in town for their actions under a situation for which there certainly was no play book. I just have to wonder however when I read that the BOE was surprised that JR had put recruiting expense into the budget after the BOE had voted not to extend her contract. In the superintendent's world, that is tantamount to firing her. Did the BOE not realize this?
Phil McCrakin February 28, 2013 at 03:55 AM
I have been keeping the people who sign my paycheck happy for years and they keep me employed and well payed. If Janet had simply kept people happy she surely could have stayed here for years and years. This is why we have a CONTRACT with her if she had simply done what was expected, she would have remained employed. Unfortunately she took on the bus issue, then the Baldwin Media scandal, soon after that she send everybody to make friends in china. The list goes on and on. If I had hired and outside firm at my employer to do what I should be doing what do you think my boss would say? Plain and simple Janet DID NOT hold up her end of the contract. If Stratford wants her........take her>>
Kevin Fitzgerald February 28, 2013 at 04:46 AM
Marilyn, just FYI that the reason Pat Llodra is leading the discussion on SHES (Sandy Hook Elementary School) is because the town, and not the school district, owns the school buildings.
Sam Mihailoff February 28, 2013 at 06:13 AM
Marilyn stated "school district" NOT "school building" Has Mrs. Robinson been at the fore dealing with the residual mental anguish of the students and staff at the current SHES in Monroe? Scuttlebutt says no
Kevin Fitzgerald February 28, 2013 at 01:48 PM
Scuttlebutt = gossip, rumor. Is the residual mental anguish of students and staff at SHES an issue? Absolutely. Has Dr. Robinson already led difficult decisions on the topic? There is enough public info and even scuttlebutt to show she has. Does everyone agree? Of course not. Some need more time off, some want everything running full throttle. Mental health experts lean toward the return to normalcy. State and federal education requirements do not allow the flexibility I had expected considering 12/14. I'm not happy that we can't stop the clock for those teachers and students who need relief. I volunteer hoping it brings relief somewhere down the line to someone who needs it. I respect a Superintendent who supports the waiver for SH but defends the CMTs for the other schools including those my children attend. She knows better than you and I the value of the CMTs and the repercussions for teachers and students that come with waivers. That's what I want in a Superintendent. Someone always pressing for education and my child's long term success. We don't need low-thinker officials who make easy and popular choices to win short-term praise from parents. And yes. Dr. Robinson has clearly been at the fore of this and every other district-related issue all along. Why else would the two BOE leaders with an axe to grind have wasted so much time and energy spreading scuttlebutt and manufacturing reasons to remove her. Because that's all they have.
Michael February 28, 2013 at 03:25 PM
Kevin, you’ve been defending Janet on the Stamford Patch as well. I can tell you first hand as a parent who has a first grader at the Sandy Hook school that Janet has not taken seriously the mental health concerns of parents at the new Chalk Hill school. Her lack of action and attention in the classrooms with 6 and 7 year old children who survived the shooting and are experiencing various states of trauma has bordered on criminal. She talks a good game and her emails about progress at the new school make it sound like she's doing great things, but when it comes to meaningful action in the classroom she has been a complete failure.
Kevin Fitzgerald February 28, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Michael, I'll never assume to know what it's like for a parent of a SHS child and I do know there are still unresolved concerns. I am familiar with some of the public and behind the scenes conversations about those concerns and as I described above, there are opposing opinions, both very valid. But I am not getting the "complete failure" message or anything along those lines. Most of those I hear from seem to understand the challenge and that there is no "right" answer. But I don't pretend to know everything. Have you reached out to Janet personally or through someone else, BOE? Would you like me to help? kevinkis@aol.com.
carlistojoe February 28, 2013 at 04:15 PM
Michael, just what would you want Janet to do? As for the bus issue, why is it even an issue? The town saved money and most of the owner operators went to work for All Star. In business you make bids and the o/o came in by far the highest. It was a no brainer. Finally, Leidlein and Roche came into office with a vendetta against Janet. The question is why? There was unity after 9/11, but Leidlein and Roche continued the war on Janet after 12/14. Disgracefull.
SusanR February 28, 2013 at 04:17 PM
Michael - I am sorry that you feel that the superintendent has failed you. I believe that many parents in SHS/Chalk Hill strongly disagree. I know certain parents of the surviving children in Ms. Soto's class have felt that Dr. Robinson has been very responsive to their needs. I would think that despite her problems with the board members, that Dr. Robinson would do anything for the children at SHS if she felt their needs were not being met. Have you made any attempts to ask her office for more support?
HRLAW February 28, 2013 at 04:21 PM
I usually ignore comments on here as needless venting but when I saw Michael's comment, I wanted to respond. I do believe that many parents at the school have been vocal about requesting her assistance and she has been responsive. Have you tried to communicate your frustrations with Dr. Robinson?
Michael February 28, 2013 at 06:16 PM
Thank you for your genuine concern. I have sent Janet emails. I actually sent her three emails expressing my concerns and requesting support in my son's first grade classroom. She didn’t respond to any of them. I also reached out to other Sandy Hook school personnel and after 2-1/2 months there is finally some help in the classroom. I cannot speak to Janet’s tenure as superintendent outside of this experience with the school shooting, but her lack of responsiveness to my concerns and the concerns of other parents in my son’s classroom has been beyond frustrating.
Lois Imbriano Barber March 01, 2013 at 01:27 AM
Janet Robinson was much better than John Reed. Why they named a school after him is beyond me. He must have had political connections. Michael, I hope your child is now getting the help he or she needs. Why don't you try calling instead of emailing? I know sometimes in a busy period I turn on my computer to 150 emails! Leave a voice message saying that you need urgent help. Your emails might be getting lost in the slush pile or junk mail. I wish your family all the best.
Laurabee March 01, 2013 at 02:21 AM
I don't believe any of the negative comments about our Superintendent. I know our teachers are sad she's leaving and my daughters teacher is angry at the board of Ed because they made life miserable for her and took thief eye off the ball trying to fire her. She and the previous boards got along so well and did great things.
Marilyn March 01, 2013 at 02:37 AM
Lois...do you live in town? You have NO idea what you are talking about. 20 years as superintendent has absolutely nothing to do with politics. He lived (and lives) in this town and is respected amongst his peers! Janet has no vested interest in Newtown. If she did, she would have fought for her job! I'm pretty sure his name did not appear in the article so it's completely inappropriate to bring it up now!
Yay Write March 01, 2013 at 03:05 AM
Lois you apparently have no idea what your talking about. To even put Janet Robinson in the same conversation shows your lack of knowledge and understanding on what Dr. Reed did for this town in the 20 years that he led the district! Notice I said Ied!
Lois Imbriano Barber March 01, 2013 at 11:08 AM
I do know what I am talking about. I had a meeting with John Reed and that is my opinion. The concern I had about the schools and asked him to be changed was "poo=pooed by him". Guess what? My concernst became State law about 4 years later. I'm not going into details but I do not think much of him as a man. I never will.
Beth Koschel March 01, 2013 at 05:23 PM
Fact: The Owner/Operators were NOT by far the higest bid. http://newtown.patch.com/articles/district-receives-7-bids-on-bus-contract Most of the Owner/Operators did NOT go to work for All Star. 10 out of 30 who lost a contract went to work for them. 9 as drivers and one in dispatch.
Yay Write March 01, 2013 at 05:30 PM
Lois your in the minority! I can assure you your feelings are not shared by too many people. And your issue was over 10 years ago time to move on! Life is too short to hold a grudge!
Marilyn March 01, 2013 at 05:32 PM
I'll repeat that bringing up your issues in this forum is completely inappropriate, regardless of your opinion after 1 meeting. Maybe you should research why the school was named after him rather than just assume it was political. Air your dirty laundry someplace else!
charlietrucks March 01, 2013 at 11:51 PM
don't let the door hit you on the way out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lois Imbriano Barber March 02, 2013 at 12:42 AM
I was just stating my opinion, which I have every right to, just as you are entitled to yours. I am also free to state my opinion on this forum. Yes, life is too short to have a grudge. My children are now out of the school system. Whether you liked or disliked the present superintendent or her predecessor, I hope the new one gets along with everyone. He or she is stepping into a hard job at a most difficult time, and needs our support.
carlistojoe March 04, 2013 at 09:31 PM
Beth, ok so there were FOUR bids lower than the Owner Operators and two higher. My point is the same. The o/o put themsellves out of business. The Board made the only choice they could make. They could not justify keeping the o/o when there were FOUR lower bids. Can't feel sorry for them.
SusanR March 04, 2013 at 09:42 PM
Joe - I'm not sure where you are getting your information from. The other parents of SHS that I've spoken to, particularly the ones of the surviving children from Ms. Soto's class have been very pleased with the communication and support from our Superintendent. She has stressed on numerous occasions how accessible she wants the federal and state mental health professionals to be as accessible as possible to the SHS parents, teachers and staff. I'm not sure if you are getting your stories from one upset person, but I believe that if you take a poll of those within SHS, it would overwhelmingly be a positive review of Dr. Robinson's performance. It's time to move on from the criticizing and nitpicking now. There are 64 comments on here either in support or against Dr. Robinson's performance. She is leaving Newtown and going to another district because her style doesn't work with the BOE leadership. End of story. She has had many successes for the Town of Newtown and apparently some not-so-positive reviews. She is one person and if some parents feel someone is dropping the ball in SHS, then more people need to speak up and demand more of Dr. Robinson, the Assistant Superintendent, the school administrators, etc. This thread has done enough to show how much the Town hates her. Enough. Let's please move on and try to put our support behind the BOE to hopefully get someone to take on the challenge of carrying us through this.


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