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Anna Falcone: 'Connerton is Like My Third Child'

The elementary school principal at the center of recent controversy says there are always people who don't like some steps a leader takes.

She’s been called a bully, had threats made against her in public forums and faces a group of opponents who say they won’t stop speaking out until she is removed from her position.

But the principal of Connerton Elementary School isn’t going anywhere, according to district officials. And rather than dwell too much on the ongoing hostilities, Anna Falcone is looking forward to good things to come in the fall.

Falcone, who has two children of her own at the school, said Connerton "is like my third child.”  

Now, along with new vice principal, Claudia Steinacher, Falcone is ready to begin the mending process “so our kids can feel proud of where they come to school,” she said.

Falcone has found herself at the center of a when she attempted to move two popular veteran teachers to different grade levels for the 2012-13 school year.

"That was really the catalyst,” Falcone said.

Before those changes were announced, Falcone said she administered surveys to assess the climate of the school. “Up until those grade level changes, it was very positive,” she said.

Moving teachers to fill grade-level needs happens everywhere because the student population fluctuates every year, Pasco Schools spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli said. “That’s why they have K through sixth certification.”

Falcone said she felt strongly that both teachers would have excelled in the move.

“Strong teachers that have good qualities can teach at any grade level,” Falcone said.

Still, Falcone's announcement that the two would be moved spurred a group of former employees and parents into action. The group already had gathered more than 100 signatures on a petition calling for Falcone's removal before to support keeping those teachers in their positions.

“While we try to please everyone, there are always people who don’t like the steps a leader takes,” Falcone said.

Two of Falcone’s most vocal opponents, , have been disgruntled for a long time, Romagnoli said. They also never taught at Connerton.

Though she could not comment specifically, Romagnoli said there were personnel issues with both when they worked at Sanders Elementary.

Lopez organized the May 29 demonstration at Connerton. And both Lopez and Brown have , accusing Falcone of using bully tactics to manage her staff.  

'Mean Girl'?

In a recent interview, Brown said she feels Falcone has a “mean girl” mentality, supporting teachers who have a certain look, who fit a certain profile: young, cute and well-dressed.

“And if you didn’t fit that profile, she didn’t have time for you,” Brown said.

When asked to respond to that accusation, at first Falcone said she was speechless.

“That is absolutely false,” Falcone said. “I want every child here to get the best education possible, I don’t care what you look like.”

Evaluations of teachers are based on several factors, she said: “Does your passion come out when I interview you? Do you have knowledge of our core values?”

There is a “huge diversity” in Connerton’s staff, Falcone said.

Some of Falcone’s opponents also have said that teachers come to them crying on a regular basis because of mistreatment by Falcone.

“I’ve had teachers crying in my driveway,” said Michele Grady, who identified herself in a as "a friend of Sanders Elementary."

Those teachers don’t speak out for fear of losing their jobs, Brown said. “They cry out to us because they’re stuck there.”

But Connerton third-grade teacher Sheila Nero said that is far from the truth.

Falcone sets the bar high for teachers, and offers constructive criticism in the best interest of the students, she said.

She has seen teachers shed tears after a meeting, but “sometimes hearing the truth is hard,” Nero said. “Telling you if you’re not doing your job is not bullying.”

Teaching requires planning, and the Connerton administration expects teachers to know their standards and know their students, both of which drive instruction, Nero said.

"If a teacher is going to walk in on a Monday morning and teach from the margins of a book, they are not going to last at Connerton," Nero said. And if teachers speak to students in a disrespectful manner—something she has witnessed—that is not going to be tolerated either, she added.

“That’s not bullying, that’s holding us to the standards I’d hope the county would want us to have, the state would want us to have and parents would want us to have,” Nero said.

Falcone acknowledges that healing is needed at Connerton, but said her decisions are grounded in what's best for the students, and that's not going to change.

“I think the reason they are upset is that some of the decisions I was making in the best interest of the kids were not what they agreed with,” Falcone said.

But the students in the classroom come first, she said.

 “I would like to make everyone happy but I have to do what’s best for the kids,” Falcone said.

In the wake of all the negative publicity, Romagnoli said the district received a number of emails from parents saying they are very happy with the Connerton administration, and are disturbed by the way the school and its leaders have been portrayed in the media.

The number of people who are unhappy is very small compared to those that are happy, Falcone said.

“I love teaching, it’s my passion and I love teaching at Connerton,” Nero said.

As for the negative publicity, “It’s been very sad to see us portrayed that way,” Nero said. “I truly feel from going there every day for two years that’s not the way it is.”

Falcone said as leader, she would never want to foster a negative environment for her staff or students. “It’s important that you like to come to work and you like the people you work with.”

In addition to the media coverage, a very public argument has brewed in the comments on some of the stories, and as the situation becomes more emotionally charged, some of those comments have turned to what can be construed as threats against Falcone’s family, Romagnoli said.

“There are people who’ve jumped on the bandwagon based on emotion and not the facts,” Nero said. "There are two sides to every story and unfortunately it’s the negative you most often see in the papers.”

Nero said that she has expressed her support for Falcone in some online forums, only to be attacked. "I'm not going to get into that type of conversation, if that's the level they're going to go to."

"I'm putting a bullseye on my back" by publicly expressing support for Falcone for this story, Nero said. "If that's what it takes to get the truth out, I'm strong enough."

Falcone said she tries to avoid reading the articles and the comments that go along with them.

“As a human being, they upset me and sadden me that people think that’s how we solve problems,” Falcone said. “It also has made me reflect on what is being said and how we move forward.”

Is a miscommunication at the heart of the problems at Connerton? Falcone says she is willing to sit down with the disgruntled former employees calling for her removal if that helps bring them closure. .

See also: Issues at Connerton Elementary

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paul lease July 07, 2012 at 01:14 AM
This is sickening. What a shame that the district is not willing to recognize and admit the facts. It really makes me wonder what is going on in the inside, especially with these new accusations about Heather Fiorentino. A teacher gets suspended without pay for making a poor choice. People are let go for making decisions based on an oath they took and not wanting to lose their certificates, etc. Yet there are no repercussions for the higher ups. They literally can do whatever they want. Our boards hands are tied. I wonder why we even have one. Shouldn’t there be a checks and balances? Also, what a shame that our journalists that are reporting are strategically deciding who to interview and what information is being reported. Just because you are good at spinning doesn‘t make it true. You should be ashamed of yourself for not finding out the facts
paul lease July 07, 2012 at 01:14 AM
This is sickening. What a shame that the district is not willing to recognize and admit the facts. It really makes me wonder what is going on in the inside, especially with these new accusations about Heather Fiorentino. A teacher gets suspended without pay for making a poor choice. People are let go for making decisions based on an oath they took and not wanting to lose their certificates, etc. Yet there are no repercussions for the higher ups. They literally can do whatever they want. Our boards hands are tied. I wonder why we even have one. Shouldn’t there be a checks and balances? Also, what a shame that our journalists that are reporting are strategically deciding who to interview and what information is being reported. Just because you are good at spinning doesn‘t make it true. You should be ashamed of yourself for not finding out the facts.
paul lease July 07, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Let’s start with the fact that Shelia Nero has be a supporter of Anna’s all along. Of course, she will say the things she says. She has not experienced the bullying and probably never will. Great for her and for the others in her position, but again, it doesn’t change the truth. Why not interview all the teachers? There are so many that are afraid, but if you promised anonymity and asked the right questions you might actually find out the truth. Unfortunately, many of the teachers that had the worst of the bullying have already left, so your are not getting their stories. The many that remain that remain have numerous legitimate reasons for wanting to stay even though it is difficult and will not speak out of fear. Unfortunately, you are dismissing the parents and staff that are no longer at Connerton. That is where you are going to get the truth because as in any bullying situations the people who are still there are afraid to speak. District knows it. They have their formal and informal climate survey. They know the truth and the are ignoring it. I only wish I know why?
paul lease July 07, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Now about this thing where Mrs. Falcone says Connerton is like her third child, so what? That statement makes me laugh, but I am going to go with what my mother taught me. I don’t have anything nice to say, so I won’t say anything at all. As for the miscommunication, there was none. Sander’s people were disappointed when the plan changed but it was clearly communicated and the staff understood this change. Ms. Falcone told Sanders that they were broken and they needed to be fixed. There was no miscommunication there either. There was no miscommunication when she cancelled a dance within the first month of her move to Sanders and lied and said it was the decision of the Dad’s Club. I could list a bunch other issues, but I don’t want to bore you. In my experience, Mrs. Falcone has put words in my mouth (even with a witness in the room), questioned my teaching style (which was what everyone else was doing and district directed) and was not a mentor to me when I asked her what she wanted and told her that I would do what she asked but it took her weeks to respond to me with a couple of articles that I have already read in my mailbox. I am not a whiner. I have been through numerous administrators, as have many of they people who are vocal about this issue. I have been reprimanded and taken it. I have apologized to by administration when they were wrong about something. That is something I have never seen Mrs. Falcone do.
paul lease July 07, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Anna Falcone does respect you or give you direction when she reprimands, and YES, she lies and makes up accusations to fit her agenda. Let’s get serious, no school is perfect and many have teachers that need to work on themselves, but these are not the only teachers complaining. These are not the only teachers being disrespected and degraded on a daily basis. More importantly, a teacher’s inability to do a job does not give license to an administrator to degrade them. And just because someone is disgruntled does not mean that they are just complaining. The women mentioned in this article worked for the district for many years without an issue. You really need to think about that. Summer Romagnoli why do you mention all of the letter of approval when most of the letters of complaint go unnoted? I am happy to hear that some people are having a great experience at COES but I have seen that change in an instant. There is a good chance that you will have those same people finding themselves quickly changing those opinions when they really need something. One more time, just because some people are happy, does not mean the other accusations are not true. This is not a good environment for anyone and I beg you to please take off your blinders and do what is right.
A. Parker July 07, 2012 at 01:47 AM
I think the community has gotten the message. The message we have gotten is that the same 4 or 5 people are complaining on every single blog regarding Mrs. Falcone and her leadership style. The same few examples are given over and over and over again using different names to give the impression that there are lots of upset people. The community has had enough of you bashing our neighborhood school. You are clearly disgruntled employees who have fixated and obsessed about things that happened years ago. I, on the other hand am a current parent that is very happy and pleased with the leadership and education my children are getting. You are making a mockery of yourselves and are hurting our children who love the school that they attend. DO NOT SPEAK FOR US ANYMORE. You are an embarrassment to this community and this county.
FloridaMom July 07, 2012 at 03:55 AM
114 people (no teachers or school employees -who won't sign) who signed a petition for COES's administration to be removed is not 4 or 5.
Bryan Gifford July 07, 2012 at 11:53 AM
Am I allowed to speak? I was at Sanders with my 2 boys, I was at Connerton with my 2 boys, we left Connerton last year to find a school that was welcoming to our family. We left to find a school that was educating our boys, not prepping them for tests. We left Connerton to find a school that would support teachers when there are problems in the classroom with discipline, not just tell them it is their job, deal with it. I need my kids to be in a classroom where the administration supports the teachers so they can teach the class, not spend most the day focused on 2 or 3 kids that refuse to behave. I choose to speak out because I want the School and the District to be the central pillar of the community I live in. There are to many of my friends that would rather drive 15 miles to take their children to school than take them to the brand new school that is just down the street, with acknowledgement and focused effort, this can be corrected.
A. Parker July 07, 2012 at 12:54 PM
Bryan - If you are asking us whether you are allowed to speak or not, the answer is no unless you improve your outlook on life. You are negative about EVERYTHING. People around you get tired of your negativity. Try listening to yourself to see if you can be productive instead of stuck on complaining. If you can't, then you belong with that small group of people that seem to be "stuck" in a rut. I wish you luck.
Bryan Gifford July 08, 2012 at 12:40 AM
A. Parker, thanks for the guidance, I will be sure to be more introspective and really spend some time soul searching. I am sure at the end of this self enlightening exercise I will be able to shuffle my life priorities and find something positive that I can contribute to this community. I quite positive about the Connerton situation. The past several years forced my wife and I to do some serious soul searching and make a horribly difficult decision. We choose to leave the school that was convenient, forced our sons to leave behind many friends and go out and start all over in a new school, where we knew very few people and had no idea if we were making the correct decision. We were forced to seek out a positive environment that my sons are now thriving in, doing far better than we ever thought they could. I am very tankful that we were forced to make that decision, it was the single best thing we have done for our family. I just wish that we could have that environment at Connerton.
Keli Sipperley (Editor) July 09, 2012 at 12:49 AM
Hi Paul, Please email me if you would like to discuss. There are of course at least two if not more sides to every story, and we strive to bring our readers balanced coverage of every issue that affects the community. keli.sipperley@patch.com
Lori McCandrew July 11, 2012 at 01:40 PM
I am a parent who is happy at COES. Both of my girls attend and have since the day it opened. Are we a perfect school - no, have I had some issues - yes. For those who aren't happy be lucky you have the option to transfer out, in the "real" world people would not be given that opportunity so good luck to you. For those who are staying I am hopeful for a great year. To the people who do not attend COES please let our children enjoy the school. This negativity has gotten us no where and with school soon starting it's time to let the healing begin.
Cathy Brown July 14, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Not sure who is still looking at this, but just in case..... Just want any and all current and former pasco co. school employees beware. The DO apparently keeps "Informal files" on each of us. TThey are illegal and contain lies and accusations that are unfounded. I was just made aware of this today. Apparently they only bring it out when they want to harm your reputation. HR and the union were unaware of their existence
Keli Sipperley (Editor) July 14, 2012 at 08:58 PM
According to district officials, informal documents such as emails and letters to the district are kept and are subject to public record. If documentation does not lead to a formal reprimand, then those documents do not become a part of your formal personnel file. I hope that clears up any confusion. Any such documents can be requested under the Florida Sunshine law, so you may take a look at anything that might pertain to you by requesting such documents from the school board.
Educator April 06, 2013 at 02:50 AM
Did it ever occur to anyone the negativity at COES is teacher induced? Shelia Nero is an outstanding teacher. Anna Falcone is not a bully. Anna Falcone is a leader who is focused on what is best for children. I would be willing to bet a money that it wouldn't matter who the principal of COES was...unless they gave into teachers and let them do whatever they want they wouldn't be happy. Teachers can make or break the school. You can chose to learn and grow...change is hard. Better yet if you aren't happy then you should find a new school. Don't ruin it for everyone else. As a fellow educator, you should be ashamed.
Jennifer Lowachee May 19, 2013 at 05:50 PM
Now you see who the real trouble maker is Keli. She has a personal vendetta against this school principal and she uses Peggy to be her mouth piece. You should ask for a copy of the emails they sent to the school board members while they themselves have been a loud, raucous rowdy bunch at the school board meeting. They themselves call Anna Falcone's supporters the bottom of the barrel and when they get a reply they send emails to the school board. Sound like a bunch of disgruntled children.

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