Parents, Former Staff Demand Ousting of Connerton Principal

The group says Anna Falcone mistreats teachers and shows little regard for parents and students. An official says the district is listening.

A sign-waving crowd gathered at the entrance to Connerton Elementary Tuesday afternoon, many wearing Hawaiian shirts.

But it was not a happy occasion.

The group assembled to call for the ousting of the school’s principal, Anna Falcone, and assistant principal, Wendy Carswell. A petition for removal based on the administrators' "negative leadership" has more than 100 signatures so far, organizer Peggy Lopez said.

The timing of Tuesday's demonstration coincided with a staff meeting at the school attended by Superintendent Heather Fiorentino, Lopez said. The group wanted to show support for two teachers attending that meeting who were unfairly targeted by Falcone, a practice they said is common to a woman some called a "bully."

One of those teachers, Tom Powers, began teaching at Sanders Elementary in 1984, then moved to Connerton in 2010. The popular fifth grade teacher has a reputation for his creativity and ability to reach children who need extra attention. Many parents requested him for next year because “he’s very out of the box,” former Connerton teacher Pam Jones said.

Among his trademarks: a laid-back wardrobe, which includes Hawaiian shirts.

Those gathered on Tuesday said Falcone's transfer of Powers to teaching first grade next year is a step toward focring him out of the classroom entirely.

A former student who asked not to be identified said that laid-back wardrobe made him a target. Now in sixth grade, she and a friend attended Tuesday's demonstration “to support our teachers who’ve been doing what they love and now they’re being forced out,” she said.

The district is listening, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Schools David Scanga said.

"We went out there yesterday with that intent," Scanga said. "We're looking for facts in terms of what's the reality."

It’s not the first time parents and former staff have taken issue with Connerton’s administration. Several demonstrators said they have written multiple letters to the school district detailing what they say boils down Falcone bullying teachers and stonewalling parents.

Jones was one of those teachers.  She said Falcone threatened to write a negative review if she applied for a job at another school. Jones resigned—“with major encouragement”—at the beginning of the current school year.

The move to change the grade levels taught by Powers and fourth-grade teacher Dana Bunce is one of the tactics the administration uses to force teachers out of the school— and essentially out of teaching, Jones said.

“If she targets a teacher that she wants to be gone, she won’t let them interview at another school,” Jones said. “This is their lifelong career. They should not be treated this way.”

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

Two parents at Tuesday's demonstration removed their children from Connerton Elementary because of the problems they encountered there.

Elizabeth Groves moved her two children out of the Pasco school district entirely because her experience at Connerton was so negative. The family moved to Valrico last July after deciding they could not face another year at the school.

“I was an actively involved parent” with more than 200 volunteer hours at the school, Groves said.  Yet despite her commitment—and physician’s orders— she could not get the administration to provide the services her kindergartner with special needs required.

“I was told my physician was not an educator, we can’t go by what he says,” Groves said.

In addition, a student in her son’s kindergarten class was a constant disruption and a danger to others. She witnessed him throwing chairs, and at one point he had to be physically restrained on a field trip, she said. On that same field trip, the child hit Groves’ son in the face.

No incident report was filed to her knowledge, Groves said.

Though she lives in Valrico, she feels so strongly about the problems at Connerton she continues to be actively involved in the efforts to remove Falcone.

Tracy Gifford moved her two children to Learning Gate Community School in Lutz after her then-fourth grader was punched in the face at Connerton.

“She (Falcone) said ‘They’re in elementary school, what do you expect me to do?’,” Gifford said.

“You want your kids to go to a school where they feel comfortable and safe. You want them to be excited to learn,” Gifford said.

But her children were neither comfortable nor excited at Connerton.

When her then-fourth grader, Skyler, had to write about why he was proud to be a Connerton student, Gifford said she will never forget how she felt when she read his words: “I am proud to be a Connerton student because I don’t walk on the grass or touch the walls.”

“That’s what they drilled into them,” Gifford said.  “It breaks my heart.”

When Falcone took over Sanders then opened Connerton, a district review of her performance called her “outstanding,” according to documents obtained by Lopez.

“But we don’t feel outstanding,” Lopez said.

Achievement results at Connerton are high, which is a tribute to those teachers as well as the administration, Scanga said.

And as for the letters the demonstrators said they have written to the district about Falcone, they don’t appear in her personnel file, Lopez said.

After a year, those letters are thrown away, a district official told her.

Scanga said policy prohibits the placement of those communications in an employee's file without due process.

"It might not be in the file, but it's being addressed," he said.

Scanga said he receives complaints from parents at all 46 of the district's elementary schools at the same rate as those received from Connerton, so it does not stand out as an "outlier."

The climate of a building is created by everybody in that building, and the climate overall needs to be one people feel comfortable in. As far as those who say the climate at Connerton is negative, "We always listen and try to respond to that," Scanga said.

Right now the district is in the information gathering stage, and that information is conflicting. The evidence shows students are performing well at Connerton, he said.

"My hope is that everyone involved at Connerton, whether you're a parent, teacher or administrator, you're going to reflect on how you can build on current successes," Scanga said.

Editor's note: Please read this

Thomas Levering June 02, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Let's face it.....teaching is a hard job and so is leading a school or district with many many teachers, staff, students and families. I would bet anything that these administrators make nothing compared to CEO's in charge of the same amounts of people and pressures. Since I was raised with morals, values, respect and optimism, I believe that leaders of any school do their job because they love what they do despite malicious people like yourselves. Do you really think that you are solving any problems? Again, this is not an open question. The only people I see on this bandwagon are retired employees, former disgruntled employees (that were probably let go for the good of the kids), parents that think their children are angels and a few other people who are followers jumping on a negative bandwagon. We all know that in a public system it is almost impossible to get rid of mediocre employees and that status quo most of the time means less work. So let's do some thinking......
Thomas Levering June 02, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I know how much work it takes to run a successful business. I can tell you that it is not always easy, it is a lot of work and decisions are made with best intentions in mind. Popularity or what everyone wants IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT IS BEST FOR THE ORGANIZATION. The leader is ultimately responsible for the success or failure so I have a hard time believing that this leader has malicious intent in mind. As a proud Pasco community member, I felt it was my duty to respond to this in hopes of being the voice of reason to many. I challenge our citizens, parents and community members to take their negative energy and use it differently. If these people who have spent so much time and effort were trying to make a difference, I AM SURE THERE ARE A MILLION OTHER THINGS THAT CAN BE DONE. Before anyone jumps on this hateful bandwagon, look at the credentials of those who are leading this cancerous, vindictive, malicious and worthless waste of time. Making educated decisions that help make our world a better place to live should be your ultimate goal. Stand united not to hate people but to help make a difference in a positive way. Try working with people instead of against them. It is much more productive!!!!!!!!!!
Jennifer Broderick June 02, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Thomas- Thank you for sharing your rational thoughts. There is definitely a public stoning brewing and its ridiculous being that we have very few actual facts. Just some loud unhappy opinions and here-say in the comments section as to what happened on ONE side of the story. Care to to throw your name in to the election hat? You have my vote.
Jennifer Broderick June 02, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Personally, I want to hear the voices of the many parent volunteers in the school. I bet they hear and see something resembling a balanced truth better than the two groups involved. They have the best interest of the kids at heart and their "jobs" aren't at stake. Can we get a balanced, factual follow up article, please? This firestorm based on this one article is ridiculous.
Thomas Levering June 02, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Jennifer, I agree with you 100% but unfortunately the hard-working teachers and dedicated volunteers at the school probably would never think of feeding the frenzy. I asked around and have been told that the school has very high test scores and that Mrs. Falcone has a strong grasp on curriculum. Isn't that what we want in a school leader? The more knowledgable the leader is, the more effective the leader should be in monitoring for quality (important quality that has been overlooked). Most successful people have had mentors or people that have pushed them to do better. Is this a case where these disgruntled people have never had a leader "challenge" them to be and do better? A leader who actually does the job of leading. I do see a pattern with these few pessimists Jennifer. They are all retired, fired, self-employed or un-employed. I can't help but to think that maybe they are the ones who cannot work with others. Take a look at yourself people, I would venture to say that not one of you have her credentials or experience. Let's compare their resumes. In the meantime be positive, there are good people in our community.
Thomas Levering June 02, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Elizabeth, Your insensitive comment leads me to believe that the success of all children is not your top priority. It also leads me to believe that you and that small crew are very self-centered. Most children take pride in the school they attend and love their teachers and school leaders. Did your group really think this through to see what an impact it would have on our most vulnerable and sensitive group....children. Why don't you try solving problems in a mature way or just agree to disagree and move forward. I would hardly call those pictures that are posted a support gathering. Especially the ones where children are holding signs discrediting a leader in a community. Too much negative energy.....hard working citizens would never think your actions and words are creditable. Move on!
Auntie SueSue June 03, 2012 at 12:42 AM
"This is not an open question so please don't respond" .... what the heck?? Then stop posting in an open forum Tommy.
Thomas Levering June 03, 2012 at 02:38 AM
Sounds like you are not happy with anything and find fault in everything others do. Positive energy is much more productive, try it for once.
Thomas Levering June 03, 2012 at 02:51 AM
Have you ever heard of social bullying? It involves hurting someone’s reputation. Social bullying includes spreading rumors about someone and embarrassing someone in public. Sounds exactly like what this group is doing. It is you guys who are teaching children what schools are trying to stop.
An Insider's Opinion June 10, 2012 at 02:36 AM
So many different perspectives. I can understand how many parents don't understand why the picketing and all of this is taking place because they aren't experiencing what the teachers are going through at this school. I worked there last year and saw how teachers responded to this principal, agreeing with everything she said regardless of how they feel because if you were on her bad side, she would crucify you. A teacher who didn't teach using the same style as the principal was unfairly written up as a bad teacher and that is suicide in the school system because she can't get another job without the principal's recommendation. So, if you breathe the wrong way, you are on a sinking ship. Taught me the importance of working under people with integrity and good morals. There are MANY others teachers besides these two who feel this, but they can't come forward out of fear of losing their job. The ones you saw picketing represent only a small percentage of great educators who wish they could tell their story anonymously. This story needs to be heard.
An Insider's Opinion June 10, 2012 at 02:48 AM
I'm not sure who you are sir, but believe me when I say that the only reason you see retired employees and the ones who have been let go or forced to leave picketing is because the ones in the trenches can't come forward because they will be the next target. There are many who feel this way Thomas, not just a few. This is not about a few disgruntled employees. Many things have been attempted before it reached this point. Do you understand that it has been building to this point and no one was listening? You just can't understand that which you do not know, but please do not assume that these educators are complaining or griping because they are negative people or they do not know how to do their jobs. Those comments are rude and made without knowledge of the problem at hand.
Keli Sipperley (Editor) June 19, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Hi Jennifer, I reached out to someone who said they might be able to be put me in touch with some happy parents for a follow up, but thus far I have not heard from anyone. I can be reached at keli.sipperley@patch.com if anyone would like to speak with me for another story. Thanks!
Danielle June 20, 2012 at 04:14 AM
This is so TRUE. Heather did that with Deanna DeCubbelius from Calusa Elementary, then moved her, then moved her to district and now she is finally fired. I moved out of the school because of Deanna! So sad, we have to run away from the principals...
Mrs. S June 20, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Good for all involved for speaking up and discussing your situation. It is such a shame that people that are in higher positions can get away with such cruelty to their employees. Bullying is not acceptable whether it's a kid or an adult! What is this teaching our children today that it's okay to do this!
PalBre June 21, 2012 at 12:51 AM
If you are a teacher you are suppossed to be in it to teach so do it. If the principal tells you to teach 5th grade this year and next and then you go to 2nd then do it or move on. In the real world you do what your boss tells you and in my opionion if you are really there to teach kids you are happy to do it at any grade. Personally it sounds like some teachers were getting to comfortable and maybe lazy and she thought moving them would hopefully revitalize the teacher. Having fun at school is great but lets all face it that does not happen everyday I personally like strict schools and if you are doing what your suppossed to be doing it should not matter if anna is watching or not personally that just showed me that she does care enough about Connerton and takes her job seriously that she walks around and checks on teachers I wish more administrators would do it.
Kathy "Kat" Lambert September 13, 2012 at 06:30 PM
I am the only write-in candidate remaining for Pasco's Superintendent of Schools. Driving by Connerton on the way to a board meeting, I noticed it must be a "development school," built for the Connerton development. I see here on this page that many of you want change. If you want change, you as adults must move your demonstration and commentary to the Board meetings, not the school campus. No, I am not a personal friend of Heather's or Kurt's. Best wishes. Kat.
Educator April 05, 2013 at 04:21 AM
Here is the problem... District states what teachers have to teach or what policies Administrators have to follow. Picket outside the front of the District building not an elementary school. You say Mrs. Falcone is a bully...however did you ever stop to think she is doing that she is being told to do? Have the teachers being "bullied" never had a problem with another administrator? Sadly, this was a situation that needed to be discussed and expressed at the District not the school level. Children should have never been exposed to that. The protestors may have felt it was okay to involve their children, but what about the other parents? They had no choice in their child's involvement. Unfortunately their children were exposed to all this drama whether they liked it or not. Did anyone consider the consequences for Mrs. Falcone's children? Can you honestly say that no other children talked about them or bullied them because they were involved in the protest or influenced by their parents openly bad mouthing Mrs. Falcone. As adults, we need to think before we speak. Social media makes it easy to create online bullies and tarnish a person's reputation when you don't have all the facts.
Jennifer Lowachee April 05, 2013 at 11:51 AM
Anna Falcone brought this school to an A school. You witch hunters be careful karma will bite you in the butt. You are nothing short of a disgruntled bunch of people who couldn't control a school prinicipal and get special attention for your children so you blame it on the principal. She wouldn't play your political games so you start your smear campaign. LISTEN UP WITCHES EVERY CHILD SHOULD BE TREATED THE SAME AND YOUR KIDS ARE NOT SO SPECIAL THAT THEY SHOULD GET SPECIAL ATTENTION. BTW When your evil comes back to bite you it will be 100 fold. And for the others gloating, your turn will come when you or your spouses are let go from their jobs. HUGE MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE. I am sure a lot of you have skeletons in your closets. Better be careful those skeletons don't come crawling out. ALL OF YOU MAKE ME SICK.
Jennifer Lowachee April 06, 2013 at 09:58 PM
Mr. Levering I applaud you. You have hit the nail on the head. These people care only about their own children and Ms Lopez who is leading this crusade was never a teacher at Connerton. She seems to be a bored person who has too much time on her hands to malign a person's character. We need to get rid of lazy teachers who are not teaching our children. We need educators. Sadly Anna Falcone was chosen to do that job and now she is the fall guy. The Pasco community, educators and parents all need to stand together to correct this wrong. Our children need administrators like Anna Falcone. It is also very sad that educators who support Anna cannot come forward because they are afraid of losing their jobs. What kind of democracy is this? Doesn't an accused have the right to face her accusers? I would be afraid for my children and these people with their children holding signs and protesting are teaching their children to be just like them. No morals.
Jennifer Lowachee April 06, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Mr. Levering you should write Kurt Browning on your findings in this group. We need people like you to speak up,.
An Insider's Opinion April 07, 2013 at 01:03 AM
Your comment... "It is very sad that educators who support Anna cannot come forward because they are afraid of losing their jobs. What kind of democracy is this?" actually mad me laugh because I thought the same thing about all the people who couldn't come forward in disapproval of Anna last year because they were afraid of losing their jobs. The few who came forward represented a lot of people who just could not take that chance.
Jennifer Lowachee April 07, 2013 at 01:26 AM
The fact that Anna asked for the district to verify the accuracy of a climate survey as a means to protect her school community from unnecessary and inaccurate negative school publicity, caused the Superintendent to find her guilty of "gross insubordination" and "misconduct in office". After listening to her story, we stand by her as she contests these charges. She has dedicated over 14 years to this county and we believe that the Superintendent unfairly and without complete information placed her on leave, with the intent to recommend termination at the April and May School Board Meetings. Educators like Anna focus on student success. We are deeply upset with how this situation was handled, communicated and politicized to the community. Her merits and achievements were ignored as was the impact that this abrupt change would have on Connerton students, teachers and families. Our goal is to provide Anna with a positive support network all across the community. We must retain leaders like Anna in our county who are passionate about having a positive impact on education and our students. What happened to Anna could happen to any Principal at any time. This had a huge impact on Connerton Elementary School and we must speak up and be heard in order to preserve highly qualified professionals who work hard to maintain high standards of education within Pasco County.
Henry Grady April 07, 2013 at 03:06 AM
Jennifer, in the same way that Anna would have expected the people that worked for her to follow her directives to the letter, the Superintendent has every right to expect the same thing from his direct reports. According to the news media, Anna was told on several occasions to stop trying to gather confidential information. Anna, however, chose not to respect the wishes of her supervisor. This is the crux of her current situation. I am sure there are employees who at some point disrespected Anna's wishes in the same way, and Anna followed the protocol necessary to deal with that insubordination. I would expect that Anna knew how things worked, and would understand that she would face punishment for her misbehavior. Or does Anna follow a different set of rules?
Sherri Lonon April 07, 2013 at 03:21 AM
Hi folks, we appreciate the passion behind the comments, but please do refrain from personal attacks on other users. Thanks so much!
Jennifer Lowachee May 19, 2013 at 01:36 PM
I am so sick of this mess. The school board has been bombarded with emails from these trouble makers using different aliases to malign this principal and make it look as if it's coming from different people when it's the same people all the time. It just goes to show what Cathy Brown is made of. She sits in the background and fuels the fire and uses Peggy Lopez as her mouth of the south. I am so sickened by the evil that's going around I thank God that my children are not at Connerton. BTW did you people see there was a marijuana grow house right in your Connerton neighborhood and a man was murdered there?
Peggy Lopez May 25, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Children use an immature logic and rationalization to make life fit their dreams. Adults should avoid that behavior. It's sad. Especially when it's done publicly. If the board was bombarded with emails it's because this community is smart and involved. As much as you would like us to be Cathy Brown and I are not your problem. Lots of Connerton Elementary teachers are happy AND working hard...two things that are not mutually exclusive. You are wearing your "evil" glasses to look at life because you want to...take them off and find something productive to do.
Jennifer Lowachee May 28, 2013 at 10:56 AM
Peggy Lopez you are such a liar. The emails were copied from here to make the school board think Anna was behind it when it's you who was not even a Teacher at Connerton spewing your evil and sending emails about what people posted on here. Did you send the email where one of your buddies was calling Mrs. Falcone's supporters the bottom of the barrel? Did you also send the incorrect information Cathy Brown posted about records and the reporter had to correct her. You people sit down and do nothing but gossip and I'm sorry to say that none of you had anything to do with Kurt Browning's decision. You're all on a witch hunt and Karma will bite you. You talk about being involved. You're not teaching your kids good morals. You're teaching them to be trouble makers like you.
Pam G. Jones May 29, 2013 at 06:02 AM
Speaking the truth as someone sees it and standing up for what they believe in is not being a trouble maker. It is our right of free speech. Yours and mine. Just because one person believes something you do not does not make them wrong. I believe tolerance is taught in all religions. I am not put on this earth to judge you nor you, me. I respect your right to have a different opinion than me so why don't you respect the right of me or someone else to have a different opinion than you?
Peggy Lopez June 21, 2013 at 07:07 PM
to "Jennifer"... who calls me a liar while using a fake name (how ironic)...it would make you feel so much better if I actually were a liar. Too bad for you I am not. As usual your flair for writing has left us all awe of your verbal skills. Thanks so much for helping us prove our point over these months. You're the best example anyone could've wished for.
Peggy Lopez June 21, 2013 at 07:09 PM
..."in awe"...again...how ironic.


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