Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Kolek late Wednesday called for understanding from parents as the district works through the handling of a popular fifth-grade teacher whose certification appears to have lapsed, prompting his removal last week from Saxe Middle School.
Calling Michael Patrona’s situation “very unusual,” Kolek said the school is working at a “steady pace” to address it, adding that “conclusions happen quickly in this day and age.”
“I understand the level of concern that people are expressing about Michael and this situation, and I appreciate that when things unfold in a personnel situation, sometimes everybody gets ahead in terms of information, and I just hope everyone is respectful of a process that we now are working through,” Kolek said.
It isn’t clear what that process is. Kolek said she could not comment on Patrona’s specific case, citing personnel issues, including whether his job status is terminated, suspended or something else.
However, asked whether generally she would be able to confirm that a public schools worker no longer was employed by the district following a separation for any reason, Kolek said: “Yes, we typically would do that.”
“We want people to know that we are working through things,” Kolek said.
When reached by New Canaan Patch Wednesday, Patrona declined to comment, citing the advice of counsel.
Kolek’s comments come as a groundswell of support emerges for the popular teacher, a 1994 New Canaan High School graduate who doubles as coach of the Rams' JV girls' basketball team and assistant coach of the varsity baseball team.
A source with firsthand knowledge of Patrona’s dealings with the district said Wednesday evening that Patrona himself doesn’t know his status.
It also isn’t clear whether there’s a possibility for reinstatement, though an online petition calling for just that has launched.
According to the source, who agreed to speak on background, neither Patrona himself nor his lawyer as of Wednesday evening had heard from the district since the dismissal Friday.
That afternoon, the source said, the district asked Patrona for his resignation and he declined to submit it. Kolek said she could not comment on specifics.
According to an email that Saxe’s principal sent to parents whose kids are in what was Patrona’s homeroom and another teacher’s homeroom, Patrona on Friday had removed personal items from his room at the school. That prompted administrators on Monday morning to tell fifth-graders that Patrona had left “owing to personal reasons.” An email to those students’ parents followed mid-morning on Monday.
Board of Education Chair Alison Bedula indicated to Patch that Patrona’s teaching certification had lapsed.
Kolek reiterated that if a teacher does not have certification, that individual cannot provide classroom instruction.
Asked whether the district had a formal policy regarding disciplinary action in cases where a teacher’s certification had lapsed—for example, a policy dictated by contracts or law—or whether the schools had discretion in such cases, Kolek declined to comment.
“The school is always cognizant of each situation and looks at each situation individually,” Kolek said.
Meanwhile, here’s the main text of the petition, addressed to Bedula, Kolek and Board of Ed Vice Chair Scott Gress:
“Reinstate beloved 5th grade teacher Michael Patrona and show that you value quality educators over paperwork. Work with Michael to solve the problem, not make it go away. Show him and your community that you know what a strong teacher is and you value the education of all students.”
The same sentiments had been expressed by Patch readers upon hearing the news about Patrona, while others raised questions about what legal or other responsibility the district has in this case—how much leeway school administrators have with respect to imposing penalties, for example.
According to the Connecticut Department of Education’s Bureau of Educator Standards and Certification, teachers holding professional educator certificates in order to maintain them must apply online or submit a new application for a certificate prior to the current document’s expiration date.
Here's a sampling from some of the dozens of comments posted Wednesday on New Canaan Patch in support of Patrona as news of his ousting broke:
- Whitney Williams: Mike Patrona is one of the best teachers around. Two of my children had Mr. Patrona, and the third considers it a huge loss that he did not. He was the most exciting and caring teacher that my kids have had. My kids couldn't wait to get to school!
- Lisa Christensen Melland:Even before he was a teacher in the school system, my children had him as a summer camp counselor at the YMCA and he stood out even then as an extremely talented and engaging teacher.
- Jennifer Gulden: He is an engaged, compassionate, gifted teacher who grew up here and loved his job. He made it a point to attend the kids' dance performances and sports events and has a way of making every student feel good about themselves.
- Eileen Kappus Hill: Kind, patient, creative, caring, intelligent, witty, loving, and dedicated - These are just a few words that describe my twins' favorite teacher, Mr. Patrona. They both had him last year and he made their adjustment to Saxe Middle School such an easy transition.
Asked about a perceived lack of transparency with parents on the circumstances surrounding Patrona's dismissal, Kolek said: "It's important to us that everyone understands, it's not that we're not being forthcoming. We are working to be respectful in what is a confidential situation."