'Welcome back, Jamie': Bender named Acting Assistant Superintendent in Norwich

More changes are coming to Norwich Public Schools.

A week after placing Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow on paid leave, the Norwich Board of Education made the same move with the Assistant Superintendent.

Assistant Superintendent Tamara Gloster was placed on leave on Sept. 25. During a special meeting of the Norwich Board of Education Wednesday, Jamie Bender was named acting superintendent.

Some of the issues with Gloster included concerns of intimidation and staff bullying, “participating in it, in our view,” Norwich Teachers League President Bill Priest said, but he wouldn’t comment on specifics.

“We know what the problems are in our minds, but we want to make sure the investigator follows the due process, because everyone is entitled to that, even people we disagree with,” he said.

Thirty-two year Norwich Public Schools employee Jamie Bender came out of retirement to serve as acting assistant superintendent.
Thirty-two year Norwich Public Schools employee Jamie Bender came out of retirement to serve as acting assistant superintendent.

Welcome back, Jamie

Acting Superintendent Susan Lessard said Bender was the first person she thought of for the Acting Assistant Superintendent role,.

“She’s highly respected by the staff and the community members,” she said.

“Welcome back, Jamie,” Board Chair Robert Aldi said aloud as the meeting ended.

Bender had retired from Norwich Public Schools in 2022, after working in the district for 32 years. She started as a special education teacher, became a middle school teacher and an out-of-district liaison, and eventually served as Director of Student Services for five years, she said.

Given the state of the district, it was important for Bender to come out of retirement, she said.

“I care about this community, and it’s why I stuck around for 32 years in this district, which is most of my adult life,” she said.

Bender's responsibilities

There will be plenty for Bender to do in her role, including evaluations, monitoring curriculum, and assisting Lessard, Bender said.

Going forward, the focus for Lessard and Bender is doing what’s best for the kids “and how we can keep moving forward,” Lessard said.

After Bender was named the Acting Assistant Superintendent, Priest said he looks forward to having the same positive working relationship that he had in the past, and that he is looking forward to the investigation.

The appointment is the next step in a long process to bring about change in Norwich Schools. While some members of the public have had concerns about Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow for years, things came to a head after several unpopular decisions, including converting the Bishop school building from a preschool to an administrative building to save money, and a survey released by the CEA in August revealing that 96% of staff feared retaliation in the district, and that 160 staff had left the district since June 2022.

The CEA’s study results from August also put part of the blame for a toxic work environment on Gloster.

This culminated in rallies outside of Norwich Board of Education meetings. The Board of Education didn’t act at first, but eventually put Stringfellow on paid leave on Sept. 18 and named Lessard the acting superintendent the next night.

Investigator hired to review Stringfellow, Gloster

The Board of Education is pursuing its own investigation into issues around Stringfellow. The first contractor was approved earlier this month to do the study, but backed out of the investigation.

The district has now picked Kyle McClain from The Law Offices of Zangari, Cohn, Cuthbertson, Duhl & Grello, P.C., Norwich Board of Education Vice Chair Mark Kulos said.

“We need a trained investigator,” he said.  “At this point, the board feels we need an investigator to prove or disprove any charges and allegations.”

McClain specializes in labor, employment, and education law, and has advised school boards on laws in the school context, and also on education specific issues, including expulsions, district policy, and much more, his profile on the law firm’s website states.

McClain is still expected to give a presentation of his findings to the Board in November, though a written report may take longer, Kulos said.

This article originally appeared on The Bulletin: Gloster on leave, Bender is acting assistant superintendent in Norwich