Supporters of Anna Falcone describe the Connerton Elementary School principal as a dedicated professional who is the victim of a vendetta by disgruntled former employees and parents.
Falcone’s detractors paint her as a principal who ignored problems and led through intimidation.
Ultimately, it will be up to the Pasco County School Board to decide which version comes closer to the truth.
The board voted Tuesday evening to suspend Falcone without pay after Superintendent Kurt Browning said she obtained confidential information about a survey designed to gauge what parents, students and staff members think about how schools are run.
Browning said Falcone wanted to learn which of her staff members responded to the survey, but was denied the information repeatedly by her superiors because respondents had been guaranteed confidentiality. Browning said he viewed her efforts to acquire the names as insubordination and he plans to recommend she be fired.
Falcone, for her part, denies any wrongdoing and has asked for a hearing before the board. That hearing likely will happen sometime between mid-May and early June, board attorney Dennis Alfonso said.
Meanwhile, the board also approved Browning’s recommendation to name Aimee Boltze, a district staff development supervisor, as the school’s acting principal.
Several speakers – both pro and anti-Falcone – addressed the board Tuesday evening, including Falcone herself, who thanked those “courageous enough to come up here and speak on my behalf.”
“Many people are afraid and fear they will be retaliated against if they speak the truth,” Falcone said.
Tension between the opposing sides was evident, as some people glowered while others spoke. At one point, a Falcone opponent tried to shout down a supporter who was addressing the board, forcing board Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong to intervene and restore order.
Heather Snyder, a Connerton teacher whose children attend the school, described Falcone as “a consummate professional dedicated to Connerton Elementary” and teacher Meredith Williamson called Falcone “the best administrator I have ever encountered.”
“Mrs. Falcone has always made herself available to students and staff,” Williamson said.
Former teacher Olga Hines, though, said Connerton was a place of constant anxiety and many teachers left to escape working under Falcone.
“Anna Falcone did this to herself,” Hines said. “The people who left Connerton did not do this to her.”
Bryan Gifford, a parent, said he removed his two sons from Connerton because they were constantly bullied. Despite his repeated efforts, the school never resolved the problem and his family “never got any care or compassion,” he said.
Controversy has swirled around Connerton for at least a year since former employees and parents demonstrated outside the school and circulated a petition calling for Falcone’s removal.
They maintained the principal didn’t listen to employees or parents, leading to low staff morale and a lack of community support. They said the final straw was when Falcone gave two popular teachers new assignments at different grade levels.
The district made some changes at that time, including bringing in a new assistant principal and providing staff-development assistance from Boltze.
Monica Joiner, a retired principal from Pasco County who once supervised Falcone, was among those who spoke on her behalf and suggested she is being treated unfairly.
“If I was a principal in the district today I would be afraid to open my mouth and say anything for fear what is happening to her would happen to me,” Joiner said.