Without discussion or public comment, the Westport Board of Education (BOE) tonight approved a separation agreement for Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer and named Anthony Buono, currently assistant superintendent, acting superintendent until an interim superintendent is appointed.
Board of Education Chair Mark Mathias and Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer at the March 18 board meeting. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com
No details of the agreement were disclosed. The board had discussed the agreement in an earlier executive session. “For the remainder of her employment with the board, Dr. Palmer will be on leave for medical reasons,” said BOE Chair Mark Mathias.
Last year, Palmer received total pay of $318,608.70, which included $13,804.40 in vacation pay and a $4,392.90 in an annuity on top of her $300,411.40 salary.
“On behalf of the board, we want to thank Dr. Palmer for her dedicated service to the Westport public schools over the past three years,” said Mathias.
“Transitions are inevitable and this is one of those times when there is a transition.
“Her retirement was announced earlier this year and so we’re now just given this new information. We’re helping the district along and moving forward.”
An abrupt April departure after leading the district since July 2016 was not the way Palmer had hoped to leave.
Mathias had announced on March 14 that Palmer would be retiring effective Aug, 1. But eight days later, on March 22 he announced that Palmer was away on a “family matter” and her duties had been assumed by Buono.
That was one day after publication of a survey of administrators that was critical of Palmer’s handling of school matters.
Among the challenges on her watch: closure of Coleytown Middle School because of air quality issues, the placing on administrative leave of two elementary school principals (Long Lots and Kings Highway) and the departure of Staples High School Principal James D’Amico at the end of the school year.
It took four days before the BOE officially notified parents that Palmer would be absent to attend a family emergency and would be gone “until further notice.”
The board subsequently never notified parents of Palmer’s earlier departure, leaving them to learn from tonight’s public agenda publication on Friday that a separation agreement with her was up for approval tonight.
(Mathias announced in an email to parents on Tuesday afternoon that Palmer was on medical leave and that Buono was taking over until an interim superintendent could be found.)
Palmer’s move to Westport followed a seven-month, nationwide search to replace Elliott Landon, who retired after 17 years.
Then, BOE Chair Michael Gordon described Palmer as a great communicator and innovator in 21st century skills.
He said she was an educator who put the needs of children first, and someone who “will take our highly acclaimed school district and build on that for future generations.”
Palmer, who became superintendent in Weston in 2011, in November 2015 was named superintendent of the year by the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.
Prior to Weston, Palmer served three years as superintendent of Monroe Public Schools and four years as deputy executive director of the Capitol Region Education Council.
She is the former principal of Simsbury High School, Hamden High School and Nonnewaug High School.
“I love education,” Palmer said at the time of her Westport appointment. “I have always loved being an educator, from being a teacher, a guidance counselor, a principal, an assistant superintendent and a superintendent. In each of those roles you can positively influence the lives of children. I love my work.
“Westport indeed is a very special place,” she added.
Palmer holds a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from the University of Connecticut, a Sixth Year Professional Diploma and Masters Degree from Southern Connecticut State University and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Mathematics and Education from the University of Connecticut.