Copied documents trigger superintendent's performance review

Editor's note: The performance review meeting for Wednesday, March 7, has been postponed with the closure of Ridgefield schools due to snow. The Board of Education has announced the new date and time will be Friday, March 9, at 6:30 in the Board Conference Room in the annex. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the meeting would take place in the Leheny Conference Room. 

The Board of Education has scheduled an executive session meeting for Friday, March 9, in the annex Board Conference Room  at 6:30 p.m. to discussion the “employment and/or performance” of Superintendent Karen Baldwin.

Last week, a Ridgefield High School student accused the superintendent of plagiarizing a Feb. 22 letter that was sent out to parents about school safety in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., eight days earlier.

Baldwin wrote in a follow-up letter to parents on Feb. 26 — hours before the Board of Education’s scheduled public hearing that night — that she had used words written by Tom Moore, the superintendent of the West Hartford Public Schools.

“There are similarities between my February 22nd letter and that of the Superintendent of the West Hartford Public Schools, Tom Moore,” she said.

She explained that she received Moore’s letter through the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS), of which she is a member.

“There is a community of practice among school leaders to share resources,” she wrote to parents. “I recognize my decision to value another superintendent's words over my own voice may have compromised the important message, and I apologize for any uncertainty in our security practices it may have caused.”

Fran Rabinowitz, the CAPSS executive director, confirmed that Moore’s letter was shared as a template for other superintendents to use following the Florida shooting.

“We do create a resource bank at CAPSS and we encourage superintendents to use each other’s material,” Rabinowitz said.

The Press obtained an eight-page packet of documents last week that Baldwin had repeatedly borrowed from publications written by other school districts and organizations.

The copied portions, which ranged in length from a sentence to a paragraph, were all written without attribution, including a line from a 2015 Thanksgiving Day address by President Barack Obama.

Baldwin told the newspaper Friday, March 2, that she would continue to use the resources of other school districts.

“In this terribly difficult time — for our nation and most especially our children — my focus remains on ensuring the safety, emotional well-being and learning of our students,” she said.

“To that end, I continue to collaborate with colleagues, consultants, and other professionals to find the best and most effective ways to do just that, and also to communicate with staff, the community and our students about challenging issues. It is fortunate that I — and other education professionals — have access to such tremendous resources and partnerships, and I will continue to take advantage of the resources that are available to me as I work to fulfill that mission.”

The Leheny Conference Room is in the district’s central office, located at 70 Prospect Street. An agenda for Wednesday’s meeting states that the board will convene in executive session and then reconvene in front of the public for possible action “concerning employment and/or performance of the superintendent.”

Read more about this story in Thursday's Ridgefield Press.