North Stonington — The Board of Education considers two plagiarism allegations against Superintendent Natalie J. Pukas closed after adding a letter of reprimand to her personnel file.
The board voted 6-1 in favor of the reprimand and of accepting a written apology from Pukas after a five-and-a-half hour executive session that ended around midnight at a meeting that began Wednesday evening. Board member Bob Testa opposed the motion. Member Cres Secchiaroli was absent.“I think it's not a good day for the school system that this is going to be resolved in this fashion,” Testa said just before the vote. He had brought up the first set of plagiarism allegations March 5.
The 20 parents, teachers and residents who waited in the gymatorium hallway until the executive session adjourned left after the vote clutching copies of the reprimand and the apology. Many showed up at the meeting because they thought there would be a public hearing on issues like the $246,000 budget cut from the initial proposal for next year.
Most stayed, however, even after it became clear there would be no opportunity to speak.
“If a student had plagiarized anything in school or cheated in school, they would be disciplined,” said parent Ron Lewis. “How can you hold our children to a different standard than an administrator?”
The board's reprimand directs Pukas to mark all unfinished documents she presents to the board in the future as drafts and to develop a policy for the “presentation of written materials” to pre-empt future issues.
The reprimand also commends Pukas for her apology.
“I never intended that document to be the final document,” Pukas wrote, adding she planned to present a final, sourced document at the March 12 school board meeting.
“I realize that offering the Board of Education an unattributed draft was an error in judgment,” the apology said.
Pukas distributed the document in question, “Research Based Model Leadership Team,” to board members in February. Pukas and district consultant John Petonito's names topped the paper, which is about hiring and promoting administrators. Petonito declined to appear for the executive session discussion and submitted a statement instead, according to the board's reprimand letter.
Pukas told The Day in March that the document was “a compilation of a lot of research, and quite frankly, my 35 years in education.”
Pukas has been employed by the North Stonington school system for 34 years and has been superintendent since December 2000. She declined to comment beyond the press release the board distributed with the reprimand and apology letters.
The document Pukas distributed in February does not cite any outside sources, but Testa discovered close similarities between it and a paper that ran last year in the monthly magazine The School Administrator, which the American Association of School Administrators distributes widely. That paper, “The four-quadrant leadership team,” was written by Donald A. Phillips, a superintendent in Poway, Calif.
A second plagiarism allegation was sent to board members and others by anonymous teachers at the end of March. That allegation was also taken up during the executive session, and the board absolved Pukas of wrongdoing, the reprimand letter said.
Steve Bickford, outgoing Wheeler Middle School/High School principal, sent an e-mail to the school board and Pukas on Monday that was critical of the school board.
Bickford, who has been principal for eight years, said Wednesday that his e-mail was intended as “an internal document in an effort to make some positive changes.”
“The superintendent has plagiarized two documents that I've seen to date. (Rumor has it there are more to come.) Whatever the excuse, whatever the rationale, both documents are clearly plagiarized,” Bickford wrote. “The board, with its inaction and silence, has given tacit approval to plagiarism.”