A Wave of Change in the Darien Public Schools System

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When Superintendent of Schools Donald Fiftal retired in 2010 after a long reign atop the Board of Education, the town of Darien knew it did not have to look far when searching for his successor. The clear choice was Assistant Superintendent Stephen Falcone. His trajectory had been clear: Falcone came into Darien High School in the 1990s as a history teacher and by 1998 was named Assistant Principal of the institution. After having served as Assistant Superintendent since 2005, it only made sense that Falcone would take over for Fiftal when the time came five years later. The Board of Education, as well as the town of Darien, embraced the hiring of Falcone, and the transition was seamless. Falcone was now ready for a long career of his own as Superintendent.

This natural transition was abruptly cut short merely three years later. On Tuesday October 22nd, 2013, Stephen Falcone shockingly announced his resignation from the position of Superintendent. The announcement was met with shock and confusion from the town of Darien. An example of the feelings expressed from the people of Darien lies in this brief interview I conducted in the fall with former classmate of mine (Darien High School ’12) and current student at the Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications Jay Alter:

Jay Alter: Bombshell from Darien today: Steve Falcone resigned today. Craziness.

Charlie Baird: That’s crazy! I wonder what led him to step down.

JA: Really bizarre, man. I was thinking Haron [referring to former Darien High Principal Dan Haron who resigned in 2012]  and Falcone both gone just a year after we graduate. It all just crumbled.

CB: But Haron finished our senior year, while Falcone steps down in the middle of the year… how strange.

JA: Something obviously happened… I’m sure the truth will trickle out in the next coming days… as for now just really strange.

The unknown behind Falcone’s decision to resign really struck the town of Darien, as depicted in the words above. However, information began to leak out the following couple of days afterward that provided more of an understanding to everyone involved. Weeks later it became known through a report by the Connecticut State Department of Education’s report that special education law had been broken on numerous occasions during the 2012-13 school year under the direction of Special Education and Services Director Deirdre Osypuk. As Superintendent of Schools, Falcone was responsible for overseeing all actions, including those taken by the Special Education and Services. Falcone had been a victim of harsh criticism from parents for being ignorant to the special education law. It is believed that Falcone’s resignation was his response to the harsh criticism.

Since October the Darien Board of Education has been forced to work without a surefire leader. In November Lynne Pierson was brought in as Interim Superintendent of Schools, but the town will not be able to rest until a permanent decision is made. In December the Darien Board of Education hired  the New England School Development Council to assist in the search for a new Superintendent. The search committee claimed the search would take approximately 120 days. However, earlier this month the Board announced that the search would be extended. Interim Superintendent Pierson will now likely remain chief of schools until June 2015, as the window for attracting top candidates for the 2014-2015 school year has closed.

In 2010, the town of Darien was confident that it had found the man who would lead its public schools triumphantly for decades to come. Now just four years later, the town anxiously waits for a new leader, unsure of what exactly the future of its education system holds.