While many throughout the Greenwich community were surprised when Sidney Freund announced his resignation last month, Board of Education Chairman Steve Anderson wasn’t at all shocked that the schools chief decided to step down after serving as superintendent for less than two years.
“I think if you were reading the tea leaves over the last five or six months you could see his frustration level just building and building and building,” Anderson told Teacher Talk. “I think it got to the point where he felt he could not make the progress he wanted even though he had majority support, because the amount of time and backstabbing about policy – IB, even MISA, the budget, things like that – it just starts to consume everything and it just has a very negative effect on everything that’s going on out there.
“I think if you sit there and look at the meetings, the body language, you can see the tension building in him. And there comes a point when, disagree without being disagreeable, but when you start to get your personal integrity challenged, that’s a very hard thing to take for many people.”
Therefore, Anderson was not surprised when Freund informed him of his decision.
“Was I disappointed when he called me? Absolutely. Was I shocked? No. I knew he was struggling with it.”
Freund will leave his post in August. When he does, it’s expected that an interim will be named for one year while the district searches for a permanent superintendent.
“I wish we could keep him around,” Anderson said about Freund. “I think he’s been a really good guy at re-establishing the vitality in that office, getting out into the field and being at the various schools and connecting with all the different parts of the community. And now we’ve lost that.”
When Freund was interviewed two years ago, he assured the board that he’d be around for a while. When he spoke to Greenwich High School faculty the day after his resignation was announced, he said his intention was to stay for at least five years.
“Two years ago I talked about the importance of leadership, direction, and focus and I meant it in all sincerity,” he told faculty in the school’s auditorium on May 18. “I intended to be your superintendent for a minimum of five years.”
“That’s what we were hoping to have,” Anderson said, “especially after the turnover we’ve had, to get somebody in here for five, six, seven years where it just gives stability and allows [for] a constant message from the top from a constant person. That was what this system needed, and unfortunately, we didn’t get it.”
The reasons for Freund’s departure have been the talk of the town for the past month, highlighted in two front-page stories in Sunday’s Greenwich Time.
“It’s become increasingly difficult over the past couple months,” Freund said in his comments to teachers, citing IB as one area of contention. “It’s not about dissent. It’s in the way the conversations take place.”
Anderson, who has supported Freund through this whole ordeal, was quick to point out what he thought the superintendent’s strengths were.
“He was an educator first and an administrator second,” Anderson said. “When we put him into the position the first thing we told him was take a year and really get to know the rhythm and the rhyme of 11 different elementary schools, three different middle schools, and the second or third largest high school in the state. Once you pick up the different tweaks in everything, that can make you that much more effective delivering the product.
According to Anderson, that’s exactly what Freund did.
“He spent the first year looking at a lot. He didn’t come in and say ‘here’s my plan.’ He came in and he listened and he said ’OK, we need to work on this, we need to adjust this.’ So I think it just goes back to being an educator first and an administrator second.”
Anderson said Freund will be remembered for reforming the science curriculum, striking a “balance between test scores and the entire educational and emotional growth of students,” MISA, his emphasis on teacher instruction and building leadership, and student motivation.
“I would hate to have it just be [about] IB because he did not come in and say ’I'm an IB guy and here’s what I want,’” Anderson said. “He came in and he looked at our vision of the graduate, he looked at our mission, values, and beliefs and said that aligns with his thoughts [about] how you create a 21st century student.”
Before Freund announced his resignation, the board voted 6-2 to begin talks about an extension. A clause in his contract called for the board to notify Freund of his status before the end of his second year. Also included in his contract was a clause that said Freund must give 120 days notice if he were to resign.
“That was, I believe, the first superintendent contract ever that had a clause in there about his time for giving a resignation,” Anderson said. “We had put that in to just protect ourselves, the school system, against someone saying ‘here’s my two week notice, goodbye.’”
“So he exercised that clause in his contract. I think that gives you an idea of the issues that he felt he was battling.”
As superintendent, Freund was the highest paid town employee, got approval for major initiatives, and had the support of the majority of the board. Logically, one would think that for him to arrive at this decision, things must have been pretty bad behind the scenes.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome,” Anderson said. “While he could have made a nice piece of change and had the support from the majority of the board, I think the internal battle just becomes so much that it mentally and physically drains you.”
Freund said just as much when he met with GHS faculty a day after he resigned.
“There are reasons why superintendents turn over in this district,” Freund said.
“I hope that my leaving is a wake-up call for the community to be more vigilant in watching its school board, to be more careful in its scrutiny of school board candidates.”