WALLINGFORD — The school system’s humanities curriculum coordinator Jim Francese is retiring after 20 years in the district.
Francese, 59, lives in East Haddam. An English teacher originally, Francese earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching certification from Connecticut College in 1982, and then a master’s degree in theater arts from Wesleyan University.
He worked as a long-term substitute at Valley Regional High School in Deep River, and when that ended he served a stint in sales.
He taught for awhile in Old Saybrook and then was hired in East Haddam, where he got his first chance at curriculum writing, overhauling much of the high school English curriculum.
“I started doing curriculum pretty quickly,” Francese said, “and I learned a lot about writing curriculum … and I had some really good training about teaching.”Fight for a new school
At that time, East Haddam’s middle and high schools were in one building, and he arrived when the move to build a new school building was at its peak.
“I got heavily involved in getting the vote through,” he said, recalling a student-led campaign to collect Pepsi bottle caps, stamped with a code inside, which could be turned in for a nickel donation to the school.
“We became Bottle-cap High,” he said. “The kids said, ‘if the adults won’t build a school for us, then we’re going to build it for our younger brothers and sisters.’”
After a referendum vote secured school funding, Francese said the school board cleaned house, firing high school administrators and forcing out Francese and other staff through a reduction in force in 1991.
“There were certain things I could have done to try and fight it, with the union, but I didn’t have time to access any of those rights,” he said, because his wife, Madelene Francese, had almost died during childbirth.
She recovered, and they have two sons, 28-year-old Eliot Francese and 25-year-old Jeremy Francese.
Francese then spent a year at the Grace S. Webb School, part of the Institute of Living in Hartford, as a one-on-one paraprofessional.
Toward the end of that year, he found a job at Stonington High School, and was grateful since “English teachers were maybe a nickel a dozen,” he said.Administrative woes
He earned a sixth-year certificate from the University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program in 1999, the same year he was hired as Lyman Hall High School assistant principal. In 2004, he transferred to Sheehan.
In June 2014, Francese was placed on paid administrative leave for two days as school officials investigated a teacher's allegations that he made "inappropriate comments" to the teacher during an end-of-the-year evaluation, according to school documents.
A day after he returned, he sent an email to central office staff and a union official strongly criticizing the administration and other staff for what he said were "indiscreet, humiliating, and inappropriate communications."
Administrators concluded that the investigation was "unable to substantiate that any specific inappropriate comment was made,” according to a June 24, 2014 letter in Francese’s personnel file from then Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Shawn Parkhurst.
A Record-Journal request for documents in Francese's personnel file in 2014 revealed prior complaints against him from teachers and parents in 2012 and 2011. One parent reported feeling "threatened" in a meeting with Francese and called him a "professional bully."
He was appointed to his current curriculum coordinator post in August 2014.
Of that time, Francese said he had “an opportunity to jump ship, so I did.”
As a district-wide curriculum coordinator for art, music and social studies, Francese develops new curriculum and evaluates staff, including 25 teachers. His outgoing salary is $143,692.
“It’s not really a lighter-weight job than being an assistant principal,” he said, “but it is less harried. There’s more focus.”
Superintendent Salvatore Menzo said in a statement that he wishes Francese “good health and happiness in his retirement.”
“I am sure he has wonderful things planned as he enters this new phase of his life,” he said.