For nearly 22 years, Brookfield resident Glory Smith has gone to work at Lincoln School as the secretary for the district’s preschool program. She also helped out as an overflow secretary at the school. But her career in Lyons-Brookfield School District 103 came to a sudden end last month when she was abruptly fired.
On the afternoon of March 19, four days before the school board officially voted 4 to 3 to terminate Smith, District 103 superintendent Kristopher Rivera and Human Resources Director Stephanie Koenig came to the preschool office and told Smith that she would be fired. Then Koenig escorted the 62-year-old Smith out the building where she had worked in for more than two decades and that her five children had attended.
“There wasn’t even an inkling in my mind that this was about to happen,” Smith told the Landmark in a telephone interview after the board voted to fire her. “There was no remediation, there were no conversations, no nothing. This was like a total surprise to me.”
Smith said Rivera told her that she was being fired for insolence and insubordination, but he didn’t give her any specifics.
“Nobody gave me a specific reason as to why I was terminated, who I was insubordinate or who I was insolent to,” Smith said. “I didn’t know that anybody was that upset with me that it would be grounds for dismissal.”
Smith said she had always received good performance reviews throughout her career and had no idea that her job was at risk.
“I have never been written up for anything in the whole time that I have been there,” Smith said. “All of my reviews were above and beyond. I just feel like the rug was ripped out from underneath me. I don’t know why I was terminated. I loved my job, I really did.”
The board majority of school board President Jorge Torres, Vito Campanile, Olivia Quintero and Winfred Rodriguez voted, with no real discussion, to accept Rivera’s recommendation to fire Smith.
School board members Sharon Anderson, Marge Hubacek and Shannon Johnson, who are leaving the school board when their terms expire this month, voted against firing Smith.
The board minority said the matter should at least be discussed in closed session before voting, but by that time a motion to fire Smith had been made and Torres called the question. The board has only met in closed session a couple of times in the past year. Most school boards frequently meet in closed session, especially to discuss personnel matters.
“Obviously you can’t speak about personnel in open session and we don’t have closed sessions, so I have no idea why a longtime employee who had nothing but glowing recommendations in the past was let go,” Anderson said.
Rivera said he was willing to meet in closed session, but Torres called for a vote on the motion to terminate Smith.
Hubacek, a longtime former District 103 secretary who worked briefly with Smith at Lincoln School more than 20 years ago when Smith was first hired as a copy clerk, was incensed at the vote to fire Smith without even discussing the matter.
“Why no remediation?” asked Hubacek, directing her comments at the board majority. “Twenty-year employee, no real cause. I don’t know how you sleep at night.”
Smith had worked for the founder of the district’s preschool program, Chris Newell, for 20 years. But this year she had a new boss.
Initially Kim West replaced Newell, who retired at the last of the 2019-20 school year. But in the fall Beatriz Lappay, who was hired last year to be an assistant principal at George Washington Middle School, took over as preschool director when West shifted to the director of student services position in September.
Hubacek talked to Smith after she was fired and said she believes Smith was fired because she questioned whether changes Lappay wanted to make to the district’s preschool program were allowed under the terms of the federal Preschool for All grant that funds the program.
Hubacek said she was told that there had been a meeting during which a principal expressed concerns to Lappay that kids from the preschool program were not being adequately prepared for kindergarten.
In response, Lappay apparently wanted to make the preschool program more academically focused. But Smith apparently told Lappay that she couldn’t do that, because the Preschool for All grant requires that preschool programs funded by the grant be play-based.
“No way was it malicious or behind her back. She just pointed out you can’t do that,” Hubacek said. “That’s my best information. I don’t have the whole picture because I didn’t ask her a ton of questions, but when we talked and she said it was insubordination, you know what, that wasn’t insubordination.”
Neither Lappay nor Smith wanted to talk about that meeting.
The Landmark asked Smith directly whether she raised concerns to Lappay about making the program more academically focused, but Smith declined to specifically address the issue.
“At this time, I’m still trying to sort out why I was terminated with admin,” Smith said via text message. “After this process has been done I can reach out to you and speak later.”
Lappay did not respond to a phone call or emails asking about Smith’s firing.
Campanile said that he heard enough from Rivera to vote to accept the superintendent’s recommendation to terminate Smith.
“The most I can tell you is I discussed it with superintendent, Mr. Rivera, and he explained to me exactly what happened,” Campanile said. “I see nothing wrong with it under what I know about it, but I don’t know all the details complete like he does.”
Rivera declined to comment about Smith’s termination.
“I’m not going to comment on her termination at all,” Rivera said, adding he believed everything was done appropriately.
At the beginning of the school board’s March 23 meeting, Newell made a public comment, via email, praising Smith and expressing concern about her firing.
“Glory has always been more than just a school secretary,” Newell wrote. “She has served as a basketball coach, Girl Scout leader and PTA volunteer. I evaluated Glory’s performance yearly and each year she was given a stellar rating. Therefore, in lieu of her outstanding record, I certainly hope that there is an abundance of documentation of this complete change in her abilities and attitude that has warranted her sudden termination in order to protect the district from further litigation.”