Board of Ed hires Greenwich principal to lead Middlesex Middle School

Shelley somers

Shelly Somers/Greenwich TIme

On Tuesday night, the Darien Board of Education unanimously approved the appointment of Ms. Shelley Somers as principal of Middlesex Middle School.

Somers, who was selected after a nationwide search, will replace Dr. Debi Boccanfuso, who retired in June after a long tenure in Darien. Somers is expected to lead MMS beginning in late August 2016.

Somers currently serves as the principal of Central Middle School in Greenwich, a position that she has held since 2009. Somers has been described by one former supervisor as the “consummate professional” with exceptional expertise in the utilization of data to develop exemplary instructional programs that promote student achievement. In 2015, she was named Connecticut PTA Middle School Principal of the Year after being nominated by her PTA based on her outstanding “communication, community Involvement, and professionalism.”

During the interview process, Somers shared with the committee an incident that occurred 21 years ago when she was the owner of a daycare center.  At that time, a child was left on a van during a field trip. Although the child was not harmed, Somers assumed full responsibility for the situation, which was covered extensively in the news.

On Monday morning, Dr. Dan Brenner, Schools Superintendent, told The Darien Times the incident was an horribly unfortunate mistake.

“But the child was unharmed, and it was 21 years ago. Her record is otherwise spotless,” he said.

Brenner told the Board of Education that, after fully researching the incident from 21 years ago including a review of the results of the extensive investigation conducted by the Greenwich Public Schools during Somers tenure there that he “fully endorses Ms. Somers” appointment as principal of Middlesex Middle School.”  

According to a 1994 report from the Hartford Courant, Somers, who owned Cornflakes Day Care Center, surrendered her day-care license to the state and agreed not to operate a facility within the state for five years in a settlement released by the state Department of Public Health.

The center closed, though Somers neither admitted guilt nor denied the allegations. Those allegations include reports that she left a 2 1/2-year-old boy alone in a van for at least 45 minutes while children from the center attended a performance in Hartford. The report said Somers apparently miscounted the children and left a sleeping toddler in her van.

When reports of the incident surfaced in Greenwich in 2011, Somers took a leave of absence while the district investigated, according to the Greenwich Time. During her leave, her students staged a walk-out to protest the investigation and leave, with signs of support, according to the Time. Parents in Greenwich also objected to the investigation, saying she’d done “fantastic things” at the school. Somers was reinstated shortly after a week-long investigation.

Brenner added “Darien is lucky to have the opportunity to hire someone with Ms. Somers’ record of success.  I am sure given her experience and wisdom working with middle school children and their parents in Greenwich that her transition to Middlesex Middle School will be seamless.  I am confident that the school/community will embrace her and her leadership style and all she brings as their new principal.” Brenner had more to say about Somers at the July 26 Board of Education meeting. Brenner said that Somers was the choice based on, “outstanding communication, community involvement, and professionalism”.  Brenner also pointed out that Somers won Middle School Principal of the Year based on a nomination from the PTA in 2015. Brenner also said, “A lot of folks were concerned about our ability to find an excellent replacement, but I’m pleased to say I am confident we have found that person”.

Before the Greenwich Public Schools, Somers worked for 10 years in the Beaufort, South Carolina Public Schools as a teacher and administrator.  She served as an English and Spanish teacher, a department chair and a teacher of Journalism. As department chair, she developed a Tech Prep Curriculum and implemented a “small learning community” for at-risk students. In 2003, Somers was appointed assistant principal for Hilton Head High School, where she oversaw both the English and Social Studies Departments. In that position, she developed an after school credit recovery program and designed and implemented an alternative program for at-risk students. In 2006, Somers was appointed as Head of the School of Arts, Communication, and Technology at Beaufort High School.

There she developed a dual enrollment program with a local community college, implemented an advisor/advisee program, and developed partnerships with numerous local businesses and the local arts council. Last year, Ms. Somers was a finalist for the principal of Staples High School in Westport. She ultimately withdrew her application for that position, realizing that her “passion is middle school; it is where I belong. I have devoted the last six years of my life to making sure that the middle school experience is the best that it can be, socially, emotionally and academically. After reflection during the process I realized that the high school principal position was not a good fit for me.”

Somers, when told that she was the unanimous choice to lead MMS stated, “I am thrilled to be coming to the Darien Public Schools and to lead Middlesex Middle School.  After going through the interview process and being so kindly welcomed, I can’t wait to become part of the Middlesex community.”

Brenner said he expects to plan meet and greets for the middle school community with Somers in August.

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