A copy of the resumé of Eric Von Kohorn, the former Wilton Preschool aide arrested on charges of possession and distribution of child pornography, was recently sent to GOOD Morning Wilton. The resumé, which had been used to hire Von Kohorn, contains what appears to be false information in the description of his previous work history at a Norwalk preschool.
The resume [image appears at the end of this article] lists that preschool job as the only one related to education or childcare in his work history. It states that Von Kohorn worked at the preschool from 2004-2006, and lists his responsibilities as, “setting curriculum, hiring teachers, teaching reading math, music, large and fine motor skills, crafts, organizing field trips, teaching hygiene and safety, leading parent/teacher conferences, organizing payroll and tuition, administering first aid and handling discipline, graduating students.”
Rev. Robert Beinke, pastor at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Norwalk, confirmed that Von Kohorn did work at the school.
“Of the things he listed, I will say that he did not hire other teachers, the church leadership did that,” Beinke told GMW.com.
When asked if Von Kohorn performed the other duties he listed on the resume, Beinke said, “He was not a certified preschool teacher, he was an aide. What I can tell you is that I can confirm that he was an employee here.”
Beinke said the news of Von Kohorn’s arrest was surprising.
“I felt surprised, bad and concerned, as I am sure people in Wilton–especially those who worked with him–do. We did a complete background check, including fingerprinting–as we do for everyone, including myself–who work with children. There was never a problem or concern. This was really out of the blue.”
Last week, GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to Wilton Public Schools superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith, who, until then, was not aware of the inaccuracies on Von Kohorn’s resume. He researched the questions we posed to him about the resume and got back to us the next day.
Von Kohorn’s References
According to Smith, Dr. Fred Rapcynski, director of Wilton Preschool, was the administrator who interviewed Von Kohorn and made the final decision to hire him; Rapcynski was also the person who checked Von Kohorn’s references and work history. According to the notes in Von Kohorn’s personnel file, Rapcynski spoke by phone with Rev. Beinke and that reference was recorded in writing into the file.
“There wasn’t a date on the reference, but according to the notes in the file, the gentleman reported that Eric is excellent with children, open to advice and suggestions from colleagues, a team player. It was generally a positive reference,” Smith said.
In addition, a second person affiliated with the preschool, Elizabeth Morelli, is listed as a reference on the third page of Von Kohorn’s resume–a page that was not forwarded to GMW.com. That listing names her as “Director of St. Peter Lutheran Preschool (Former),” according to Smith, who told us that, “There was nothing in the file from her. I have no information from Fred that he spoke to her. We’re tracking it down now.”
GMW.com emailed Morelli, but as of press time had not heard a response.
As for why there might have been a discrepancy on the job description that Von Kohorn included on his resume and what he actually did at his previous preschool experience, Smith said he asked Rapcynski about what was written on the resume.
“I don’t have any information on that, but what I am doing is asking Susan Paley, our director of HR, to track down Elizabeth Morelli, and she was going to attempt to reach out to her and talk about some of this information about the resume and try to get some further information. I’m going to also ask Susan to call the Reverend and ask her to verify it. I don’t know anything else about this,” Smith said.
Another reference of Von Kohorn’s that Rapcynski checked was with a psychologist based in Westport named Dr. Jeff Von Kohorn.
“According to Fred, he’s a psychologist in Westport with a very large practice. Fred, when questioned by me, reported that he knew Dr. Von Kohorn professionally. Fred previously worked in the Westport Public Schools,” Smith explained.
Notes from that reference are also included in Eric Von Kohorn’s personnel file.
“The reference from Dr. Von Kohorn, it says, ‘gentle giant, he’s great with kids.’ There’s nothing noted here [in the reference] but Fred reported yesterday when we were talking about this, that he believes this Dr. Jeff Von Kohorn is Eric’s uncle,” Smith said.
Smith added that there were notes in the file regarding two other references. One was a written reference from the co-owner of Wave Hill Breads, where, according to Von Kohorn’s resume, he worked in the bakery. Smith characterized that as “a positive reference.” The other recommendation was a letter written by a parent of a child who attended school where Von Kohorn worked. “In it he wrote that Eric was one of his daughter’s teachers the prior year, (going back to 2007). It was a favorable reference,” Smith said.
GMW.com reached out to Jason Sheffield, the attorney for Eric Von Kohorn, asking for comment. As of press time, we have not received a response or comment. A press statement Sheffield released to media last week is included at the end of this article.
HR Processes Undergoing Audit
Back in 2007, when Von Kohorn was hired, the district had a process for hiring employees. The building administrators–principals, or in this case, the director of the preschool–were responsible for the first round interview and checking references.
“Generally speaking, a potential applicant would submit a resume and perhaps a cover letter. The building administrators [would] interview potential candidates. If they came down to an individual that was going to be recommended, the building administrator would check the professional references. Generally the building administrator would submit a recommendation to–at the time–the director of HR, for hiring. At the same time the building administrator would submit a summary of those references. Generally speaking, included in a candidate’s application would be written letters of recommendation,” Smith explained.
When Smith began as superintendent on July 1, he made an adjustment to that procedure.
“I made a change when I got here, that had nothing to do with Eric Von Kohorn. It’s my own practice. I like to interview every person that comes into the district. I have been trying my very best [to do that]. In July, we changed the structure so as a group [in the district office] we–Susan Paley, the HR director; Chuck Smith, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction; and myself–together, would interview any potential teaching candidates. For special education folks, certainly [assistant superintendent for special services] Ann Paul would participate in that. That’s to give a second round interview, focused on teaching and learning. I have a practice of interviewing all employees of the district. That’s something I don’t think was in place before. I think the HR director conducted an interview, but I don’t think the superintendent interviewed every single employee. That’s a new process,” Smith said.
So Smith intends to meet every employee, including teachers, maintenance staff, aides, secretaries and more?
“I have a personal desire to know every single employee that works in the district. Every new employee lands in front of me.”
In instances where Smith is unavailable or out of district, Chuck Smith or Ann Paul would substitute. “What we’re trying to do is put a different set of eyes on new employees and really have a conversation to insure this employee really matches the needs that we have, and that there are lots of opportunities to vet the person thoroughly,” he explained.
As well, he said that the HR director had already been working on analyzing district hiring procedures, before news broke about Von Kohorn’s arrest. “I know that Susan, just as part of her coming to the district, has been looking at processes of vetting, induction and hiring that are in place, to insure that we have high standards and that they are being adhered to,” Smith said.
Smith said that school officials are now conducting a major audit “in response to some of the questions you’ve asked and a desire to make sure that all of our processes are air-tight.” Among the steps Smith said they are taking:
- “Susan Paley has initiated an audit of all the personnel files, starting with the preschool paraprofessionals. They’re going through them to ensure that everything that is supposed to be there is in there, and that processes and procedures for hiring were all followed, and there’s evidence of these things in the files. The plan is to work through the entire staff. Questions that are generated, we’ll address them in turn. They’ve just started that process.”
- “Dr. Rapcynski has his staff gathering all of the records of paraprofessional assignments so we can verify which children were assigned to Eric during their time here. So he’s going back as far as he has records for.”
- “I have Ann Paul putting together a plan to review all the staffing protocols related to how we service our disabled students, and we’ll conduct those reviews of all those protocols in every building.”
Other District Changes Following Von Kohorn’s Arrest
Smith detailed other updates in the situation, including changes to district policies and procedures that he has made as developments have happend.
- “The Wilton Police searched the district computer that was assigned to Eric—it was a shared computer so he wasn’t the only one who accessed it. They did do a scan and they reported the computer was clean. One of our computer technicians went back and reviewed Eric’s login history—looking for, as he logged in, was he accessing any websites—really, any inappropriate Internet sites. He was able to search the Internet history, and there was no record of him logging in to any internet site through his [WPS] login.”
- “Back when Eric was put on administrative leave he was locked out of all the districts computer systems. At that point they had archived all of his emails and I think they cut off his access to his emails at that time too. We’re beginning a review process where we are going to go through all of his emails.”
- “The other question that has come up from a number of parents that I’ve been in touch with are some concerns about the possible use of Eric’s cell phone, that Eric may have been with children and taken photos and uploaded photos. When I first spoke with [lead investigator] Det. [Jonathan] Carreiro about this last week, he indicated they did not seize his cell phone at the time, the search was restricted to Eric’s house, and the cell phone wasn’t at the house. I’ve sent a letter requesting, given all of the parents’ concerns and the fact that Eric worked with small children, that they find a way to seize his cell phone and review all of his data upload history.
- We had a concern from a parent that Eric might appear here on campus. The letter that [former HR director] Dr. [Michael] Chicchetti had sent [Eric] back in June stated very clearly that Eric was prohibited from any interaction with Wilton students, prohibited from coming on campus. I sent Eric a follow-up letter reiterating that. In addition, we’ve published out his picture to all staff with information suggesting that if staff encounters him, they should call 911. We’re also distributing his photo to our bus drivers.” That photo was sent via email to all employees with a district email, and Smith added that he “will follow-up with building administrators that if there are staff in the buildings who don’t have email addresses, that they have the photo.”
[click resume images, below, to enlarge]
Press statement from Jason Sheffield, the attorney for Eric Von Kohorn:
“Mr. Von Kohorn worked at the Wilton Preschool for 7 years. He was an outstanding advocate and educator for children with special needs. He was respected and beloved by the students, the families and the other teachers. Mr. Von Kohorn has not been sexually inappropriate to any child at Wilton and is cooperating fully with police and Wilton on this matter. He has voluntarily taken and passed a polygraph wherein he was asked whether he ever engaged in “any sexual activity” with any child at Wilton – which would include photographing any children for sexual purposes – to which he stated he had not. He hopes that the parents will not rush to judgment and allow him to work with the state as his case proceeds. Jason Sheffield and Bob Rubin, counsel for Mr. Von Kohorn, have been in touch with Kevin Smith, superintendent of the schools, and have pledged full cooperation as the school continues to respect the parents’ concerns and demonstrate that that their children were safe at Wilton.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated to clarify what building administrators are and who does hiring. “Building administrators” are principals, or in this case, the director of the preschool.