In Marblehead, furor and hypothesis reign over an ousted superintendent

The Boston Globe

Marblehead Superintendent John Buckey was forced to resign from his post just one month after the School Committee gave him a favorable performance review.
Marblehead Superintendent John Buckey was compelled to resign from his put up only one month after the Faculty Committee gave him a positive efficiency evaluate. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Employees

MARBLEHEAD — When John Buckey arrived on this charming seaside city in the summertime of 2020, employed as superintendent of Marblehead Public Faculties, he greeted his new position with optimism, even because the pandemic raged round him.

Buckey, who had spent the earlier 15 years as a highschool principal, most lately in Nantucket, was able to make a change. Marblehead had a popularity for biking via superintendents — with seven everlasting or interim leaders since 2005 — and Buckey thought he may reverse the pattern and produce some much-needed stability to district management. He moved to a apartment within the historic Adams Home at Fort Sewall Seaside and have become a daily on the Driftwood diner. He may see himself retiring right here on the finish of an extended profession.

“Individuals have been so heat and welcoming and sort,” Buckey instructed an area realtor throughout a Zoom interview on the final day of his first month helming the district of roughly 2,600 college students. “Maybe, I’m a glass-half-full-type man, however possibly it’s the most effective time to be a brand new superintendent.”

Buckey, 49, was out of a job a bit of greater than three years later, compelled on Aug. 2 to comply with resign, below a cloud of controversy that has outraged townspeople and shaken their religion within the native college system. The Faculty Committee has provided solely obscure clues as to why its members sought to oust him, prompting widespread hypothesis about their motives — and whether or not they had been personally or ideologically pushed.

Not even Buckey is aware of why he was pushed out of his almost $190,000 a 12 months job.

“I’ve by no means been given any clarification, cause or motivation,” he mentioned in a written response to questions from the Globe. (Buckey is sure by a non-disparagement clause in his settlement settlement with the district; his solutions had been reviewed by his legal professional.)

Members of the Faculty Committee, in the meantime, have declined to publicly remark.

The place many agree, nonetheless, is {that a} superintendent’s survival lately in a neighborhood equivalent to Marblehead hinges as a lot on the social and political milieu of the district he’s main as on his competence and management expertise. Simply as college boards have develop into the middle of tradition wars throughout the nation, so too have superintendents, caught up in clashes on incendiary points equivalent to guide bans, vital race concept, and gender identification.

Superintendents in a number of Massachusetts municipalities have, in latest months, exited below equally strained circumstances. In Saugus, Erin McMahon, the primary lady to steer the district, has been compelled by the Faculty Committee to stay on depart since January; the committee invoked solely obscure issues about her conduct throughout a very acrimonious funds cycle. Faculty Committee members in Everett voted this spring to not renew Priya Tahiliani’s superintendent contract following years of rigidity between her and the mayor. This month, Michael Morris stepped down as superintendent of Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Faculties amid an outdoor investigation into the therapy of transgender college students at a center college.

“The query is, what’s driving these choices?” mentioned Vladimir Kogan, an Ohio State College professor who research college district politics. “To the extent that it’s actually grownup points that don’t have anything to do with pupil outcomes, that’s after we ought to begin to get involved as a result of finally it’s going to distract from what faculties do.”

Tom Scott, government director of the Massachusetts Affiliation of Faculty Superintendents, mentioned that “the job has develop into far too political.” Previously, Scott mentioned, it wasn’t uncommon to see superintendents serving as many 20 years on the helm of a Massachusetts college district; at this time, the typical tenure of a superintendent within the state is 5 years.

Buckey was employed as superintendent of Marblehead Public Faculties in February 2020, considered one of two finalists for the job. Faculty Committee members extolled Buckey as a transformational chief. He impressed the city in public boards along with his youth and charisma. He was additionally brazenly homosexual and married and deliberate to plant roots within the city.

“It was similar to a breath of recent air,” mentioned Paul Baker, a Marblehead resident who attended the boards and later made an unsuccessful bid for Faculty Committee. “Simply one thing a small city like Marblehead wants — a wake-up name, a little bit of range.”

However fissures in Buckey’s assist began forming virtually as quickly as he arrived to the district within the throes of the pandemic, tasked then with reopening faculties whereas navigating the murky terrain of masks mandates and hybrid studying. Public debate in Marblehead about COVID coverage gave approach to consternation round range and inclusion efforts, recalled Sarah Gold, a former Marblehead Faculty Committee member who was committee chair when Buckey was appointed.

“I believe COVID is the direct line,” Gold mentioned of the highway to Buckey’s departure. “It began as wanting youngsters to get again to the classroom after which grew to become all about masks and then you definately had the entire civil rights items inside it that then created divisions with Black Lives Matter.”

Within the 2021, controversy erupted over the show of a Black Lives Matter flag in the highschool cafeteria, which Buckey defended, citing his dedication to Marblehead “changing into an anti-racist college district.” (Marblehead, with a inhabitants of roughly 20,000 individuals, is 96 % white.) Final summer time, Buckey urged the city to move a $3 million tax override for faculties that might have allowed the district, partially, to rent a brand new director of range, fairness, and inclusion, galvanizing native critics. The override failed, however a vocal contingent of voters took to social media, accusing Buckey of making an attempt to “infiltrate” the colleges along with his liberal agenda.

“There’s positively a bunch of oldsters who had been anti-Buckey,” mentioned Leigh Blander, a reporter for the Marblehead Present, an internet newspaper. “Buckey was very supportive of DEI…and, as a homosexual, married man, was very supportive of LGBTQ college students and points, and there positively was a way locally that not all people was comfy with that.”

Till final month, Buckey had the assist of the five-member Faculty Committee. In July 2021, the Faculty Committee voted 4 to 1 to increase his contract for an additional two years. Solely Sarah Fox, the present chair, opposed the extension. In mid-June, the Faculty Committee authorised a “proficient” efficiency analysis for Buckey.

However every week later, two new Faculty Committee members had been elected — a earlier committee member, Jennifer Schaeffner, founding father of the native information web site Marblehead Beacon, and Brian Ota, a former principal of the district’s Glover Elementary Faculty. (Gold misplaced her seat.) One other tax override was on the poll, however it, too, failed, leading to cuts to highschool applications and personnel. After the election, the Present’s Blander broke the information that Ota had filed a criticism in opposition to Buckey with the Massachusetts Fee In opposition to Discrimination when his contract as Glover’s principal was not renewed — a truth he didn’t disclose whereas campaigning.

By early July, and with two new members on the Faculty Committee, it appeared an effort to take away Buckey was underway. On July 7, lower than three weeks after the election, Fox had “stopped speaking” with him, Buckey instructed the Globe. To Buckey’s shock, he later discovered the Faculty Committee deliberate to satisfy behind closed doorways in government session on July 21 to debate the phrases of his contract, with Ota agreeing to recuse himself. The Faculty Committee was set to vote on the early termination clause of his contract in a digital assembly on July 26 earlier than abruptly calling it off in below a minute with no clarification. Per week later, Buckey agreed to resign.

Beneath the phrases of his settlement settlement, Buckey will probably be on paid depart till Dec. 31, at which level he’ll resign. He’ll obtain a lump sum fee of $94,350 on Jan. 2, 2024. The Faculty Committee, within the meantime, has launched its seek for an interim superintendent and the city of Marblehead stays in the dead of night.

Just one Faculty Committee member, Meagan Taylor, has sided publicly with Buckey. In a letter to the editor of the Present, Taylor chided her colleagues’ plans to take away Buckey from his place.

“The actions of this committee have affected workers morale, disrupted the steadiness of our faculties, detracted from the constructive work of the district, and can negatively influence our funds and talent to rent a successor superintendent,” she wrote. “Our neighborhood deserves higher than this.”

At an unusually energetic Faculty Committee assembly at the highschool library on Aug. 11, townspeople conjectured brazenly about Buckey’s abrupt departure and voiced their frustration with their elected college leaders. One lady questioned a few “hidden agenda.” One other accused the Faculty Committee of turning the city right into a “laughing inventory.”

“I think that members of our college board got here to this weird peremptory dismissal from completely different motivations,” Mimi Lemay, a Marblehead guardian, instructed the Globe.

Fox, the Faculty Committee chair, has pointed solely to the July 21 minutes of the committee’s government session by means of indirect clarification. The minutes point out a “latest investigative report…on a criticism of bullying on an athletic workforce along with different issues introduced forth to the Committee on different issues in latest weeks.”

The report referenced within the minutes refers to an outdoor investigation of unintentional “bullying” by former Marblehead Excessive women soccer coach John Dormer, obtained by the Present and revealed on July 26. In October, the report mentioned, the varsity district employed an unbiased investigator to look into an nameless criticism about Dormer by the household of a women soccer participant. The investigator decided the coach had inadvertently induced “emotional hurt” to non-varsity gamers who complained about their roles within the soccer program.

Buckey’s lawyer, Michael Lengthy, normal counsel to the Massachusetts Affiliation of Faculty Superintendents, mentioned Buckey was by no means contacted by the investigator or requested to be interviewed, and had solely develop into conscious of the criticism in October.

Fox instructed the Globe the minutes “are as they stand” and he or she couldn’t remark additional earlier than including that the Faculty Committee had “heard from much more those who don’t really feel the identical means” as those that spoke out on the Aug. 11 assembly.

One these constituents is Megan Sweeney, founding father of the native activist group PowerUp. She mentioned she’s happy with the Faculty Committee’s stage of transparency round Buckey’s elimination and that the allegations had been “worthy of unseating a superintendent.”

“I don’t know something extra necessary than our youngsters,” she mentioned.I really feel like as adults, we’ve got an inherent accountability, ethical obligation, moral obligation to to be sure that they’re centered in our choices.”

It’s an evidence not all appear keen to purchase. Joe Selby, whose daughter was a participant on the ladies varsity soccer workforce, suspects the investigation of Dormer was a “witch hunt” on behalf of fogeys who felt their youngsters didn’t get sufficient taking part in time, and a handy pretext for the Faculty Committee to get a rid of Buckey.

I believe the Faculty Committee was determined to fireplace this man,” he mentioned, “and I don’t know why.”