Teachers Raise Alarm Over Middle School Principal Search


Photo: amherstma.gov

An increasing number of Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS) educators are weighing in on the recent principal search process, asking Superintendent Michael Morris to pause the search and nullify the community feedback received following this week’s public forum.

Thirty-five middle school educators have signed onto letters sent to the superintendent and School Committee this week citing concerns which include secrecy of the hiring process, restrictions on communications between interview committee members, alleged conflicts of interest between those involved in hiring and candidates, and a claim that a qualified internal candidate was not put forward as a finalist.

“We have lost confidence in the ARMS principal search process,” wrote Alicia Lopez in a letter co-signed by 28 ARMS educators.

In another letter signed by 18 educators, teacher Ben Levy wrote, “Since the [interview] committee’s ratings have not been made public, we are not confident that they indicate that only two, but not three of the interviewed candidates should be recommended.”

This is not the first time questions have been raised about the district’s hiring process. Last November, retired teacher Martha Toro published a letter in the Indy which questioned the integrity of the hiring process and leveled accusations of nepotism and corruption in the district. The same process that Toro criticized — which consists of a screening committee that has access to candidate resumes and a separate interview committee that does not — was applied in the recent middle school principal search. Among the pleas from teachers this week was a call for a review of the hiring process.

Earlier this week, a letter penned by Claire Cocco and 21 educators called for the internal candidate for the middle school principal position to be added to the finalist pool in time for community forums on March 28, stating the candidate had wide staff support. 

Shortly before the forums, finalist Tanya Brodd of Arizona withdrew as she had accepted a position elsewhere, leaving only one candidate. 

Seeming to respond to accusations of undisclosed conflicts of interest among applicants and District staff, Human Resources Director Doreen Cunningham opened the virtual forum with sole finalist Gabrielle Jackson by declaring she and the applicant did not know each other and had not met prior to the interview. 

At the Regional School Committee meeting also on March 28, when asked by School Committee member Jennifer Shiao whether another finalist would be added to the pool, Morris responded that they don’t typically add finalists after the fact. “Unfortunately, the timing of this one was a little awkward,” Morris said. “We do have a finalist but that doesn’t mean the person will definitely get the position. We’ll make that determination along with community feedback.” 

An online form for the community to offer feedback on the candidate was open until noon on March 30.

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3 thoughts on “Teachers Raise Alarm Over Middle School Principal Search

  1. Toni, thank you so much for this incisive piece. If someone from outside Amherst read this article, they would absolutely come to the conclusion that Amherst does not value educators at all. AT ALL. If our community cares about our students or the incredible folks who are responsible for them every school day, there would be an open and unbiased process for all critical hiring decisions. Given the more than ten years of instability at the middle school, you would assume that finding the right person with a national search and a truly transparent process would be the utmost importance for Superintendant Morris and the district. And yet, each time there is a rushed search that is hidden from the community.

    How much money and time has been spent on hiring since the last period of stability in the middle school? The amount of stress on the educators who have to relearn how to work with new leadership every two years (Principal Sharon is the only one who has lasted a full three years, but that first year was the covid year, so that’s a anomaly) is absurd. Our teachers, paraeducators, staff – their time and energy should be put towards their number one job: teaching the students. Instead, they are having to claw their way to a fair contract while literally over 100,000 is spent on an architecture firm for the library project EACH MONTH. They are fighting for transparency in a hiring decision that has a huge impact on the culture and health of the school. They are working with meager resources. Arguably, middle school is the most disregulated time for students because of their age, their hormones, their brain development. The educators who choose to work with middle-schoolers deserve our respect!!!

    I am dismayed that the district is handling this search in this way. If there is nothing to hide, then why are they sheltering behind a wall of secrecy??? LISTEN TO THE TEACHERS.

  2. Thanks for writing this article and calling attention to the issue. Unfortunately ARMS staff members have yet to hear anything even though we have sent 3 separate letters raising concerns. In addition, when curriculum leaders (our department heads) requested a meeting with Dr.Morris and Ms. Cunningham to discuss the search, we were told they did not have time to meet with us.

  3. Given the withdrawal of the other “external” candidate, shouldn’t it be a “no-brainer” to add another candidate at this point? And if the principal were to be a leader rather than a manager, wouldn’t an “internal” candidate bring some important collegial values to the position? Otherwise one ends up with a “labor vs. management” situation, which rarely works out well in the end, especially for the students.

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