School Committee evaluates superintendent, will discuss contract right before election

***This story has been updated to remove the word “extension” from the characterization of the discussion about Superintendent Buckey’s contract discussion planned for June 15. The School Committee may discuss extending Buckey’s contract, giving him a raise or changing terms of the package. The story is also updated to include comments from School Committee Vice Chair Tom Mathers on the typical protocol for setting School Committee agendas.

Just days before the June 20 election when Marblehead voters will decide whether to raise their taxes to fund the schools and other town departments — and choose two School Committee members — the School Committee was expected to discuss Superintendent John Buckey’s contract on June 15.

School Committee Chair Sarah Fox told the Marblehead Current that she planned to add Buckey’s contract to the agenda for June 15, which is the School Committee’s last meeting before the election and a new committee is seated.

“There was a request made by [Committee member] Sarah Gold to have Dr. Buckey’s contract added to the agenda for next Thursday’s meeting,” Fox said. “In the spirit of transparency, since this is such an important item, I want to make sure everybody is aware that this request is made, and it will be on the agenda.”

School Committee Vice Chair Tom Mathers told the Currrent that typically he, Fox and Buckey work together to set agendas, and the three meet a few days before each meeting.
“From a process standpoint, I usually share a formative email to Dr. Buckey and to Chairwoman Fox prior to our agenda planning meeting,” he said.

School Committee Chair Sarah Fox is adding a discussion of Buckey’s contract to the June 15 agenda, at the request of member Sarah Gold.

Mathers’ term ends this month, and he is not seeking reelection.

Gold, who is up for reelection, explained why she asked for the contract discussion.

“In the past two years, we have always considered either a contract extension or additional compensation after Dr. Buckey’s evaluation was complete,” she said. “It hadn’t been talked about, which is why I asked about it as an agenda item in a subsequent meeting. I was looking to clarify what our process would be.”

In June 2022, the School Committee voted 4-1 to give Buckey a 2.5% raise on the same night that they voted on his evaluation.

“On the question of contract extension, I defer to the School Committee to proceed however they see fit,” Buckey told the Current on June 9. “On the two years remaining on my current contract, we have important work to do, and that is where my focus remains.”

The report card

Gold made the request to discuss Buckey’s contract at the board’s next regular meeting on June 6, the same night that the School Committee discussed Buckey’s annual performance review. The group settled on a “proficient” rating, according to Fox.

In their individual evaluations, committee members split, with Gold, Mathers and Meagan Taylor giving Buckey higher marks, and Fox and Alison Taylor delivering a less-rosy review.

Mathers gave Buckey several “exemplary” and “exceeded goals” marks in his evaluation.

“MPS is in need of stability,” Mathers wrote. “We have had seven superintendents in the last 15 years. This is an untenable period of instability and detrimental to MPS. Dr. Buckey should be proud of having navigated a very difficult first three years at MPS in the face of criticism from some stakeholders. Some of this criticism includes ad hominem attacks, which are unwarranted.”

Meagan Taylor gave Buckey “significant progress” marks for Student Learning and District Improvement goals.

“Dr. Buckey is a fierce advocate for, and works diligently to provide, a safe and supportive environment for all students,” she wrote. “Dr. Buckey is also an active and engaged member of the school community, often seen in classrooms, cafeterias, playgrounds and at after-school events. Additionally, Dr. Buckey has developed positive, collaborative working relationships with town officials and community groups such as the Rotary and Sustainable Marblehead.

Gold wrote in her evaluation: “Overall, I rate Dr. Buckey’s performance as solidly proficient. There are many places where I believe his leadership skills are exemplary and of course there are areas for continued improvement as well. Although many challenges lay ahead for the Marblehead Public Schools, there is much to celebrate as well.”

Fox gave Buckey several “needs improvement” marks in the areas of Instructional Leadership, Management Operations, Family and Community Engagement and Professional Culture.

“I have seen Dr. Buckey improve this year and commend him on that. I also see areas of growth potential that remain,” Fox wrote. “Moving forward I would like to see Dr. Buckey develop his communication skills further so he is communicating independently more and relying on outside communications support only when required due to unforeseen circumstances. In regards to two-way communication, I would like to see a greater focus on the message being conveyed rather than who is conveying the message.”

Alison Taylor also gave Buckey many “needs improvement” marks in goals including Communication and Fiscal Systems.

“I feel that district-wide there needs to be more done to foster a trusting, two-way relationship with the superintendent,” she wrote. “A relationship where everyone hears the same thing and that the message or tone doesn’t change based on the participants. Every individual, even those with dissenting views, should feel comfortable participating in the conversation. This should happen with zero regard or fear of retribution or retaliation.”

Responding to the evaluations, Buckey said, “I appreciate the time that each member took individually to provide feedback and for the composite evaluation that they compiled. I’m grateful for the acknowledgement of our many accomplishments this year, and I also see value in identifying areas where there are opportunities for continued growth and improvement.”

The School Committee is expected to vote to formally ratify its “proficient” review at its June 15 meeting.

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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