Head of state superintendents group: ‘Marblehead has to get their act together’

The executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents is speaking out about the Marblehead School Committee’s vote tomorrow on the “early termination” clause in Superintendent John Buckey’s contract.

“Marblehead has got to get their act together,” M.A.S.S. Executive Director Tom Scott told the Current. “This will be your seventh superintendent in the past 15 years. That includes permanent and interim superintendents. That’s not good for a long-term plan for a district.”

Superintendent John Buckey outside the Brown School. CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

Scott continued, “John came [to Marblehead] during COVID and got the district through a very difficult period. He has generally good performance evaluations, then the School Committee turns over, and all of a sudden he’s gone. There’s something wrong with that look.”

The School Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday, July 26, to discuss and vote on Buckey’s “early termination” contract clause.

Late Tuesday, School Committee Chair Sarah Fox told the Current, “The committee is acting in accordance with the contract Dr. Buckey signed and has been willing to negotiate. We will continue to work with our counsel towards a successful resolution.” Fox did not respond when asked what the committee wanted to resolve.

Speaking for Buckey

“We have not been advised of any reason why the committee would consider his early termination,” attorney Mike Long wrote the to the Marblehead Current Tuesday afternoon. Long represents M.A.S.S. and superintendents.

“[The School Committee] met last Friday afternoon, by Zoom, apparently to discuss this,” Long continued. “We were not invited to that meeting, but we intend to appear at the Zoom meeting scheduled for this week. Previous committees have always rated his performance as proficient, and with the help of staff, students and parents, he has helped his home community navigate the troubles of the past few years: COVID, revenue shortfalls, academic reorganizations and a host of other problems.”

Long added, “If the committee follows through on this without telling him what the problem is, that will be deeply unfair to John and disrespectful to the opinions and interests of the broader community. If they have actual grounds for termination, they should have the decency to state them and defend them.”

Superintendent John Buckey outside the Brown School on the first day of school in 2022. CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

Wednesday’s meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. and will be open to the public via Zoom HERE.

See a timeline of events leading up to this week’s meeting HERE.

Buckey came to Marblehead in 2020 with a three-year contract, which was subsequently extended to five years. According to the contract, the School Committee can release Buckey without cause with 100 days notice and a $94,350 payment. It can also remove the superintendent for cause, though not before offering him the opportunity to have a hearing with legal counsel present.

Reaction coming in

The Current reached out to several town leaders, past and present, as well as students and teachers, who have worked with Buckey. David Harris, former School Committee member, said word about Wednesday’s vote is “very sad and very disappointing at the same time.”

Harris was on the School Committee that hired Buckey. Current chair Sarah Fox and member Jennifer Schaeffner (who was elected back to the committee last month) were co-chairs of the search committee, he said.

“It’s been about a month since Brian Ota and Jenn Schaeffner were elected to the committee, and now we’re at this point. We’ll be without a superintendent, we have a new assistant superintendent who just came on board, and we just had turnover in the high school,” Harris said, referring to MHS Principal Dan Bauer leaving last month to become Danvers’ new superintendent.

Harris helped lead the Brown School construction project and said Buckey was a great partner.

“When Dr. Buckey came on board in July of ‘20, we had a critical phase of the project going forward, which was the last phase of construction when a lot of decisions get made on design and working with staff to make sure the school opened on time and on budget, and Dr. Buckey was always available,” Harris said. “He would walk over from Widger Road to the school and was always on site. It was an amazing success story, and Dr. Buckey played a key role in that.”

Yasen Colón, who just graduated as valedictorian from Marblehead High, offered this response:

“Considering the new committee makeup, I can’t say I’m really surprised. I know many students and faculty members have been upset with several of his recent decisions, and so I understand the desire for a change in leadership.”

Colón did not elaborate on what those decisions were.

“Whether there is a change or not, I think the next couple years will be extremely important for whoever is seeking the superintendent job,” he added. “I’ve spent all 12 years of my education in the MPS system, and nobody seems to have the job for very long.”

Jonathan Heller has taught in Marblehead for 18 years, has kids in the schools here and is co-chair of the local teachers union.

“My concern is for the children of Marblehead and the educators of Marblehead,” he said about the vote to possibly terminate Buckey’s contract. “We are in a perpetual cycle where we keep turning over our top administration, and it makes it very difficult for educators to support the new initiatives and programs brought into our district.”

Heller continued, “In my interactions with John Buckey as a teacher and [union] co-president, we’ve had a positive relationship. He’s been responsive. He always worked to come to a positive resolution. He was growing into his role of superintendent. He came in at the start of COVID. That’s tough. This is a rallying cry for our community to come together to support our education system. It just feels like we’re starting all over again.”

Jackie Belf-Becker served 18 years on the Select Board before losing her seat in June, and also served on the School Committee in the late 1980s through early 1990s. She is distraught about the possible termination vote.

“It bothers me that this move by the School Committee will make a very unstable situation worse,” Belf-Becker told the Current. “Marblehead is going through financial troubles, and I fear that firing the superintendent will deter qualified candidates from applying for the position. I also fear that this turmoil will adversely affect our property values and any future override needs.”

Belf-Becker referenced another superintendent who left the district.

“Let’s not forget that we had a situation when Superintendent Greg Maass chose to resign after continuous harassment by a small group,” Belf-Becker said. “We also had our next superintendent who had to resign because of the illegal manipulation of school funds and who was supported by a current committee member. The current superintendent should be allowed to finish out his contract in order to continue to stabilize the program.”

Nan Murphy, who served as assistant superintendent of learning under Buckey, praised his performance.

“We came aboard together in 2020 during the pandemic in the most challenging time in history for superintendents,” Murphy told the Current. “He led us through the reopening of schools, through both the ‘how are we going to continue to provide academic excellence’ and ‘do it in a way that is really cognizant of staff and student safety,’ which was a very complicated thing for any superintendent. John did that very, very well and inclusively in terms of involving leadership, community members, parents.”

This is a developing story. Stay with the Current for new details and reaction as it comes in.

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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