Board to discuss acting super in private Thursday; deleted texts determination issued

The School Committee will vote to enter an executive (private) session at its meeting Thursday evening, Oct. 20 to discuss an issue involving acting Superintendent Michelle Cresta.

According to the School Committee agenda, members will discuss the “reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence of an individual, or to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against” the acting superintendent.

Acting Superintendent Michelle Cresta. COURTESY PHOTO

Cresta has been leading the district since July, when the School Committee began discussions to oust former superintendent John Buckey. She also serves as the assistant superintendent of finance.

The School Committee voted 4-1 to name former Village School principal and Swampscott resident Theresa McGuinness the interim superintendent and will vote on her contract Thursday. McGuinness said she expects to start the job on Nov. 6.

Fox declined to answer questions about the executive session. However, the Current has learned that a mother of two Marblehead students has called for Cresta’s firing, after an email Cresta wrote about violence in Israel and Gaza.

“We stand with Israel and with Jewish people around the world,” Cresta wrote. She did not mention the people in Gaza who have been killed and injured. 

Kristi Warab’s children are Muslim. She wrote to the School Committee complaining about Cresta’s email. In a letter to the editor, Warab wrote that she “would like to see an email from the school that stands with the right of every race and group of people and their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not just one group of people.” 

Later, Warab pointed to an email from Marblehead High Principal Michele Carlson that she called “more neutral.”

Carlson’s email read: “The MHS student support team met this morning to discuss ways to support our students and staff given the recent conflicts in the Middle East. We recognize that these incidents have been very difficult for many families, students, and staff. If any student needs support during the day we have counselors available to meet with them.”

Clockwise from top left, Cresta, Fox, Allison Taylor and Jenn Schaeffner all say they deleted texts related to former superintendent John Buckey.

Deleted messages

The supervisor of records in the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office issued a determination letter Oct. 17 regarding the text messages related to Buckey’s departure Cresta and several School Committee members said were irretrievable after being inadvertently deleted.

The state has ordered the district to “institute safeguards to ensure that all records are retained in accordance with both applicable law as well as the retention schedules promulgated by this office.”

Supervisor of Records Manza Arthur advised the town to review materials related to records retention online.

Arthur added, “Public records must be maintained and kept in a manner that allows access by the general public, as they are subject to mandatory disclosure upon request. Training workshops on records management are conducted upon request.”

In its appeal, the Current had asked the supervisor to require the district to provide documentation of its efforts to retrieve the texts. Arthur did not address this request in the determination letter, writing, “Accordingly, whereas the requested records no longer exist, I will consider this appeal closed.”

Open Meeting Law violation appeal

Meanwhile, Marblehead resident Cathyann Swindlehurst has filed an appeal of her open meeting law complaint against the School Committee.

“I wanted to let you and the School Committee know that I have asked for the AG to review the Open Meeting Law complaint I filed on July 31, 2023,” Swindlehurst wrote in an email to Fox. “I received confirmation this morning that they have received my request and assigned it to an attorney for investigation.”

In a letter to Attorney General Andrea Campbell’s office, Swindlehurst wrote, “The question pertains to the School Committee’s decision-making process related to the superintendent’s employment contract. As I stated in the original complaint, I believe the process the committee engaged in when deciding to consider terminating the superintendent, is in conflict with the principles of transparency and public engagement that the OML seeks to uphold.”

The School Committee meeting begins Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Marblehead High School Library and on Zoom HERE.

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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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