AMHERST — Michael Morris, who has served as interim school superintendent for the Amherst public schools since August, will not seek the permanent post.
On March 6, Morris sent letters to School Committee members and faculty and staff alerting them that he plans to continue in the interim role through the end of the academic year, but will not throw his hat in the ring to become the next superintendent.
“The decision not to apply for the permanent position of superintendent of schools was extremely difficult for me for many reasons, but my focus will remain on the education of all students in our district regardless of my role,” Morris wrote, adding that he would return to being assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
In his letter to faculty, Morris saluted “the incredible work done by the faculty and staff of Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools to educate, nurture and support all our students.”
Morris was appointed acting superintendent, and then interim superintendent, by the Amherst-Pelham Regional and Union 26 school committees following the departure in August of Maria Geryk, who left the position following a $309,238 buyout.
Regional School Committee Chairman Eric Nakajima said Morris has offered stability, even with the level of discord prior to Geryk’s departure, and the continued debate in Amherst over the project to build co-located elementary schools at the Wildwood School site.
“I think he’s been terrific,” Nakajima said. “This has to be one of the most challenging circumstances anyone, let alone a new superintendent, could have.”
Morris’ decision comes as applications for the position are due this week. Najakima said he is unsure what the pool of candidates will look like, but already more than two dozen applications have been submitted.
Ray and Associates Executive Leadership Search, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is handling the search, with assistance from a screening committee.
School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Appy sent an email to Morris expressing her gratitude for his leadership.
“You have led the district with intelligence and integrity keeping our students and their varied needs in the fore,” Appy wrote in the email. “I’ve always known you to be a thoughtful person, and I’m sure your reasons for not applying for the job of superintendent fall into that category.”
School Committee member Vira Douangmany Cage said that though she disagreed with Morris on the school project, she appreciates his openness, inclusion and transparency.
These traits were especially important when it came to debating parents and community members on opposite sides of the school project issue, she said.
“He leveled the playing ground for School Committee members by communicating with all members at the same time with the same information,” Douangmany Cage said.
Morris, she said, also led on topics such as protecting undocumented students from possible Immigration and Customs Enforcement actions and using restorative practices.
“He is a gentle and compassionate leader and is responsive to a racially and economically diverse population,” Douangmany Cage said.
Morris, who lives in Amherst, has worked in the district for 16 years as an elementary school teacher, principal and director of evaluation and assessment. He has a doctoral degree from Boston College.
He added that it has been an honor serving as interim superintendent and appreciates the support he received.
“I appreciate your collaborative work and support over the course of this year,” Morris wrote.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at email@example.com.