Amherst names two co-principals for middle school

  • Amherst Regional Middle School. Gazette file photo

Staff Writers
Thursday, July 05, 2018

AMHERST — After scrutiny of the superintendent’s recent decision to pass over two candidates of color for a middle-school principal position, school officials have named co-principals to serve on an interim basis at Amherst Regional Middle School.

Joseph Smith, previously a Crocker Farm Elementary School assistant principal and the principal of Leeds Elementary School, and Rebecca Sweetman, a middle school principal in Southbridge, will serve as co-principals for the next two years, according to a letter from Superintendent Michael Morris and Doreen Cunningham, Assistant Superintendent of Diversity, Equity and Human Resources.

“Many people who participated in opportunities to meet them as candidates commented that they wished we could hire both,” the letter reads. “We agreed and are pleased that Mr. Smith and Ms. Sweetman will be bringing their expertise to ARPS as part of our administrative team.”

Cunningham said in an email Thursday that the co-principals’ salaries are still being determined as is the division of their duties.

“Initial discussions of defining roles and responsibilities have just started and will be developed over the next few weeks with input from the two principals, the middle school staff leadership team, Dr. Morris and me,” Cunningham said.

Morris, who is out of the office Thursday and Friday, could not be reached for comment.

With Sweetman and Smith serving as co-principals, there will not be an assistant principal next year at the middle school which had two in the past, Cunningham said.

The search for a middle school principal became embroiled in controversy recently when a member of the search committee went public to say that Morris had passed over two candidates of color, who held state administrator licenses, in favor of re-appointing interim principal Patty Bode for a third year. Bode, who did not have her administrative license at the time. She was working under a waiver from the state, as were the assistant principals at the middle school, Alicia Lopez and David Ranen. Bode’s contract with the school ends June 30, while Lopez is returning to her previous role as an England Language Learners teacher, and Ranen is retiring.

In the wake of Morris’ decision to pass over the finalists for the permanent principal position, search committee member Christine Harmon and others have called his action discriminatory, indicative of longtime hiring practices that disadvantaged people of color in town.

On the other hand, teachers at the middle school have voiced concern over the continued administrative turnover at the school, and have expressed support of Bode at several Regional School Committee meetings, with more than 50 signing a letter praising her work.

ARMS families, staff and students will have an opportunity to meet the interim co-principals sometime in July, though a date has yet to be finalized.

“They are looking forward to working with the ARMS Leadership Team over this summer to ensure a smooth transition and an excellent start to the 2018-2019 school year,” the letter says of Smith and Sweetman.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.