SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 23, 2013

Marblehead school chief resigns

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — Saying he could not longer work collaboratively with a majority of the School Committee, Marblehead Superintendent Gregory Maass abruptly resigned Thursday night during a school board budget hearing despite having one year left on his contract.

“First, due to personal circumstance, I can no longer commit the time and energy needed to be successful in the job,” Maass wrote in his resignation letter. “I’d like you to know, I’ve never been one to let personal or family concerns stand in my way of getting my job done but at the current time, I have to take a step back and do what’s right for me and the Marblehead Public Schools.”

Maass cited friction and a loss of confidence with a majority of the school board that he feels has “blurred” its oversight authority role with the superintendent’s function as day-to-day school chief.

“Quite frankly, I feel like a referee not a superintendent,” Maass wrote. He said in an interview that his leadership style, focused on the mission of education, conflicted with how a majority of the board dealt with him.

“I have to accept I’m going to be a power player or leave,” Maass said yesterday. “So, I chose to leave.”

Maass’ resignation is effective June 30.

School Committee member Kathy Leonardson said Maass brought stability, and performed at a high level.

“I was horrified,” Leonardson said when Maass resigned. “It was heartbreaking.” She had been on the search committee that hired him.

“For all of us who do this job,” Maass said in his letter, “it’s vital to have a respectful and honorable relationship with the respective committee we serve. It’s time for me to be true to myself and step away from the tense environment I referenced in my mid-year evaluation.” The ongoing conflict, he said, would have become a distraction.

“If this continues, the focus on being great will be marginalized,” Maass wrote.

Maass’ resignation means he is walking away from a $179,000 salary, according to town records. He was entering the final year of his deal. Maass said yesterday afternoon he does not know what his plans are after Marblehead.

When he was hired two years ago, he said he hoped to transform the school system in a “collaborative” way.

“Recently, the culture within the majority of the School Committee has moved away from this (collaborative) methodology. In my opinion, it has turned into a transactional and fractured environment. One quite frankly, I’m not compatible with.”

Maass does not name members with whom things were tense, but he does thank Leonardson and Chairwoman EuRim Chun for their efforts and support. Chun and board members Jonathan Lederman, Dick Nohelty and Tom Connolly did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Maass said the letter was not meant to be a condemnation of the school board.

“I look at School Committee members first as community representatives,” Maass said.

Maass’ letter gives instances where he feels the majority of the board “blurred” its authority as a policy and budget board with “the superintendent’s role being leadership of operations,” spelled out in the Education Reform Act of 1993. According to Maass’ letter, some school board members refused to comply with his request to contact him if they planned to contact administrative or other staff “unrelated to their parent role;” a member of the school board walked out of a meeting and members asked him to ignore advice from legal counsel.

“Some of those events were happening and I was not comfortable,” Maass said.

A native of Wisconsin, Maass was 57 when he came to Marblehead two years ago from the much larger Green Bay Area Public Schools, a system with a $270 million annual budget, the third-largest in Wisconsin, compared with Marblehead’s nearly $31 million budget.

His resignation marks a sudden turn for a school system that has seen its share of top administrators leave in recent years. Most recently, Maass hired Layne Millington, outgoing principal of Swampscott High, to lead Marblehead High due to his experience. Leonardson said the School Committee was pleased with that move.

Maass took over the schools on July 1, 2011, replacing outgoing former Superintendent Paul Dulac, who arrived in 2007. Dulac had to leave three months early in March 2011 for medical and personal reasons. Former business manager Brian Salzer, a former Swampscott High principal for one year, filled in as acting superintendent until Maass arrived.

Maass had aimed at changing the culture in the schools toward one of openness, saying in 2011 he hoped school board members came with an open mind before advocating their policy goals. He said at the time he preferred to “collaborate” rather than debate.

“We all need to stay the course,” Maass said, saying the work in Marblehead schools will go on. “It’s not about one person.”

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.