, Salem, MA

March 27, 2013

Our view: Another leadership vacuum in the Marblehead schools

The Salem News

---- — It’s another year, another crisis for the Marblehead schools, which find themselves once again in the market for a superintendent.

The latest crisis began — or, more accurately, surfaced — at last week’s School Committee meeting, when Superintendent Greg Maass shocked the crowd by announcing his resignation, effective June 30.

Maass said he was driven from his $179,000-a-year job by interference by and a lack of respect from a majority of the School Committee, which he feels has overstepped its bounds when it comes to the day-to-day functions of the superintendent’s office.

“Quite frankly, I feel like a referee, not a superintendent,” Maass wrote in his resignation letter.

“Two years ago, when I was offered the position, I understood the work to be transformative, and the methodology that the School Committee and I agreed upon to get the work accomplished would be collaborative,” Maass wrote. “In other words, there would be a need for change, and we would do the needed change in a team-based, mutual way. Recently, the culture within the majority of the School Committee has moved away from this methodology. In my opinion, it has turned into a transactional and fractured environment, one quite frankly I’m not compatible with.”

Maass has been well-respected for his work since being hired from the Green Bay, Wis., public schools to replace retiring Superintendent Paul Dulac in 2011.

School Committee member Kathy Leonardson told reporter Ethan Forman that Maass brought stability to the district and performed at a high level.

“I was horrified” when Maass resigned, Leonardson said. “It was heartbreaking.”

As examples, Maass said some school board members refused to comply with his request to contact him before talking to other administrators or staff “unrelated to their parent role.” Another School Committee member walked out of a budget meeting; another suggested he ignore advice from the district’s legal counsel, he said.

One of the key roles of any school committee is to find and retain outstanding administrators. Marblehead has a dismal record in this regard. Maass’ resignation means the town will be searching for its sixth superintendent since 2005. And when Layne Millington arrives from Swampscott, he will be the high school’s sixth principal since 2006. This is a failure of leadership on the part of a School Committee that seems more intent on stepping into day-to-day issues than taking the stabilizing long view the town so clearly needs.

Maass’ impending departure (should he not listen to pleas by some residents and committee members to reconsider) and the clearly fractured makeup of the School Committee leaves a leadership vacuum at the top of the district.

Those wondering who will step up and change the conversation should be encouraged to know that at least four town residents have taken steps to run for School Committee since Maass’ resignation, and hundreds of others have signed a letter in his support. The town’s citizens have clearly taken notice.

That’s the type of commitment it will take to change the dysfunctional relationships at the top of the Marblehead schools.