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Marblehead School Administration

97% of Marblehead Teachers Vote No Confidence in Student Services Staff

On Thursday December 14, 2023, the Marblehead Education Association (MEA)—led by co-presidents Jonathan Heller and Sally Shevory—sent Interim Superintendent Theresa McGuinness and the Marblehead School Committee a statement entitled: "A Declaration of No Confidence in Dr. Paula Donnelly, Director of Student Services and Ms. Emily Dean, Associate Director of Student Services."


The email forwarded along with the statement noted that 97 percent of 260 teachers, paraprofessionals, and tutors endorsed the statement because "we believe that working conditions are unacceptable for all of us and that members of our union are being unfairly punished all because of the inability of Dr. Paula Donnelly and Emily Dean to do their jobs."


The statement itself provides additional details about the teachers' concerns, stating that Donnelly's and Dean's "inability to craft and administer effective policies has placed students and staff at risk and has created unfair working conditions for educators and inadequate learning conditions for students."


The statement calls for the School Committee and the Superintendent "to remove them from their posts" while also "seeking a course of action that includes educator input to improve the working and learning conditions in Marblehead schools." 


The MEA's vote of no confidence comes in the wake of a series of events that have taken place over the past week at Marblehead's Glover School, one of two local schools serving Kindergarten through 3rd grade students. As Marblehead Beacon previously reported, four staff members at Glover were placed on paid administrative leave after a general education student had to be forcibly restrained. "This is not a punitive action," according to the press release issued by the school district, "but it is necessary during this process." 


An announcement at the same time noted that Hope Doran, Glover's principal, would be departing on medical leave, and Veteran's Middle School Principal Matt Fox would be filling in, while Assistant Superintendent Julia Ferreira would be taking over temporarily at Vets. McGuinness told Marblehead Beacon that there was "no relationship" between Doran's departure and the incident with the Glover student.


The day after the series of announcements about Glover, the MEA issued a public letter to McGuinness expressing support for their union colleagues. As Marblehead Beacon reported, the letter stated in part that "an alarming number of educators at the Glover Elementary School have suffered physical injury caused by the dangerous behaviors of one or more dysregulated students," and that, "despite repeated requests for resources and support from the Department of Student Services, the Marblehead Public Schools have failed to adequately respond or take any appropriate action whatsoever to prevent such incidents and ensure the safety of staff and students at the Glover School."


The statement announcing the vote of no confidence takes much the same tone, noting that the situation "that led to four educators being placed on leave is indicative of a larger systemic problem regarding the district's inadequate approach to maintaining student and staff safety." 


As a result, the statement continues, "educators are left feeling unsupported and uncertain when it comes to addressing a significant problem facing our schools." The MEA's call to action includes four primary areas of focus: (1) "improvements in building level and district-wide communication;" (2) "increased access to high-quality professional development;" (3) "consistent application of systems and structures;" and (4) "an overhaul of the professional culture which is currently undermining staff and fostering a culture of fear."


The statement concludes that "the MEA is ready to work with administrators, community leaders, and families to generate a plan that supports our students and leads to schools that allow for unimpeded learning."


Sarah Fox, chair of the Marblehead School Committee, released a statement in response to the MEA vote of no confidence. "The Marblehead School Committee takes this vote of no confidence very seriously," the statement said, and "we have initiated an independent third-party investigation of the student support process." 


While acknowledging that "employee misconduct and any potential resulting actions are under the Superintendent's authority," the School Committee statement says that they "will hold the administration accountable to implement the recommendations of this investigation."


Editor’s note: School Committee member Jenn Schaeffner is a Marblehead Beacon founder and editor. She is recusing herself from Marblehead Beacon’s coverage of the School Committee and anything pertaining to Marblehead Public Schools.