South Hadley elementary school staff vote no confidence in principal

South Hadley 04-12-2023

South Hadley 04-12-2023

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 05-20-2024 11:08 AM

Modified: 05-21-2024 1:35 PM


SOUTH HADLEY — The South Hadley Education Association has issued a vote of no confidence in the Mosier Elementary School principal on behalf of 43 staff members at the school.

Union President Amy Foley read a shortened version of a statement at a School Committee meeting last Thursday, criticizing what the union says is a lack of school management and lack of communication from Principal Cynthia Flynn.

“Principal Flynn lacks basic communication skills,” Foley read to the committee. “She does not have a presence at Mosier, and many students don’t even know who she is. While the vice principal interacts with students daily, Principal Flynn is often nowhere to be seen.”

Interim Superintendent Mark McLaughlin objected to the manner in which the union’s grievances were presented and claimed the statement mischaracterized Flynn, but he said he was open to having further conversations to address the matter.

The teachers union previously sent a letter of concern about Flynn’s professional behavior and staff morale to McLaughlin in June 2022. Due to issues setting up a grievance meeting, that criticism were never addressed by the district.

Flynn did not return calls seeking comment on Friday and Monday.

Of the three-fourths of Mosier staff who voted, roughly 96% voted they had no confidence in their principal. Nearly 90% of staff members who voted strongly disagreed that “day to day running of the school finances, teacher issues and support for students success is appropriately done.”

“During her time at Mosier, staff have filed seven grievances, two unfair labor practices and one mutual respect claim. Only two grievances have been filed throughout the rest of the district in this time frame,” Foley told the School Committee.

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Many of the grievances detailed in the letter related to internal and external communication. According to the statement, these communication issues became safety concerns for Mosier staff when Flynn did not inform parents of behavioral issues, like when a student threatens to bring a weapon to school, sexually harasses another student, gets in a fight or uses a racial slur.

In a statement released Monday by the union, third grade teacher Myra Lam said staff members don’t feel supported by Flynn.

“Not only has our principal failed to hold together the most important systems of an elementary school, but she has also harmed some of the most vulnerable members of our school community. That’s why we see such a pressing need for change.”

Communication among staff is also a concern for union members. The statement said there is no follow-through when a teacher sends someone to the principal’s office; and that short notices about meetings or assemblies, curriculum changes and personnel decisions are commonplace. In January 2023, for example, Flynn replaced the reading and literacy materials with a new program with only a week’s notice to teachers, the statement asserted, and when teachers asked for training, Flynn recommended a podcast explaining the program.

The statement ends by alleging that whenever staff bring up such issues, they have been met with dismissive responses and sometimes retaliation from Flynn. It’s this breach of trust that motivated SHEA to submit the vote of no confidence, the statement says.

Parent Danielle Barone, in the statement released Monday by the union, said that the culture at Mosier has worsened under Flynn’s leadership, noting that the school has cut open houses and newsletters to families.

“What feels different is the lack of communication and the feeling like there is a lack of interest in connecting with the community and the parents,” Barone, who has one child at the school and two others who attended the school, said in the statement. “There seems to be so little support for the kind of warm and fuzzy experience that the teachers like to provide and that my older kids experienced at Mosier.”

Superintendent’s response

In response to the statement read at the meeting, McLaughlin noted that not giving the administration prior notice was a breach of his trust.

“Can you imagine a situation where we would have a public meeting and name all the teachers’ faults or make up or mischaracterize for the purposes of a particular end? ... we wonder about the term blindsided and we wonder about the potential at times for defensive responses.”

He did not address the specific complaints about Flynn.

Contrary to the union’s assertion in the statement Thursday, McLaughlin said he did respond to the initial letter sent to him in June 2022. He said he was willing to talk with the union about Flynn at that time under one condition.

“I would agree to facilitate such a meeting, as long as I could be sure that there would be a free and fair and open dialogue where all the parties would come together in the spirit of cooperation,” McLaughlin said. “There was never an agreement to do that.”

The superintendent rejects some of the allegations in the union’s original statement, saying the letter consists of mischaracterizations, “outright falsehoods” and some truths.

In a statement issued to the Gazette on Monday, McLaughlin said Foley said the union would provide evidence to prove each allegation in the letter, but that his office has yet to receive such documentation.

“Until we receive this documentation, we have no basis to comment on the substance of SHEA’s action or any specific allegation upon which the action appears to have been based,” McLaughlin wrote.

He added that a vote of no confidence is a very serious action, and that the district has already begun the process of investigating the matter.

“The district’s goal always is to work in the context of fairness and accuracy to resolve differences. That includes ensuring that due process rights are followed for the subject of the no confidence vote at least somewhat equal to those many protections rightly afforded to any teacher,” McLaughlin wrote.

McLaughlin made the same offer at Thursday’s meeting to meet with union leaders under the same conditions he outlined in 2022.

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.