Dispute with chief of schools escalates
The superintendent of Marlborough’s school system, Anthony Pope, says he wants to move the district forward as a contentious school year draws to a close, but some teachers, community residents, and School Committee members say it’s too late to salvage his tenure in the city.
School Committee members Katherine Hennessy, Michelle Bodin-Hettinger, and Heidi Matthews said they want Pope to resign, and they’ll support a move to fire him if he doesn’t.
“For me, it’s been kind of diminishing returns,” said Bodin-Hettinger, who added that she believes in Pope’s vision for the district but thinks that has been outweighed by poor execution and interpersonal relationships. “The negatives, for me, have begun to overshadow the positives.”
“I personally would hope that he would bow out gracefully,” Matthews said.
“I really think that, in light of a lot of things that have been all happening within the district, it probably would be wisest if Dr. Pope would resign,” said Hennessy. “If, in fact, he doesn’t, then I think we are probably going to need to take steps to make changes of having him here no longer.”
Another member of the seven-person board, Margaret Dwyer, declined to discuss whether she agrees with her colleagues who want Pope to resign or be fired.
“I’m not going to comment and speculate about Dr. Pope’s future,” Dwyer said. “If the majority of the board feels this way, the correct way to do it is not through the newspaper.”
Pope wouldn’t comment on whether he plans to resign. “I’m going to focus on children,” he said.
Pope is finishing the second year of a five-year contract, but Bodin-Hettinger and Matthews said the contract allows for him to be fired without cause, with 120 days of severance pay.
School Committee members are completing their evaluations of Pope’s performance and are scheduled to discuss the results publicly on June 26.
Hennessy, Bodin-Hettinger, and Matthews said they were dissatisfied with Pope’s statement at a School Committee meeting last week, in which he broke his silence about a Jan. 27 student sit-in. Students protesting the removal of a popular high school administrator said they felt disrespected by Pope, and guidance counselor Joanne Hanson accused him of shoving her.
Hanson sought to file criminal charges after the incident, but, according to school district spokeswoman Beth Wagner, a Marlborough District Court clerk-magistrate determined May 17 that there was no probable cause to charge Pope with assault and battery.
Reading a prepared statement last week, Pope apologized for “misunderstandings” but didn’t directly address the January events.
“I am sincerely sorry for the many misunderstandings that took place on that day,” Pope said.
“I feel bad that my actions were interpreted in a way that I did not intend, and that so many people have been hurt.”
Pope said he would organize focus groups on how to improve relations with teachers and students. “I want to rebuild the relationships that have been damaged through this controversy,” he said.
Later in the meeting, about a dozen people spoke out against Pope in a raucous public comment session. Some audience members held up signs that read “No Hope With POPE” and “Lying? Bullying? Incompetence? We Had ENOUGH!”
“I think the best thing would be for you to resign and go away quietly,” said Hanson, wearing an orange T-shirt with the words “Got Respect?” printed on it.
“Please, do what’s right for the district and resign,” said Cairo Mendes, who graduated from Marlborough High School this spring.
Marlborough teachers took a vote of no-confidence in Pope last month, and he has faced criticism from some School Committee members who say he missed an important deadline related to the high school’s accreditation.
In an interview, Pope said his statement came “from my heart” and dismissed the notion that it was too late to repair relationships in the district.
“It’s never too late if our children are important to us,” Pope said. “I want to focus on children, and I’m moving forward,” he said.