South Hadley school union, first-grade teacher criticize superintendent

Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014
SOUTH HADLEY — School Superintendent Nicholas Young has come under fire from the teachers’ union protesting the elimination of department head positions and a first-grade teacher who alleges his leadership has led to a “collective morale plummet.”

The South Hadley Education Association, a 326-member union representing teachers, vice principals, and other school staff, has filed a charge of unfair labor practices with the state Department of Labor Relations, citing the elimination Jan. 13 of department head positions, according to union president Tina Daponde.

Daponde said these positions were cut a week after the union presented a proposal to the School Committee asking that department leaders receive raises. Daponde, of South Hadley, has been an English teacher at South Hadley High School for 13 years.

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School Committee Chairman Kevin McAllister issued a statement Tuesday night, after a meeting of the board, saying that other districts also have moved away from department heads as a way to reduce administrative expenses. McAllister said that issue, among others, will be discussed in mediation requested by both sides after the union filed its claim of unfair labor practices.

Meanwhile, Plains School teacher Lori Guerra sent a blistering letter to school faculty in which she wrote: “I understand that this letter may cost me my job ... but I believe a call to action is necessary.”

She says morale of school staff has fallen dramatically since Young was hired as superintendent in 2012.

“When assessing possible causes, in an informal survey, for the aforementioned decline in morale, the response is overwhelming: Nick Young happened. While on the outside, Mr. Young appears to be an amenable leader who has employees’ and students’ best interests at heart ... he is proving to be quite the antithesis.”

Young on Tuesday denied the allegations in Guerra’s letter, saying that both the letter and the union complaint contain “misinformation.”

He declined to comment more specifically, saying the allegations deal with what he describes as “personnel issues.”

McAllister said he believes there are “inaccuracies” in the letter written by Guerra, but since it involves personnel matters, he declined further comment on how the School Committee will respond.

As for the teachers union complaint, Young said his actions with regard to department head positions had nothing to do with union negotiations. He said department head positions were changed to curriculum coordinators, a trend occurring in school districts across the state.

Among the differences is that curriculum coordinators teach five classes a day rather than four, as was the case for department heads. He also said faculty serving as department heads as of January will not see a decrease in pay, but anyone hired as a curriculum coordinator in the future will receive less money than what had been paid to department heads.

“We’re in the middle of this period of frustration,” Young said. “I continue to be optimistic that both parties are working toward a common purpose and I’m optimistic that in a relatively short period of time these issues will be resolved successfully.”

Guerra letter

Guerra, who has taught first grade for two years at Plains Elementary School, sent her letter to school staff, whom she addressed "Dear Plains School family," and headed “An open letter regarding the state of our schools at the hands of Nick Young.”

Among the reasons for lower morale, Guerra cites the elimination of full-time employees while central office staff were being added, what she suggested was the intimidation of employees following absences, and the implementation of a new curriculum that she believes is not appropriate to meet the needs of students.

“Mr. Young is more concerned with image than integrity,” Guerra states in her letter. “He is not a leader; he rules by intimidation.”

Speaking Tuesday, Guerra said she hopes her letter will lead the School Committee to examine more closely decisions that have been made within the school department.

As for the staff morale, she said, “It’s like a huge weight has been dropped on everyone’s shoulder.”