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Former PVPA head of school George Simpson arrested for drug possession 

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@dustyc123
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

SOUTH HADLEY — About two weeks before George Simpson resigned as head of the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School, he was arrested on charges of possession of heroin and methamphetamine.

Police in the town of Reading arrested Simpson Jan. 27. Two days later, he pleaded not guilty to the charges in Woburn District Court, according to court documents. Simpson was released on personal recognizance and is due back in court for a pretrial hearing March 14.

Calls to Simpson were not returned on Wednesday. A Woburn district court clerk identified Simpson’s attorney as David Perry.

Attempts to reach Perry were unsuccessful Wednesday, but he did release a statement later on behalf of his client.

“We are confident that at the conclusion of this matter and upon close examination of the evidence Mr. Simpson will be cleared of these charges and his reputation as an accomplished, dedicated educator will remain untarnished,” the statement read.

The statement also said the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office was reviewing the matter “due to several factors unique to Mr. Simpson’s situation.”

Simpson, 45, announced last week that he was leaving the top job at PVPA, which he had held since July 3. Neither Simpson, the school’s board of trustees nor school administrators have offered a reason for Simpson’s departure. Messages left for Brent Nielsen, the acting head of school, and the school’s chief financial officer, Marcy Conner, went unreturned Wednesday.

“This is a confidential personnel matter and we are not permitted to comment,” Melinda Winter, president of the school’s board of trustees, said Monday in a statement about Simpson’s resignation. Winter did not immediately respond Wednesday to an email request for comment on Simpson’s arrest.

Reading Police Officer Matthew Orr pulled over Simpson and a passenger, Robert Gallagher, on the night of Jan. 26 after reportedly seeing Simpson’s car driving erratically, according to Orr’s narrative filed in court. Police learned Simpson had an active arrest warrant out of Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown for operating a motor vehicle with a restricted license, and subsequently arrested him.

While searching Simpson, police allegedly found hypodermic needles, including one that was “‘loaded’ with a dark brown substance” that Orr believed to be heroin, according to court documents. Orr also wrote that he found three small baggies with a substance he recognized as methamphetamine, two glass smoking pipes and a blue elastic band — “a common item used as a ‘tie off’ for intravenous drug use,” Orr wrote.

Police also searched Simpson’s car, where according to Orr they found pills “with no distinguishable markings,” a “crack pipe” and a backpack with a prescription bottle bearing someone else’s name and containing gabapentin pills — an anticonvulsant used to treat seizures and neuropathic pain.

Gallagher, Simpson’s passenger, was also arrested on two warrants, out of Springfield and Roxbury district courts. When searched by police, Gallagher reportedly had on him a needle, pipe, Suboxone packets, Adderall pills, the antidepressant bupropion hydrochloride “extended release,” and other unmarked pills, according to Orr. Gallagher was booked on charges of possession of those prescription pills and gabapentin.

According to Orr’s narrative, Simpson said the two were traveling to the house of someone known to police as a methamphetamine user. Simpson reportedly told police that he expected more drugs to be available for consumption at their destination, according to Orr.

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Simpson’s arrest in Reading was not his first brush with the law for erratic driving. In September he was arrested after reportedly speeding north in the southbound lane on Route 5 in Agawam. He was charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle, failing to stop for police and improper operation of a motor vehicle

A month after that September arrest, Simpson told the Gazette that he had left a friend’s place in Holyoke and was trying to make his way home without a GPS and while wearing only one contact lens. He gave a similar account to police when he was arrested last month, saying he had never been in Reading before and had been trying to follow his GPS.

Simpson’s case out of Westfield District Court was continued without finding until June 1, and he was placed on probation. However, a warrant was issued by Westfield District Court on Jan. 31 for Simpson’s noncompliance with probation.

Prior to joining PVPA, Simpson worked as chief innovation officer for the arts in the public school system in Newark, New Jersey. Before that, he worked as district coordinator for visual and performing arts in the Cambridge Public School system, and held administrative roles in other school systems in Boston and Los Angeles. He also worked as a music teacher in Calgary, Alberta, and as chairman of the music department at the Boston Arts Academy from 1999 to 2006.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.