New leader takes over performing arts charter after months of controversy

  • courtesy photo— courtesy photo—

Published: 7/17/2017 10:39:13 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — After months of controversy surrounding its head of school, a South Hadley charter school welcomed a new leader earlier this month.

George E. Simpson, 45, started July 3 as head of the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School. According to an online job history, Simpson worked as chief innovation officer for the arts in the Newark, New Jersey, public school system since last year.

Before that, he worked as district coordinator for visual and performing arts in the Cambridge Public School system for a year. He has worked in administrative roles in four other school systems, according to his profile: as head of school for an arts high school in Los Angeles from 2008 to 2014, as director of the Roland Hayes School of Music in Boston from 2006 to 2008, and as founding director of the preparatory academy at the Berklee College of Music in Boston from 2000 to 2008.

He has 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.

Simpson earned his bachelor’s of music and bachelor’s of education from Western University in London, Ontario. He earned a master of music degree from Boston University.

“From the beginning, I think what distinguished George was his impressive resume,” said Geoffrey Sumi, president of the board of trustees. Sumi said Simpson’s experience coordinating programs districtwide is important because charter school heads take on traditional duties of principal and superintendent.

Simpson is also a musician in his own right, specializing in jazz and popular music, he said.

A selection committee made up of board members, teachers, staff, students and parents all weighed in on the new hire. Simpson, Sumi said, was chosen in April from among 27 applicants, three of whom the district brought in for in-person interviews.

Scott Goldman, 56, the former head of school whom the board placed on paid administrative leave in May, said he was involved with the selection process. He announced last year he would leave the school at the end of the school year.

“I think that the school got a great candidate,” he said, “and I’m very excited for PVPA and George. I wish him nothing but the best.”

Sumi expressed an eagerness to move past the controversies of the last few months, after the board began investigating allegations that Goldman yelled at and intimidated students and staff.

Still, the Goldman saga may not have come to an end. A Wellesley law firm found in a 20-page report in June the allegations against Goldman were credible. The board of trustees voted to accept the findings, but did not take further action against Goldman.

Questions over whether Goldman would be able to cash in accrued vacation time and other benefits are “still under discussion,” Goldman said, and he would not rule out legal action.

“I’ll let you know in a few weeks,” he said.

In March, when Simpson interviewed for the job, he said he was impressed by the PVPA community, calling students articulate, eloquent and aware.

“I was so impressed by their level of engagement and discourse,” Simpson said.

“My first priority is to really listen and learn as much as I can about the community,” Simpson said last Wednesday. He said he would like to strengthen partnerships among the area’s Five Colleges and PVPA.

He also said an aspect that drew him to the job is that charter schools are allowed more autonomy, and, thus, flexibility compared to traditional public schools.

As far as moving past the controversial departure of Goldman, Sumi said: “I think (Simpson) is absolutely the right person (for that).”

He also said Simpson would be present in the school and active in solving problems. During the interview process, Sumi said, Simpson was suggesting solutions when talking with the administrative team.

“He would say ‘have you thought about this, or have you thought about that?’” Sumi said. “So he seems like he’s a real problem solver.”

Jack Suntrup can be reached at

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