At standout, 150-plus demand that Easthampton School Committee hire Perrone as superintendent
|Published: 04-04-2023 8:01 AM
EASTHAMPTON — The outpouring of support for superintendent finalist Vito Perrone has solidified the former high school principal’s desire to take the reins at the district schools, more than four days after he said the School Committee rescinded the offer when he used the word “ladies” in an email greeting to two female board members during contract negotiations.
Former students and colleagues, community members and even strangers from as far away as the United Kingdom have weighed in on the committee’s alleged reason for quashing the superintendent job offer to Perrone.
“I wish, in the moment, we had a different conversation about my use of ‘ladies’ as a greeting and used it as something we could grow from instead of it just being a closed door, no negotiation, no acceptance of an apology,” Perrone said just a few hours before more than 150 people rallied outside of the city’s Municipal Building Monday evening, demanding that the committee hire him as superintendent of schools, as it initially intended to do.
“One of the things that I’ve been hanging onto is the outpouring of support from the community of Easthampton,” he said. “To me, it affirms things to me as a professional, as a leader, that people recognize the positive in me, and that means the world to me.”
The School Committee voted 4-3 to hire Perrone on March 23 after also interviewing fellow finalists Jonathan Bruno, director of learning and teaching at Berkshire Hills Regional School District in Stockbridge, and Erica Faginski-Stark, director of curriculum and instruction at Ludlow Public Schools. Perrone claims that the committee rescinded the job offer a week later after he addressed School Committee Chairperson Cynthia Kwiecinski and Suzanne Colby, executive assistant to the committee, as “ladies” in an email, which was deemed a microaggression.
Kwiecinski said last Friday that she could not comment on what happened in the executive session in which the job offer was retracted.
Hundreds of people are defending Perrone, of Westhampton, via social media, with some sharing personal accounts of his leadership, and pleading for the committee to reconsider its decision. Since the Gazette first published the story on Saturday, it has been featured on national and international media, including Fox News.
The Easthampton Education Association, the district’s union of teachers, professional staff and education support professionals, called out the committee for the way it has treated Perrone.
“The Easthampton School Committee has officially labeled the word ‘ladies’ as a microaggression and has canceled Dr. Vito Perrone, despite support from the community,” an April 1 Facebook post by the association reads. “Changing votes behind closed doors is unacceptable! Shame on the School Committee for participating in cancel culture.”
The association said a survey of members showed Perrone as the favorite of the three candidates for the superintendent job.
While many on social media expressed frustration and confusion, some conversation on Facebook pages such as the Easthampton, MA Group Page jumped to name-calling and personal attacks. Resident Christine Futia, who said she did not have a window into what actually happened during last week’s executive session, told the Gazette said she was more upset by the public dismissal of a microaggression.
“I was super appalled at the hate speech in my own town,” she said. “The hate speech devolved into misogyny … secondarily, one party has made allegations that have been taken as truth to characterize a situation that I’m sure is quite complex.”
Though Futia doesn’t know anyone personally on the committee or Perrone, she said that she has experienced microaggressions personally and saw it happen to other female coworkers, saying it was trivialized.
“I don’t know where we go from this, but I know no one has ever gotten their job back this way,” she said. “I think one thing we all agree on is we’re all sad for our town.”
Others are calling for the removal of the entire School Committee. A petition via Change.org generated more than 600 signatures within two days of hearing Perrone’s story.
On Monday morning, City Clerk Barbara LaBombard said someone had stopped into her office to pick up recall affidavits — the first of several steps required by the city’s charter.
When questioned by the Gazette about the recalls that have been proposed, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said that the city does not comment on personnel matters.
Former School Committee member Debora Lusnia organized Monday’s standout to demonstrate to the committee how much support Perrone has behind him and said she hoped it would reinstate its original offer to hire him to lead the city schools.
Lusnia, who served three terms on the committee, two as the chairperson during Perrone’s tenure as principal of Easthampton High School, said she respects the work that the committee has done and has no intention of signing the recall affidavit. Perrone led the high school for six years and most recently has been serving as interim superintendent of schools in West Springfield.
“People make mistakes. We should learn and grow. I think this was an opportunity to educate, not condemn. I don’t want someone to lose a job for misusing a word,” she said. “In the same respect, I think we need to offer the School Committee the same grace we’re asking of them, and I hope that they will reconsider and reinstate Dr. Perrone’s offer.”
Demands for “transparency” were shouted as the sun began to set on the large crowd.
In addition to Lusnia, speakers at the rally included Easthampton Education Association President Shawn Sheehan; Kelley Brown, who teaches history and government at the high school; former superintendent Nancy Follansbee; Samantha Garcia, Mountain View School math and science teacher; Jeff Sealander, former high school principal and athletic director; high school student Diya Bhatia; Rose Guerra, high school social studies teacher; At-Large City Councilor Brad Riley; and Sue Mason, a recently retired Easthampton High School teacher.
Several of the speakers questioned the legality of the executive session process, with Riley suggesting that Kwiecinski could hold a vote to make the executive session details public.
“I would be content with waiting for a response from the School Committee before speaking publicly if the chair of the School Committee wasn’t hiding behind the veil of an executive session,” he said. “So please Chair Kwiecinski, tell us if there is something more to this so we can move forward, because to me, this doesn’t make any sense.”
He also reminded those in attendance that in the last election cycle all committee members ran unopposed and encouraged others to step up.
“If you do not get engaged and you do not run for office, things do not change,” he said.
School Committee member Laurie Garcia, who attended the rally, voiced her support for Perrone. Though she didn’t address several of the specifics raised by speakers, she said that she did not agree with “everything that happened” with her colleagues.
Garcia also advocated for civility and compassion, noting that she and her fellow colleagues had received an influx of emails, some of which were fear-inducing.
“Easthampton, I will do all I can to honor your wishes and see what we can do to be able to enter into negotiations with Dr. Vito Perone,” she said. “I cannot promise anything. I am one member of the School Committee, but I ask of you once again, for respect and to take this in the right direction. Without this negativity.”
The School Committee is meeting virtually on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. to discuss the superintendent search and a potential vote on a candidate to be the next superintendent. The meeting agenda also states that the committee will also go into executive session and return to discuss the candidate’s response to the offer of employment subject to negotiations, but did not indicate which candidate that is.
Perrone says he has not been contacted with a request to attend. Even if he was to receive a request for Tuesday, he said he would not be able to attend as he has entered into budgetary discussions with the West Springfield School Committee in his role as interim superintendent.
Reflecting on all that’s happened over the past few days, Perrone, who has 29 years of experience in education, says he’s overwhelmed with the feedback he’s received, including numerous job offers. He said that his intention was to make sure the circumstances were properly represented and does not harbor any ill will toward anyone.
“Could I have been more formal? Absolutely. There was an opportunity for a teachable moment and that would have been setting an expectation where we could learn and grow in a positive way. Instead, it was a denial of the ability to have a conversation,” he said.
“I’m just struggling with the fact that we can’t have civil discourse anymore — we can’t reasonably communicate over reasonable topics. We’re moving away from principles that our country was founded on. I just wanted to be superintendent in Easthampton.”Emily Thurlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.