Interim school leader in Amherst may be named Thursday


Staff Writer

Published: 08-30-2023 4:47 PM

AMHERST — An interim superintendent to lead the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional school districts could be in place by Thursday evening.

Even though Amherst has only two School Committee representatives, following the resignations of three members this month, the Union 26 and Regional school committees, responsible for hiring the superintendent, have quorums that would allow them to act when they meet jointly. The agenda includes “discussion and possible vote to appoint interim superintendent.”

Superintendent Michael Morris, whose resignation was accepted during a joint meeting of the same panels on Aug. 17, will work his last day on Thursday. When Morris was on medical leave from mid-May until mid-July, Douglas Slaughter, the finance director for the schools, served as the interim superintendent.

“I am hopeful we will be able to appoint an interim superintendent. That would be ideal and is my goal for the evening,” said Sarahbess Kenney, chairwoman of the Regional Committee.

“If everything goes according to plan, we should have an agreement with the interim/ acting superintendent by the end of tomorrow night’s meeting,” Irv Rhodes, chairman of the Union 26 Committee, said on Wednesday. “That being said, the actual signing of the contract may not take place until the following day.”

The entirely virtual session’s agenda begins with public comment, then a move into executive session, with the possible returning to open session for a vote on a contract.

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The Regional School Committee currently has a quorum of six members, including Kenney along with fellow Pelham representative Tom Fanning, Amherst representatives Jennifer Shiao and Rhodes, Shutesbury representative Anna Heard and Leverett representative Tilman Wolf.

The Union 26 Committee is normally made up of six members equally divided between Amherst and Pelham, but Rhodes is the only current Amherst member, with Pelham having its full contingent following a reorganization meeting the Pelham School Committee held Tuesday.

Morris negotiated his resignation, and a 10-month payout at his current salary, at a joint executive session on Aug. 17, with a public announcement coming the following day. He had informed the committee chairmen that the situation had become untenable for himself and the district.

Though a Title IX investigation into alleged harms committed by staff members against an LGBTQ student is continuing, as well as associated investigations into transphobic actions by three middle school counselors, who were placed on leave, the committees agreed to a non disparagement agreement with Morris and a mutual release of liability, along with a statement that there had been no wrongdoing on his part.

The meeting came following an email sent by Heard earlier that day asking members to consider putting Morris on “some kind of probation” so the committees could monitor his responsiveness to bullying and bias. Already, Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham had been put on administrative leave by Slaughter in late spring.