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In Marlborough schools, Baker and normalcy return

By Calvin Hennick
Globe Correspondent / August 5, 2012
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With a new interim schools superintendent in place and a popular high school administrator reinstated to his job, Marlborough’s public schools appear poised to move forward after several tumultuous months.

“From an emotional standpoint, I think we’re certainly trending away from where we’ve been for the last six months,” said Michelle Bodin-Hettinger, a member of the School Committee. “But the work is going to continue. We’re still really committed to the curriculum work and the STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] academy, and all the strategic and educational things we had in place will continue.”

Stephen Dlott, a retired Westborough superintendent who has experience leading districts on an interim basis, was hired by the board as interim superintendent late last month. He started work Wednesday and will stay on over the next school year as the district searches for a permanent replacement for Anthony Pope, who resigned as superintendent on July 2.

“I want to talk with people, get into the schools, meet with teachers, the PTOs, the School Committee, and the mayor,” Dlott said. “The past is the past. We are moving forward in a direction that’s positive. What happened before happened before, but my view is looking forward.”

Bodin-Hettinger, who was one of the School Committee members tasked with sorting through candidates for the interim post, praised Dlott’s energy and interpersonal skills.

“We can’t find anybody who doesn’t like the guy. He comes with just such great skills around rebuilding,” Bodin-Hettinger said. “On top of it all, he has a lot of experience being an interim. One of the things we were concerned about was not having somebody come in and trying to change everything. We’re really committed to staying the course.”

Also coming back to work Wednesday was Adam Bakr, a high-school assistant principal who Pope put on administrative leave last December and then fired in April. Bakr was reinstated by Maureen Greulich, who served as acting superintendent during the gap time between the end of Pope’s tenure and the beginning of Dlott’s.

Greulich declined to comment on Bakr’s reinstatement and instead referred to a joint statement prepared by Bakr and the district. “The District and Mr. Bakr are looking forward to putting this behind us and to his return to the High School,” the statement reads.

Colin Confoey, a Boston-based attorney representing Bakr, also declined to comment beyond the joint statement. However, both Greulich and Confoey said that Bakr will be given back pay and have his benefits fully reinstated. Also, Bakr will drop two pending legal actions against the district.

Pope’s handling of Bakr’s employment situation drew harsh criticism. Citing privacy concerns, Pope never announced why Bakr was placed on leave and ultimately terminated. Students who protested said that Pope treated them disrespectfully, and a guidance counselor accused Pope of shoving her. The guidance counselor sought to have criminal charges issued against Pope, but a clerk magistrate determined there was no probable cause to issue a charge.

The issue became an albatross for Pope, with students, teachers, and residents showing up at School Committee meetings during the spring to call for his resignation. The city’s teachers voted “no confidence” in Pope in May, citing instructional and leadership issues. Pope did eventually address his handling of the protests but stopped short of apologizing, instead saying he was sorry that he had been misunderstood.

Pope ended up resigning just two years into a five-year contract, shortly before School Committee members were due to make their evaluations of his job performance public. He was given nearly $100,000 in a separation agreement with the district.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Cairo Mendes, who graduated from Marlborough High School this spring. Mendes was one of the students who led protests calling for Bakr to get his job back. “This was a major life lesson for me. These past eight months have really shown me what leadership is. I’m very happy, because I knew that he was unjustly fired.”

“Now I think we can really move on to bring that environment to how it used to be,” Mendes said of Bakr’s return. “He loves the students, and the students love him.”

Bodin-Hettinger said she agreed wholeheartedly with the decision to reinstate Bakr.

“I think it kind of perhaps puts an end to the saga of last spring,” Bodin-Hettinger said. “It’s almost like life will be back to some semblance of normalcy.”

“It’s been too many distractions,” Bodin-Hettinger added. “The purpose of the school district is to educate children, and that’s what we need to do and stop bickering, focusing on kids and what we need to do to prepare them for the real world. It will be good for everybody to get back to business, I’m sure.”

Calvin Hennick can be reached at calvinhennick@yahoo.com

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