AMHERST – Amherst Regional Middle School’s Interim Principal Patty Bode has notified the district that she will not be continuing in the role for the 2018-2019 school year.
On April 11, Amherst Regional Public Schools Superintendent Michael Morris and Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham sent an email to the community, stating that although Bode previously accepted the appointment, she has changed her mind. The text of that email is here:
April 11, 2018
Dear ARMS Community:
Last week, we announced that Dr. Patty Bode would be the Interim Principal for Amherst Regional Middle School for the 2018-2019 school year. In addition, we noted that we will be reopening the search for a permanent principal in the fall. This afternoon, Dr. Bode informed us that she has decided not to accept the interim position. While we are disappointed, we respect her decision and appreciate her contributions, which have greatly benefited students, families, and the ARMS faculty/staff. We will be in touch in the next few weeks regarding next steps for filling this administrative vacancy.
Dr. Michael Morris, Superintendent of Schools
Doreen Cunningham, Assistant Superintendent of Equity, Diversity, and Human Resources
The Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee was asked the previous night, April 10, to explain why a search for a permanent middle school principal was terminated more than a week earlier by Morris, without additional interviews of three finalists chosen by a screening committee.
Tensions ran high as several residents suggested that the district rejected the committee’s choices because the top finalists included a Black man and a Hispanic woman. The candidates turned aside were properly licensed administrators, they said, while Bode lacks an administrative license.
Meanwhile, Bode was also criticized for alleged student suspensions or expulsions while serving there, although the details of any incidents were not made public.
On April 2, Morris sent a letter to the community stating that he had assessed the “background experience,” of the principal candidates and found “there is not a pool of candidates that I can bring back as finalists for the permanent position.” He added that he was re-appointing Bode to the interim post for the 2018-2019 school year, and planned to re-advertise the position this fall. (The text of Morris’ 4/2/18 email appears at the bottom of this article.)
Bode, according to her resume, received a doctorate in education in 2005 at UMass-Amherst, and wrote a dissertation on multicultural arts education. The National Art Education Association recently granted Bode the 2018 Massachusetts Art Educator award.
Bode appears in the online state database of educator licenses, as M. Patricia Bode, with the following information:
Most educator’s licenses are granted for a period of five years, after which the teacher can seek to extend or renew their license, depending on its type. However, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website states that the Commissioner grants waivers to school districts “for the current school year … allowing it to hire an unlicensed educator for a position for which there were no licensed and qualified educators available.”
“I believe this was an act of discrimination. Our top pick for hire is African-American, and our second pick for hire is Latina,” stated Chrissy Harmon of Amherst, a parent representative on the committee. Speaking at the April 10 meeting, Harmon said that her committee’s status shifted from “hiring” to “screening.” Meanwhile, Morris, in an email update on March 21, referred to Harmon’s group as an “interview committee” and said that final interviews for the principal’s job would be delayed pending reference checks. Harmon sent a letter to the school committee on April 8 outlining several concerns about the process, in which she claimed that the top candidate’s references went unchecked.
Regional School Committee Chairman Eric Nakajima told the audience that his committee doesn’t engage in discussion with those who comment at meetings, but if the committee finds the issues relevant, will address them at a later time. It was unclear whether the regional committee – including newly-elected members Kerry Spitzer and Allison McDonald – will take up the matter of the ARMS principal search, and when.
Bode, who was present at the April 10 meeting, did not speak.
Harmon, a doctoral student at UMass and mother of three, said that when her committee rated the candidates and then listed first, second and third choices, Bode “was not on the list for a myriad of reasons, the primary being … that she was still not licensed, and hadn’t made significant progress to gain licensure in the last two years of her interim principalship.”
Bode’s waiver was only issued by the state in July 2017, Harmon stated, adding that her employment in months prior to that “call into question life-altering decisions that were made that year, from expulsions to suspensions to documentation in teacher files that may have resulted in termination.”
The state’s data on discipline reported by school districts shows 19 suspensions at ARMS for the 2016-2017 school year. The data does not list any expulsions, and can be seen here. The Spectator of Amherst is attempting to get additional information about the record of disciplinary actions at ARMS.
State law on middle school expulsions allows an administrator to expel a student for carrying a dangerous weapon or controlled substance on school grounds, or for physically assaulting a staff member. It is up to the administrator’s discretion whether to suspend a student temporarily, or expel.
Resident Caridad Martinez, who serves on the School Equity Task Force, said she recently “requested a moratorium on all expulsions and suspensions in the middle school,” because children are being “criminalized for things like verbal altercations.”
Questions were raised about whether Bode would receive an additional waiver for the coming school year, which would have been her third in the interim role.
Educators employed under “hardship waivers” must demonstrate “continuous progress” toward meeting licensure requirements for new waivers to be granted, according to the Executive Office of Education.
Several people who spoke on April 10 said they fear the district has not progressed in its oft-declared effort to become more diverse or welcoming.
“I am dismayed to say that the game has remained the same,” said Sonji Johnson-Anderson.
Carolyn Gardner, a former Amherst Regional High School math teacher who sued the district and won a settlement after being targeted by racist graffiti, also spoke. “I was recruited and forced out – people of color were not given a full chance,” she said.
Former Amherst School Committee member Vira Douagmany Cage also spoke, and mentioned that Morris now serves on a state Racial Imbalance Advisory Council. The district “should look into whether we are engaging in best practices here,” she said.
Last year, the Regional School Committee voted to name Morris to the permanent superintendent’s post, after he served in both interim and acting capacities. The committee was criticized by some members of the public then, for not having conducted a complete, competitive national search.
The identities of those who applied for the middle school job have not officially been made public.
Harmon said Morris “seemed surprised” that Bode was not selected as a finalist, and she pointed out that Bode was not minimally qualified, and that licensed candidates must be considered first.
Bode has been credited with leading students in creating a 130-foot-long mural of the Connecticut River and turning the school lobby into a gallery, which has displayed exhibits from the nonprofit Family Diversity Projects.
Recently, Bode and Alicia Lopez, a co-assistant principal, won a $10,000 Amherst Education Foundation grant for student research and storytelling of family immigration stories.
Below is the text of Morris’ 4/2/18 email concerning the ARMS principal search:
April 2, 2018
Dear ARMS Community:
As you know, a screening committee of faculty members and parents/guardians was formed to interview semi-finalists for the position of Principal of Amherst Regional Middle School. They completed the significant task of interviewing six semi-final candidates, discussing the candidates’ skills and fit in Amherst and making a recommendation to me of which candidates to present to the community as finalists. I would like to thank the screening committee for their time and dedication to our district.
Upon receiving the recommendation from the screening committee, I assessed the candidates’ background experiences for the role of Amherst Regional Middle School Principal. Despite the excellent efforts of the search committee, I have determined that there is not a pool of candidates that I can bring back as finalists for the permanent position.
Thus, I am re-appointing Dr. Patty Bode as the Interim Principal for the Middle School for the 2018-2019 school year. At this time, Dr. Bode does not have an administrative license, which is required for consideration for the permanent position, but I look forward to continuing to work with her in the interim role during the next academic year.
We plan to re-post for the permanent position in the late fall of the current calendar year.
Dr. Michael Morris
Editor’s Disclosure & Notes: The author, Marla Goldberg-Jamate, is the mother of a child who attends Amherst Regional Middle School, and is a former neighbor of Patty Bode. This article may be revised as additional information becomes available.