Frustration Over ‘snowball’ of Changes at Ashburnham’s Briggs Elementary School
ASHBURNHAM -- The Ashburnham-Westminster School Committee is addressing frustration about the firing of former John R. Briggs Elementary School Principal Andrea McGrath and the hiring of a new leader.
“There’s been a snowball of decisions and decisions that, within our community, it’s hard to wrap your brain around any of it,” said Natalie Nelson, who works at Briggs, told the committee Tuesday.
Those decisions included the firing of McGrath’s husband, James, a former school janitor accused of sexually assaulting a district employee. McGrath was placed on administrative leave shortly after and fired in July.
Nelson said the committee should recognize that the situation has been difficult for staff at the elementary school and think about regaining trust with the community.
Vice Chairman David Christianson said it’s been frustrating not being able to talk deeper about McGrath’s firing with the community and not knowing all of the legal circumstances involving it because it’s a personnel issue.
“I hear you, and if I were on the outside looking in, I would have the same exact feeling and frustration,” he told Nelson. “It’s a really tough thing.”
A related point that committee members made was the hiring of a new Briggs principal, Nathaniel North.
Following McGrath’s departure as principal, the district began to look for an interim leader.
When options for two interim principals did not pan out, Superintendent Gary Mazzola interviewed North, a Westminster resident, and offered him the permanent position a few weeks ago.
A driving factor in making a permanent hire was the impending start of the school year, Mazzola said.
He told the committee Tuesday that North approached him early in the search process about wanting to serve permanently.
Member Justin Sparks said past practice for hiring principals has been to form a committee with members from the district and community.
Having a diverse group strengthens the process and presents the decision of who to hire as more credible to the community, he said.
“With all due respect to Mr. North, welcome,” Sparks said. “Good luck in your new role. I’m sure you bring a vast knowledge to the job and that’s what Briggs staff needs right now.”
Member Winnie Kender agreed that a search committee would have been the best way to hire a principal, but circumstances made that option not the best choice to pursue.
“This was a unique situation. In the face of the unique situation, we may not have communicated as clearly or as regularly as we would have wished to,” she said. “The need for strong leadership at Briggs was very real.”
After the discussion, Mazzola introduced North and Daniel Deneen, the new assistant principal at Meetinghouse Elementary School in Westminster.
In other business, Mazzola gave an update about the start of school.
He said orientation and the first day went well despite the heat.
School buildings have undergone energy installation and heating and cooling system overhauls in the past few years, which has helped keep the buildings comfortable, Mazzola said.
The district is also working on bus routes.
He assured parents that no matter how difficult or frustrated they are about bus routes, the routes are designed to be safe and efficient for students.
The district will be working on kindergarten bus requests and hope to have them sorted out by next week, he said.
Follow on Twitter @mlcorpuz.