PARIS — Jeni Jordan, president of the Oxford Hills Education Association, presented a list of 27 complaints about Maine School Administrative District 17 Superintendent Monica Henson’s leadership to the board of directors Tuesday night. 

Jordan said the association held a meeting Jan. 11 and “there was an overwhelming response to support a vote of no confidence for Dr. Henson.”

Dozens of employees, parents and others attended Tuesday’s meeting at the district offices on Main Street. A report of that meeting was published Thursday on page A1.

Henson, of Auburn, was hired in July to lead the district, which includes Harrison, Hebron, Norway, Otisfield, Oxford, Paris, Waterford and West Paris. On Wednesday, she provided a lengthy written statement in response to the complaints.

The following are issues listed by the association and Henson’s responses to each.

OHEA:

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• Concern that the superintendent put her hands on students while “filling in” at an elementary school.

Henson:

• I used a limited restraint technique for a loudly disruptive student so as not to allow disruption of an entire hallway of classrooms. I used my training as a former alternative school principal, with no injury to the student. After consulting with the special education teacher, because I realized I was dealing with a student with a behavioral disorder, I notified the parent immediately afterward in writing with full detail of the incident. I notified the Board Chair and Vice Chair immediately after I notified the parent.

OHEA:

• Concern about the inconsistent and oftentimes unfair discipline of staff.

• Concern about the inconsistent use of “chain of command.” The superintendent uses this statement to insulate herself but disregards it when it comes to delivering punishments. Chain of command only seems to apply to certain situations, depending on what she wants for an outcome.

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Henson:

• With regard to the staff concerns the OHEA claims have been brought to them, there are several false statements. There has been no “inconsistent” or “unfair” discipline of staff under the terms of their collective bargaining agreement and if there had been, the OHEA is under an obligation to have filed a grievance when it occurred. As I have stated previously, there have been no grievances lodged against me with the Board.

The only grievance that has been brought to me, which did not get escalated to the Board, was brought after the OHEA president and grievance chairman told me in plain terms that they did not want to represent the individual, but they were ordered by the Maine Education Association to represent the teacher anyway.

There has been no inconsistent use of chain of command. It has been clear from the beginning, and repeated by me when the union leadership claimed to be confused, that matters at the building level need to be taken to the building supervisor, when possible and sensible, before being escalated to the principal’s supervisor and beyond. Many teachers refuse to do this and instead complain to the union, a fact that the union president has expressed frustration over more than once in her discussions with both the Board Chair and me.

OHEA:

• Concern that the superintendent’s presence in buildings and at sporting events is intimidating to kids.

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Henson:

• I have been praised repeatedly by the union president for my attendance at a variety of extracurricular activities, including sports events. Yet the OHEA list of staff concerns claims that my presence there is “intimidating to kids.” I have been greeted by parents and students when they see me at the events.

OHEA:

• Concern about sharing images of weapons and alcohol to all district employees via our district email.

• Concern the superintendent overshares personal information and it makes staff uncomfortable.

• Concern about the oversharing with the local and national media outlets, and often mixing personal with business information.

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• Concern about the superintendent oversharing personal images and beliefs through district channels.

Henson:

• I send a Monday morning message to all staff and have done so since the beginning of the school year. I usually include a few pictures of what I did over the weekend, such as my children and grandchildren, sports events, and other personal photos. When I had been to Georgia to finish packing up my house into moving boxes, I shared a couple of photos, and in one of the pictures, I noted my Smith & Wesson shotgun, which is a prized possession.

I also shared a picture of the mimosa flights I enjoyed while shopping with my new daughter-in-law. There has been no expression to me, the Personnel Committee Chair, or the Board Chair about any of my Monday messages. I frequently receive nice replies from staff, such as sharing pictures of their own families or giving me suggestions about places to go and things to see in my new adopted hometown of Auburn.

I have provided encouragement to staff and offered information on how they can access mental health resources in our employee benefits plan. I received an excited reply from the union president with the “word of the year” activity she was doing with her students the morning I mentioned my word of the year for 2022 in my Monday message. At no time has anyone from the OHEA leadership or any other staff member expressed to me that they are uncomfortable with the messages or the information I share with staff.

OHEA:

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• Concern that the superintendent is making public (Channel 8) remarks about the quality of educators at the middle and high school and making statements about “pervasive bullying,” without precise data or previous communications with admin or those teachers.

Henson: 

• I have made no remarks to television or other media disparaging the quality of educators at the middle and high school. I stand by my statement that bullying is a pervasive issue in the school system, and the data proves it. Since school began, there have been 40 completed JICK bullying investigations, with seven of them substantiated as meeting the statutory definition of bullying, which I have reported to Maine DOE as required.

In the previous five years in this district, there have been a grand total of two incidents of substantiated bullying reported to the state, with only one at the middle school and none at the high school. I received an outpouring of support by email and social media private messages from many parents and students when the reward program was used to address the Instagram bullying that had spread to our district. I have all of those messages on file.

OHEA:

• Concern about the superintendent not holding herself to the same masking standards as the MSAD 17 staff and its students are held to.

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• Concern about the COVID transmission rate. District numbers are published daily, the superintendent doesn’t seem to share any real concern about the numbers.

Henson:

• I have followed the masking policy of the School Board to the letter. I meet every Friday with a COVID-19 Response Team, which includes the OHEA president. The first item on the agenda of that meeting is a review of the week’s data on transmission rates, positivity rates, and other metrics by the Lead School Nurse.

The claim that I don’t share any real concern about the numbers is laughably false. I follow the mask policy of the Board, which I recommended and championed, to the letter. The accusation that I do not hold myself to the same masking standards as the staff is false.

OHEA:

• Concern that the superintendent is not advocating for teachers, i.e. at the last school board meeting Dr. Henson presented a list of bonuses/stipends. In her motion there was no mention of teachers getting it but seemed to have for most other staff positions. However, in that meeting she stated that the money for this was because the teachers had updated their education status on a required form for the state.

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Henson: 

• I do not apologize for my advocating for a retention stipend for work groups who have demonstrated exemplary attendance and not for the classroom instructional staff. In the month of October, as an example, the Central Office and building administrators and school secretaries, along with other work groups, had a total of 1.5 absences.

During that same time frame, the teachers and education technicians had more than 350 absences. The School Board decided not to award retention stipends for exemplary attendance, and I invited the entire staff as well as the OHEA to come up with creative and innovative ideas for incentivizing better attendance.

The phenomenon of chronic teacher absence and its impact on learning loss is well documented in educational research. In that same meeting, I advocated and was authorized by the Board to provide teachers with an additional hour of planning time on Wednesdays, an opportunity for those who struggle to provide meaningful content in their online classrooms to collaborate with colleagues and receive training. It is false to say that I do not advocate for teachers.

OHEA:

• Concern about the superintendent taking and posting pictures of students and staff on her personal social media accounts, instead of the district’s accounts, without the prior consent of the individuals in the pictures.

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• Concern that the superintendent does not hold herself to the same standard regarding taking vacation time as she holds the rest of the district staff. She has used inappropriate tone and intimidating language in emails to employees.

• Concern that some teachers received prior authorization for time off from the former superintendent and now this authorization has been revoked.

Henson: 

• I consulted with our Chief Academic Officer regarding posting of images of staff and students and have reviewed the Board’s policies. I have not been advised of any violations. There have been no staff investigations unless specific complaints are lodged requiring them.

I do not conduct investigations, as I am the avenue of appeal for employee discipline. The voluntary attrition rate of staff in our school system is far below the national average for public school systems.

• Incidentally, I have on more than one occasion reminded the OHEA president that teachers have the benefit of a full five-day weekend at Thanksgiving, two weeks’ winter break, a week in February, a week in April, and two months in the summer, plus federal holidays to help recuperate from the stress of their jobs.

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Those who work in non-education jobs have an average of two weeks of annual vacation, and they are lucky if they have paid time off and paid sick leave. Many other people in the United States have to work on holidays. This is not to minimize the concerns of teachers, but to put them into perspective. The pandemic has been hard on school staff — but it’s been hard on everybody else, too.

OHEA:

• Concern that the superintendent is not passing on concerns brought to her attention to the board of directors.

Henson:

• I have forwarded every single concern that the OHEA has presented to me since July 1, 2021, to the Board Chair and Vice Chair.

OHEA:

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• Concern with staff feeling that if you have a difference of opinion with that of the superintendent they are offered to leave.

• Concern about unfair treatment and “playing favorites,” a feeling that she is playing staff against each other at all levels.

Henson:

• I interact with staff when I have the opportunity. As I work in the Central Office primarily, I have more opportunity to get to know those employees better than staff in the buildings, with the exception of the principals, with whom I get to interact relatively frequently.

I have received positive feedback from several staff describing me as approachable and friendly. Tonight before the School Board meeting, one of our classified staff came to me in the hallway downstairs and said, “Dr. Henson, I want you to know that I support the work you are doing. I believe that you are the change that this district needs.” Then she hugged me.

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