Dozens of people fill the Oxford Hills School District board room Tuesday night in Paris where some expressed serious concerns about Superintendent Monica Henson’s leadership in her first six months on the job. The crowd included employees and others who had to stand in the hallway. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — Parents, educators and community members descended on Oxford Hills School District directors’ meeting Tuesday night to voice serious concerns with Superintendent Monica Henson’s leadership in her first six months on the job.

Only a dozen people spoke during the public comment session, but the meeting room at the district’s headquarters on Main Street was packed with at least 50 employees and community members stuck in the hallway outside.

Jeni Jordan, president of the Oxford Hills Teachers Association, speaks Tuesday night to School Administrative District 17 directors meeting in Paris. She said the union overwhelmingly passed a vote no confidence for Superintendent Monica Henson on Jan. 11. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

Jeni Jordan, an Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School teacher and president of the Oxford Hills Education Association, presented the board with a list of 27 complaints compiled by educators over the Henson’s conduct.

“Last week on Jan. 11, the OHEA held its regular monthly meeting,” Jordan told directors. “Members asked if we would allow a number of concerns during the forum regarding the leadership of Dr. Monica Henson … we had an unprecedented number of staff show up for that meeting. OHEA would like to report that there was an overwhelming response to support a vote of no confidence for Dr. Henson. To clarify, a vote of no confidence means, a vote showing the majority does not support the policies or leader of the governing body.”

Chairwoman Natalie Andrews of West Paris interrupted Jordan.

“Jeni, I am going to have to stop you there,” Andrews said. “Once you’ve said that we have to follow our grievance procedure. Since you said it was a vote of no confidence and listed her name, we need to follow grievance procedure.”

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Andrews told Jordan that she would be allowed to finish her statement if she spoke in “broad general strokes” without specific references.

Jordan read through the list of concerns, starting with allegations that the superintendent put her hands on a student while filling in at an elementary school, that staff have felt they are under investigation, that personal information has been shared by the superintendent and that discipline of staff has been inconsistent and often unfair.

Oxford Hills Education Association Concerns by sunjournal on Scribd

The list also included that employees are concerned with the superintendent’s use of professional time, of statements she has made to local and national media, and of inappropriate tone and intimidating language expressed in emails to employees.

Jordan also claimed that students fear the superintendent and are being treated unfairly. She said educators have expressed concern about the superintendent taking and posting pictures of students and staff on her personal social media accounts without their consent.

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Staff have claimed that previously authorized time off has been revoked and that requests for leave are inconsistently approved, even when doctor’s notes are provided. They also claimed that the mandatory masking standards are not consistently followed and there is little concern about transmission rates of COVID-19, which have recently spiked.

Jordan was followed by Dennis Boyd, grievance chairman for the union.

“It has come to our attention that there is perception that because no grievances have been filed there is no validity to complaints,” Boyd said. “I’d like to take a moment to clarify. It seems the superintendent doesn’t understand what the grievance procedure is used for, which (is limited to) contractual disputes.”

Boyd listed a series of situations that cannot be addressed by an official grievance.

“You don’t file a grievance if someone is a bad leader,” he said. “If someone uses fear and intimidation, if someone leaves outside of the bargaining agreement during the school year because of fear and anxiety, you don’t file a grievance. If someone breaks the law, you don’t file a grievance.”

Boyd said his group’s goal regarding grievances is to resolve them well before it gets to an official process, and has successfully avoided it in the recent past.

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Other teachers and association representatives added their statements, but the chairman did not allow them to voice specific complaints.

The same limitations were applied to parents.

Much of the anger was rooted in the resignation of Agnes Gray Elementary School’s longtime principal , Beth Clarke, late last year.

School Resource police officers from the district were at the Tuesday Board of Directors meeting. The police presence was allegedly requested by fearful staff and parents. Nicole Carter

One parent told the Advertiser Democrat that Clarke resigned after taking concerns to the board about a day when Henson acted as the substitute principal at the school when she had a medical appointment.

The situation occurred Sept. 7 and involved a food fight between students at lunch and an incident with a distressed student. The second incident was witnessed by Agnes Gray educator Karin Puiia who was on the public comment list for the evening.

However, when Puiia attempted to address the board she was told by Andrews that specific details could not be shared publicly at that time.

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One West Paris resident later told the Advertiser Democrat that Puiia fears for her job.

Henson provided a lengthy written statement early Wednesday to the Advertiser Democrat, noting that a no-confidence vote is a sign that an administrator is doing the work they were hired to do.

Statement on the OHEA No Confidence Vote by sunjournal on Scribd

“All this uproar from the Oxford Hills Education Association is puzzling, given that they have made no previous expression of concern to the School Board using the channels that are available to any staff,” Henson wrote. “There have been zero grievances lodged against me with the Board for any contract violations.

“The OHEA was invited to submit a quarterly letter to the Board outlining how they perceive things are going with the new administration, with the express purpose that the letters would be used as part of my performance evaluation by the Board. To date, no letters have been received during either the first or second quarter.”

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She termed Boyd’s reference at the meeting to breaking the law as categorically false and went on to write that Clarke had falsely categorized an incident in the cafeteria.

She was possibly referencing Clarke’s letter of resignation Dec. 23, which the Advertiser Democrat has published online. It stated that Henson had put hands on two children while overseeing the school on Sept. 7.

In her rebuttal statement, Henson acknowledged using restraint on one child, adding there had been no injury to them and that the parent of the student made no objection in subsequent communications with her.

Clarke had noted in her letter that Henson forbid her from having contact with any of the students Henson had disciplined while at the school.

School Administrative District 17  Superintendent Monica Henson, standing at left, and school board Chairwoman Natalie Andrews of West Paris, standing at right, listen Tuesday night to a district resident asking about rules for public comments during the board meeting in Paris. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

Three parents addressed the board, two with children with disabilities who they said are not receiving proper support.

One child was recently injured while in school. The parent, Aranka Matolcsy of South Paris, made a plea to directors to listen carefully to all the statements over the course of the meeting and to take them very seriously.

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Vicki Morgan, grandmother and guardian of the second child, had addressed the board at a meeting several months ago and spoke again Tuesday night to reiterate that her child’s rights were being violated daily.

“I am a mom and grandmother,” Morgan said. “I am raising my granddaughter, who has an IEP,” or Individualized Education Plan. “She is a disabled child, and her rights have been trampled on. Trampled. It should not be allowed at all. Here we are four months later and her rights are still being trampled on.”

“I implore this board to take everything that you are hearing this evening from everyone here extremely seriously,” Matolcsy said. “In all of my years here I have never seen the culture of the district soured in just six months. People are feeling afraid. For themselves, for their jobs and for retaliation against students in the schools.

“I will not stand for it and I believe most of the people here will join me … we will form what we need to in terms of public oversight to ensure that our children, our students and our teachers are safe, respected and given the oversight they deserve, especially those with special needs.”

While neither woman was allowed to refer to specific situations affecting their children during the meeting, Matolcsy had previously written on social media that she had been given two different reasons for her child’s injury by different staff members and was denied a request for a third-party service provider to observe her child in his classroom environment, a practice that had been allowed in the past.

Parents of Oxford Hills Middle School students on the basketball team also addressed the board about their coach’s dismissal last year over an incident involving players from a visiting team. Alexa Baumgardner and Tobi Worden spoke in defense of coach and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School teacher Riley Chickering, both fighting back tears at times as they spoke of their sons’ pain at losing their mentor with no explanation.

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Baumgardner has led a group of Oxford Hills residents to have Chickering reinstated since he was fired as coach and implored board members and the administration to allow him to return for at least the last few games of the year.

Addressing the situation with Chickering, Henson wrote in her statement that while she had removed a stipended coaching assignment from the teacher she had not not terminated him. She gave no reason for removing him from his coaching job.

Included on Tuesday’s agenda was a request for the board to approve Henson’s selection of Cathy Bickford as permanent principal of Agnes Gray. Bickford had stepped into the role temporarily when Clarke took a medical leave during the fall.

Some directors questioned why appointing Bickford permanently should stray from the normal process of posting the position and convening a panel to interview candidates before hiring others.

“Given the number of issues that are in corrective action at Agnes Gray that I do not want to present in public session,” Henson explained, “I am of the firm opinion that the best course is not to go through a shuffle of going through a process and potentially ending up with another principal. I recommend that we make Cathy the permanent principal. She has instituted a number of options I will be glad to share with the board in private session.”

Director William Rolfe of West Paris said it was his preference and in the best interest of the West Paris community to table discussion of a permanent hire until the board has a chance to review the issues at the school in executive session.

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His motion was seconded and approved by the board.

Andrews said the executive session would be on the next meeting’s agenda.

During directors’ comments, Bob Jewell of Paris said a vote of no confidence against an administrator hired by the board, just six months after starting, was actually a no confidence vote against the board.

The 22-member board represents the towns of Harrison, Hebron, Norway, Otisfield, Oxford, Paris, Waterford and West Paris.

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