Parents, teachers and a union official claim that Superintendent Sheldon Berman's recent re-assignment of three South School faculty members is the result of "retaliation" because they complained about former Principal Tracy Crowley and then got involved in union activity.
They say Berman reassigned popular and beloved teachers to three other schools in town because of a controversy dating back more than a year, when they complained to Berman that Crowley had created a "hostile work environment."
At the time, the teachers sought protection from the Andover Education Association, the local teachers' union, against Crowley.
"These teachers had reputations for being three of the best," said Sarah Slaughter, who has two children in South School. "They had been at the school for a really long time. They were ripped out of the school during the pandemic, transferred away from each other to three different schools."
She added, "It seems vindictive and retaliatory because they were involved in complaining about the principal."
Andover Education Association President Matthew Bach agreed, saying all three teachers had been involved in not only complaining about the principal, but they also were active in the union.
"The three teachers transferred were the active ones," he said. "The AEA claims the actions (by Berman) are in retaliation for their union activities."
A June 2 letter from South School teachers to Berman outlined their concerns over the transfers, as well.
"In your email on Friday, May 29," they wrote, "you reported that, based on your discussion with us, a priority was 'coming back together as a school community based on shared values of respect and cooperation.' This email to the staff as a whole was immediately followed by the notification to three individual teachers about involuntary transfers to other buildings. We are baffled as to how this decision to transfer staff supports the stated priority. This could easily be perceived as retaliatory in a school that is trying to heal."
They continued, "This upheaval of staff feels reckless and costly to our students and families."
Parents started an online petition asking the superintendent to reverse his decision. The change.org petition had drawn nearly 1,600 signatures as of Tuesday and numerous comments condemning the superintendent and supporting the teachers.
The petition, started by Julie Finckler, states, among other things, that in addition to the "involuntary removal" of three teachers, two others have retired and a new principal is being hired, all of which creates "unnecessary upheaval that excessively burdens the South School community."
Berman, through spokeswoman Nicole Keiser, said he couldn't comment on personnel issues. However, he cited a letter he sent to parents June 4 updating them on progress at the school.
In the letter, Berman said that in recent months, "I spoke with more than 50 educators from South Elementary concerning the culture of the school and what they felt they needed as a way forward. Their straightforwardness was extraordinarily helpful in enabling me to think about what we can do to move forward. I want to thank the staff members with whom I had an opportunity to engage in an honest conversation. The goal now is to work on ways to resolve the differences the South community has experienced and to provide the opportunity for a fresh start."
According to Bach, Berman met with the three teachers last Friday as mandated by the union contract.
Berman is expected to make a decision by Friday on whether to uphold his decision to transfer the teachers or reverse it.