HAVERHILL — Nearly 50 educators at the city's Bradford Elementary School Friday voted to send a strongly worded letter to School Superintendent Margaret Marotta outlining what they say is the culmination of five years of concerns over student and staff safety and hostility in the workplace — in large part due to the actions of Principal Louise Perry.
Following a survey of Haverhill Education Association teachers' union members, 61 of whom are on staff at the Montvale Street school, union president Anthony Parolisi emailed a letter detailing the group's concerns to Marotta just after 4 p.m. Friday.
“Our members have been afraid to voice their concerns for so long that they felt this letter was the safest way to express themselves,” Parolisi said. "The educators at Bradford Elementary believe that their students deserve better leadership. The members don't have any confidence in their ability to lead the school any longer.”
After several messages were left for Perry Friday night, she responded by text, saying she could not speak. Asked to speak on Perry's behalf Friday night, Superintendent Margaret Marotta said she takes the union's concerns seriously and anticipates meeting with school staff in the coming weeks to address issues raised in the letter.
"I remain confident that the Bradford will continue to be a great place to work and learn," Marotta said.
Reached for comment Friday night, Mayor James Fiorentini, chairman of the School Committee, expressed his dissatisfaction with the teachers' union for disseminating the letter in the manner in which they did. He also said he has “every confidence” Marotta will address the concerns brought forth in the letter.
The letter was later sent to the full union membership and the School Committee, Parolisi said.
In the letter, union members said serving a “high-needs” student population has become much more difficult under Perry's leadership. The educators pointed to an October 2019 “crisis with student safety” in which a 6-year-old autistic first-grader wandered from the school to drive their point home.
“There was an inadequate response by administration and a delay in notifying authorities,” the letter, collaboratively written by a team of Bradford Elementary educators, reads. “Following the incident, there was insufficient and misleading information shared with staff, parents and media.”
The boy crossed busy Salem Street and made his way to the city's Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is next to the Merrimack River, nearly a mile from the school, before being seen by a collections operator. An investigation into the incident was later opened by the state's Department of Children and Families.
The letter also charges that Perry and her leadership staff — including Assistant Principal Nicole McGrain — make “racist and insensitive comments” toward or in the presence of members of the school community. Derogatory comments have also been made by Perry about students with disabilities, the letter states.
According to the letter, at least 15 staff members have either resigned or asked to be transferred from the school as a result of the decline in morale.