ANDOVER — Tracy Crowley, the principal at the center of a controversy over claims of a "hostile work environment" at South School, will be taking an extended medical leave, according to a message from the superintendent to parents.

"We wish her the best during this time," Superintendent Sheldon Berman said in an email Monday. "Beginning on Jan. 21, Colleen McBride, the former South Elementary principal, has agreed to serve as the principal in the interim."

He went on to say that McBride is "very familiar" with the school and its curriculum, and he is "confident that she will be able to serve the students, faculty and South School community."

Crowley, who took over at South School in fall 2017, has been embroiled recently in a controversy over what Berman has called a "hostile work environment" at the school.

Berman and Crowley said the tensions involve teachers fighting with teachers, but the Andover Education Association, or AEA, has said the principal created the stressful working conditions because she is opposed to any discussion of or attempts at union activities.

Union President Matthew Bach could not be reached for comment. Neither could Crowley nor School Committee Chairman Joel Blumstein. Berman said in a text message Monday that no additional information beyond his message to parents would be released.

Messages left for several parents of children who attend the school were also not returned.

It remains unclear if Crowley is still at the school or has left.

McBride, who takes over later this month, had been principal at South School for three years before leaving.

The issue of a "hostile work environment" was investigated by school administrators, who said the problems occurred due to warring factions among teachers. The administrators, including Crowley and Berman, started an investigation that included interviewing more than half the teachers.

But the teachers union countered that the problems were created by Crowley, who tried to quash any type of union activity at the school. The AEA sought a court injunction against the administration to stop the investigation.

The injunction was denied by a judge late last month.

But in his ruling, the judge wrote: “There is certainly evidence of troubling actions by School District officials, including the principal at South Elementary.”

Recommended for you