The embattled superintendent of Minuteman High School is resigning, ending more than a year of tumult at the award-winning technical and vocational high school, which is based in Lexington and serves 9 surrounding towns. The resignation was announced in a letter from the school committee chair to staff and parents on Wednesday, and is effective as of Sept. 30.
Dr. Kathleen Dawson was hired just over a year ago, and clashed with staff and families almost immediately, creating what PTA President Courtney Zwirn called a “hostile work environment.” She has been on administrative leave since May, when the conflict came to a head after Dawson unexpectedly informed the school’s popular long-time principal, George Clement, that she would not be renewing his contract. Students and faculty rallied to Clement’s defense — a petition circulated, students staged a walkout, and several administrators left their jobs in the chaos.
In the aftermath, Clement wrote a letter to school committee members in which he accused Dawson of making students uncomfortable by “rubbing their shoulders or back.” Dawson was placed on leave pending an investigation.
The letter sent to the Minuteman community from the school committee on Wednesday says that the district hired an independent investigator to look into allegations of inappropriate interactions with students and staff and concluded that there was no evidence of sexual harassment by Dr. Dawson. The letter refers to Dawson’s resignation as an “amicable resolution.”
In a statement sent to the Observer, Dr. Dawson says her decision to resign was “in the interests of moving forward professionally and personally” and “to facilitate Minuteman’s important mission.”
A statement from the Minuteman Faculty Association called the school committee’s statement that there was no finding of sexual harassment “intentionally deceptive,” because “the accusations made against Dr. Dawson were not of sexual harassment but of inappropriate and uninvited touching.” The group is demanding more information on the investigator’s findings and a seat on the search committee for a new superintendent.
The school is currently being led by Acting Superintendent-Director Kevin Mahoney and Interim Principal Kathleen Bouchard.
“Despite this not being fully resolved, the atmosphere in the school was really positive again,” Zwirn says of these first few weeks of school under Bouchard and Mahoney’s leadership.
“I know a lot of people just want to move on,” Zwirn says, but important questions remain. “How much money was wasted on her 5 months of administrative leave?” she asks. “Was there a buyout, and if so, how much did they have to spend to buy her out of her contract?”
Members of the school committee declined to answer any questions.
Dr. Dawson says she “is saddened she will not be able to continue to lead the district to ever greater accomplishments,” however, she “believes in the potential of Minuteman, and is confident that they will continue to achieve excellence for all students.”