WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Documents outlining the "complaints or charges against" the former Lanesborough-Williamstown school superintendent show that he had lost the confidence of his top administrators along with that of several school committee members.
Douglas Dias and the Lanesborough-Williamstown Tri-District parted ways after a lengthy closed-door meeting of all three elected school committees in the two towns on Nov. 7.
This week, the Tri-District office, responding to a request for information from iBerkshires.com, released documentation about the complaints referenced on the agenda for the committees' executive session.
Dias, who is no longer working in his former office at Mount Greylock Regional School, said Thursday that he was not aware the documents were released until iBerkshires.com's request for comment. Dias responded on Friday morning with a statement.
"I am aware of the release of Committee agenda materials relating to complaints made by some unhappy administrators about me. While I was prepared to respond fully and in detail to these contested allegations, the committee and I have resolved my status to our mutual satisfaction. A response from me under those circumstances would do needless damage to the district and would not undo the damage done to me by the release of these internal complaints," Dias wrote in an email. "Rest assured I am disappointed that the relationship with my administrative colleagues did not develop as I had hoped or expected. This occurred in part due to differences of opinion as to leadership styles and expectations, and as a result of my personal, family circumstances, particularly the necessity of my tending to elderly and ill parents who are receiving care on Cape Cod."
Mount Greylock Regional School Committee member Carolyn Greene, who chaired the committee at the time of Dias' 2015 hiring and last week's departure, said at the Nov. 7 meeting that the Tri-District remains strong despite the turbulence, and, on Thursday, she emphasized that the complaints against the superintendent did not involve students.
"Some have asked whether the issues with Dr. Dias directly involved students," Greene said. "I would like to assure our families and community members that was not the case. These charges and complaints were administrative in nature. We all wanted Dr. Dias to succeed and regret this superintendency did not work out. We wish him the best in his future endeavors."
Technically, the committees ended up not deliberating on the "complaints or charges" referenced in the posted agenda for the Nov. 7 meeting. Instead, they went directly to a subsequent item on the agenda to discuss Dias' contract. But Tri-District counsel Fred Dupere confirmed after the meeting that the latter topic (item IV on the agenda) grew out of discussions between himself and Dias' attorney about the former (item III).
Two of the complaints against Dias already were public prior to the meeting. Mount Greylock School Committee members Steven Miller and Richard Cohen made their personal evaluations of the superintendent public after they came out on the short end of a 4-2 June vote to rate the first-year superintendent as "proficient."
The documents released this week include a letter co-signed by the principals at Lanesborough Elementary, Mount Greylock and Williamstown Elementary and the assistant superintendent; a memo from the assistant superintendent; and a Nov. 2 email from the chairwoman of the Lanesborough Elementary School Committee.
Taken as a whole, the documents paint a picture of a superintendent who was at best disengaged and non-responsive and at worst dishonest — the same portrayal one gets from reading Cohen's and Miller's June evaluations.
The Oct. 15 letter from the three principals and assistant superintendent of schools accuse Dias of a "lack of professional responsibility," "lack of vision" and "lack of leadership."
"Collectively, we are concerned about his detachment from his professional responsibility; it is impacting his cognitive presence and his ability to invest in the schools and communities that support the schools," the four administrators wrote. "It is our belief that he is not fit for the role of Superintendent and the high expectations that the community has for our schools individually and collectively."
Dias replied to the criticism in a Nov. 3 letter to the school committees in which he expresses his hope that the complaints not "distract the districts."
Dias characterized his level of performance as "frustrating" because of the demands of caring for "parents having separate and debilitating medical issues requiring hospitalization."
Dias went on to say that the shared superintendency arrangement in Lanesborough and Williamstown, where a single superintendent reports to three separate school committees, is a unique challenge unlike anything he experienced before arriving in the Berkshires.
"There are challenges and adversities that I encounter for which my many years of experience had not prepared me," Dias wrote. "At the [Massachusetts Association of School Committees] Conference, I had a conversation with a superintendent who was presenting a seminar entitled 'Best Practices in the Boardroom with Dorothy Presser of MASC.' At Dorothy's suggestion, we talked after the session was over.
"The superintendent shared with me that she found her meeting schedule, when coupled with the workload of leading two elementary and a middle/high school, was untenable. Last year, she gave her committees and ultimatum — either they met every other month or look for a new superintendent. To her surprise, they agreed."
As she neared retirement, the Tri-District's first superintendent, Rose Ellis, warned the school committees that finding a replacement would be difficult until the three schools combined as one K-12 district because of the demands of the Tri-District structure.
Assistant Superintendent Kim Grady, who is carrying out Dias' former duties while the district looks for a new superintendent, signed the complaint letter with the three principals and wrote separately about her concerns.
"When [Dias was] asked for goals to help us guide leadership team's goal, [we were] initially told, 'I have a plan,' " Grady wrote. "Never received a plan and helped more than once on his proposed goals for the year when he solicited no input from his leadership team on the visions they have for the district.
"Professional responsibility — failure to respond to emails and other methods of communication causing a breakdown in communication with his office and creating stress on his office staff and leadership," Grady's memo continued.
The chairwoman of the LES Committee sent a page-long list of complaints to the district counsel, Dupere. Regina DiLego wrote, among other things, that Dias lied to her about administrative evaluations:
"1. Told the LES chair when directly asked, in July that the principal's evaluation had been completed by June 30, 2016, and his raise was in place. 2. Assured the LES chair in September that the principal's evaluation had indeed been completed [in a timely manner], when in fact it was not done until Sept. 29, 2016. 3. Told the LES chair in July, when directly asked, that all administrative Evaluations had been completed by him by June 30th."
DiLego also referred to the elementary school district's transportation and general education audits, which were requested in January by her committee. The latter "still has not occurred," she wrote. The former, the transportation audit, was completed after "a colleague of the Superintendent's was paid handsomely to create an ineffective schedule which must be redone as the colleague admitted he had no knowledge of how to effectively schedule for an elementary school."
Cohen's and Miller's evaluation comments accuse Dias of poor communication, "a lack of understanding about the School Committee's state-mandated role in making educational policy decisions," and "haphazard" hiring and staff development, among other things.
Miller, a resident of Williamstown, specifically referenced Dias' handling of* the ongoing controversy at the town's elementary school surrounding its special education preschool program.
Neither the principals nor Grady directly mention the Side-by-Side program in their complaints, but each document includes references that could be interpreted as alluding to the controversy surrounding Dias' decision to cut the full-day special education program for the 2016-17 academic year.
"[The] Superintendent doesn't have the history of the community and often will give misleading information which creates tension for leadership," Grady wrote.
"Principals and Assistant Superintendent feel strongly that he is not engaging the community and school staff to keep them informed of district progress or regression which is allowing negative press that is impacting the culture and climate of the three districts," the joint letter from Grady and the three principals reads.
At the very least, the circumstances of Dias' departure likely will bolster critics of the Side-by-Side decision, including Miller, who continue to raise the issue at Williamstown Elementary School Committee meetings.
*This story was updated on Nov. 22 to reflect the fact that Dias' actions during the months that followed the announcement of the Side-by-Side cut and not the decision itself were referenced in the Nov. 7 meeting packet.
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Clark Art Presents Lecture on Artist Les Lalanne
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — On Sunday, Sept. 26, writer, curator, and independent art historian Adrian Dannatt will present the lecture "Bohemian Luxe: The Strange Journey of Les Lalanne from Brancusi's Woodpile to Marc Jacobs' Catwalk."
This free talk will be presented in the Clark's auditorium and on Zoom and Facebook Live at 3 pm.
Dannatt, author of the 2018 book "Francois-Xavier & Claude Lalanne: In the Domain of Dreams," provides an overview of the artists' careers, with a special focus on their roots in the Parisian art world of the 1960s when they worked alongside other artists and designers of the time.
According to a press release, having begun their careers as penniless sculptors and painters in the poverty of postwar Paris, François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne eventually became two of the most successful stars of contemporary art and design, adored by all the world's headiest fashion and design elite. But they never forgot their earliest formative years living and working in the Impasse Ronsin, a rundown cul de sac where they were part of a vibrant community—sharing only one lavatory—with such famous artists as Constantin Brancusi, Max Ernst, Jean Tinguely, and Niki de Saint-Phalle.
The regional school committee last Thursday heard preliminary enrollment data for its three schools. Although the official date to report a head count to the state comes on Oct. 1, the early numbers show significant increases at Lanesborough Elementary and Williamstown Elementary.
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The board met with a single-item agenda to consider its course in light of last week's directive issued by the Lee-Lenox-Stockbridge Tri-Town Health Department, which instituted a mask mandate for all indoor spaces and "crowded outdoor public events."
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On a vote of 5-2, the committee decided to direct the district's administration to have its architect finalize bid documents and conduct cost estimates in anticipation of putting to bid later this fall a project to install a synthetic multi-sport field and a track on the Cold Spring Road campus.
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The presentations at Richard A. Reuther Post 152 American Legion included a certificate of appreciation for each veteran's service and a unique handmade quilt and pillow case to store it.
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