SOUTH HADLEY — Last month, the South Hadley Education Association submitted a letter to Superintendent Mark McLaughlin and the School Committee to express a vote of no confidence in Mosier Elementary School Principal Cynthia Flynn.

At the May 16 School Committee meeting, SHEA President Amy Foley announced the vote of no confidence to the School Committee along with a letter outlining the concerns that formed the basis of the vote.

The letter highlights a list of concerns the group is seeing including in management, operations and professional culture.

Three quarters of the SHEA membership voted and 95.6% of those who did so reflected that they have no confidence in their principal.

After providing a statement about the letter from SHEA, Superintendent Mark McLaughlin discussed an update and his investigation on the issue during the School Committee meeting on June 25.

McLaughlin reached out to Foley on May 20 to say he has begun his investigation into the allegations stated in the vote of no confidence letter and asked her to provide the additional documentation of evidence.

He also highlighted areas of the letter that were of particularly concern to him and which the provision of documentation would be most helpful in his investigation.

He asked for the evidence to be shared with him by 5 p.m. on May 23 and received an initial set of documents by Foley but she also stated there were more things she was working on compiling.

McLaughlin said however, he did not receive an answer to the two questions he asked or any additional evidence besides the initial documents.

McLaughlin’s two additional questions were: was the vote allowed to be anonymous or was it required to be public? He also asked, “I assume the vote total of 95.6% is the percentage of the three-quarters who voted and not 95.6% of 100% of the school given that one quarter appeared not to have voted. Can you confirm?”

McLaughlin investigated the original four-page original complaint that included his highlights with hyperlinks to the documentation that Foley and SHEA shared.

He added, “After reviewing these I then conducted a thorough review of the allegations with and often without substantive supporting documentation form SHEA.”

The review included all past grievances and non-grievance concerns at Mosier Elementary School, documentary evidence including emails to and from the principal and teacher evaluation documents.

McLaughlin and Superintendent of Finance and Business Operations Jennifer Voyik then set up interviews with all staff members at Mosier.

Staff was sorted into groups of two to ensure each staff member could speak outside of a whole group setting and have ample time to answer questions and provide additional commentary.

The interviews totaled 31 hours from May 29 to June 5, according to McLaughlin.

He added, “All teachers were asked the same questions which were sorted into three broad categories based on the letter accompanying the vote of no confidence.”

The categories were safety, retaliation and morale.

On June 12, McLaughlin planned to address the Mosier staff with a summary of his findings and plans for continued follow-up and support to help “all parties at Mosier emerged from this stronger and more whole.”

McLaughlin said a family emergency kept him from hosting that meeting but it will be scheduled in August or at some point during the district’s three days of professional development.

He added that he will refrain from providing details of the findings and plans for support tonight out of respect the Mosier staff and principal who in his opinion, are most deserving of a first conversation.

However, given the highly public nature of vote and its impact on staff and the principal, he offered a few reflections.

McLaughlin said when he was the assistant superintendent in fall 2021, he was in a meeting with the former superintendent and past SHEA president and the president said it was his goal to “get rid of Cindy Flynn.”

At that time, Flynn had only been principal for less than a year with a majority of it taking place during remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The South Hadley Education Association formally submitted its concerns to McLaughlin on June 27, 2022, but stated they have not seen meaningful improvements in Flynn’s leadership in the past two years, according to their letter.

The letter also stated that McLaughlin did not respond but he said he did in an email stating that many of the issues were repetitions of complaints from fall 2021 and winter 2022 and most were addressed through the grievance process or through other means.

Looking forward, McLaughlin discussed everyone needing to work together to heal and continue helping improve the district.

He added, “Every school can and should grow and improve. Mosier is no different. There are certainly areas of operations that can and will be improved for which a principal is uniquely responsible. These include areas concerning safety at dismissal and in the cafeteria at the end of the day pre-dismissal, general building safety, communication, opportunities for building school spirit. These have been and will continue to addressed by the principal moving into the new school year. Our investigation revealed that some of these were already underway prior to the vote of no confidence as part of a continuous improvement process.”

McLaughlin said the investigation revealed factors unique to the Mosier culture which must and will be addressed to the Mosier community prior to the start of the new school year.

He added, “Healing will take time because there is hurt on all sides. That was very evident throughout the investigation, but healing must occur for the sake of Mosier students first and foremost. It must occur for staff to be and to feel whole and it must occur for the principal in order for her to lead Mosier through the many changes it must continue to undertake.”