Community members petition state for audit of Mohawk Trail Regional School hiring process

By ELLA ADAMS

For the Recorder

Published: 07-07-2021 5:23 PM

BUCKLAND — A group of parents and community members of the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts have requested an audit from Massachusetts Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley concerning the hiring of a vice principal who lacked the appropriate certification or licensure at the time.

Their concern arises from the “legality and ethics” of the process used to hire Mohawk Trail Regional School Vice Principal Diane Zamer in 2019. Those in direct question are Principal Marisa Mendonsa, former Superintendent Michael Buoniconti and members of the Mohawk Trail Regional District School Committee who served at the time.

According to the request, at the time of her hiring, Zamer did not have the appropriate certification or licensure to be an administrator. This, matched with her lack of experience in administrative roles, “struck people as odd, considering there had been 20 or 21 applicants for the position,” said Julie Dubreuil, the existing Shelburne representative on the Mohawk Trail School Committee.

Members of the school community confirmed that certified candidates had applied who they believed were overlooked, the audit request states. While it’s not impossible to be hired without having the certification, a waiver — applied for through the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) — is required to explain why the uncertified individual is a better option than those who have the administrative certification.

Since Zamer held no license at the time of her hiring as assistant principal, the waiver process would be necessary, according to DESE’s hiring policy. However, upon questions regarding the decision and lack of waiver, former Superintendent Michael Buoniconti stated that occasionally the district makes its own contracts with candidates.

Once hired, Zamer’s certification was “fast-tracked in a way that didn’t seem appropriate,” Dubreuil said.

Questions arose not only regarding Zamer’s mentor’s qualifications, but Zamer’s own, as she had never taught above sixth grade. It was found by the signers of the request during their research that Zamer is very close family friends with Principal Marisa Mendonsa, who helped hire her, and that information had not been disclosed to the hiring committee.

Those who have signed the request want an investigation into what they said was the school district’s failure to use the waiver process to complete a legal hiring. If Zamer was hired without the acceptable licensure and was never required to complete a waiver, then those involved in the hiring acted directly against DESE’s hiring policy.

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Requests for comments were emailed to Zamer, Mendonsa and current Superintendent Sheryl Stanton. Only Stanton replied, noting that Zamer and Mendonsa could not comment because this is a personnel issue.

“We are aware of the request and we are happy to work with DESE and their procedures,” Stanton said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Attached to the email request to Commissioner Riley were supporting documents put together by the group of signers from their months of research connected to the case.

Those who signed the audit petition claim Zamer’s hiring was not done properly.

“What we really want is for the state to pay attention when schools out here have a complaint,” Dubreuil said.

The request calls for those in administration to understand hiring laws related to educational policy and protocol.

“We really want the state to hold the school accountable if something was done wrong and not ignore Western Mass.,” Dubreuil said.

The delay in the request was a result of the resignation of former Superintendent Buoniconti, the COVID-19 pandemic and the inability of the state to handle appeals sooner. The idea to request an audit came from the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District’s petition for an audit in 2018 for a similar instance.

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