Super defers Amherst middle school principal pick to successor; one finalist says decision is retaliation for lawsuit



Lamikco Magee, a finalist for the middle school principal position, amended her lawsuit against district officials and the district after Superintendent Douglas Slaughter decided to defer the selection of a new school leader to his successor.

Lamikco Magee, a finalist for the middle school principal position, amended her lawsuit against district officials and the district after Superintendent Douglas Slaughter decided to defer the selection of a new school leader to his successor. CONTRIBUTED


Staff Writer

Published: 05-10-2024 9:18 PM

AMHERST — Interim Superintendent Douglas Slaughter has opted against hiring a permanent middle school principal despite a search that yielded three finalists, a decision one of those finalists says is retaliation against her because she recently filed a federal discrimination and defamation lawsuit against the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools.

In a letter to family and staff, however, Slaughter explained that the Regional School Committee is in the final stages of hiring a permanent superintendent and that he was deferring the decision on a middle school principal to that person.

“This will allow the new superintendent to oversee the search and appoint a candidate they believe will help implement their vision for the school and the district as a whole, while best supporting ARMS students, families and staff,” he wrote.

Instead, Slaughter has chosen Michael Sullivan, a Florence resident and longtime educator, as temporary principal to oversee the school where seventh and eighth graders from Shutesbury, Leverett, Pelham and Amherst are educated.

Sullivan is a retired Gill-Montague Regional School superintendent who also oversaw Hampshire Regional Schools on a temporary basis. He will assume the position on July 1.

“Dr. Sullivan has extensive, local leadership experience as a middle school principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent,” Slaughter wrote. “He will bring a wealth of knowledge, an understanding of the area and the unique aspects of regional schools, and a fresh perspective to the needs of the middle school.”

Sullivan began teaching in 1988, spending 14 years at JFK Middle School in Northampton, and he was an assistant principal at Northampton High School for two years.

The Amherst middle school had been led on an interim basis for the school year by high school Principal Talib Sadiq. Earlier this month, though, Sadiq announced he would be stepping down from the middle school role as of Monday, with the school continuing to be led by interim assistant principals Doreen Reid and Rich Ferro through the end of the school year.

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The middle school principal search process had led to three finalists: Lamikco Magee, the dean of students at the middle school; and two out-of-district educators, Susan Gilson, who is also a finalist to be superintendent; and Gina Fasoli Figueroa.

The decision to not move forward on a permanent principal is prompting the Atlanta attorneys representing Magee, who earlier this month filed the federal discrimination and defamation lawsuit against the district, its current interim superintendent, Slaughter, and its former leaders, to amend her 13-count lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

Magee’s complaint includes possible federal civil rights violations and violations of district policies covering discrimination, harassment and bullying. The amendments include additional claims of retaliation and discrimination, as she was the only person of color being considered for the position.

Attorney Arnold Lizana of the Law Offices of Arnold J. Liznaa II contends that a white candidate was offered the middle school principal job, but when she declined, administrators didn’t turn to Magee.

“We were not surprised by the latest act of retaliation against Ms. Magee, as the district has repeatedly demonstrated an inclination to violate her civil rights at every opportunity,” Lizana said. “As a first-tier finalist, Magee should have been offered the position once the less qualified white candidate declined it.”

The complaints are made against both the district and former Superintendent Michael Morris, former Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham and Slaughter.

The attorneys also say the value of the lawsuit has increased.

“Unfortunately, workplace retaliation is not uncommon, but this latest act of reprisal likely just doubled the value of our multimillion-dollar case,” Lizana said.