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Massachusetts school chief resigns amid mounting criticism of his disparaging remarks

Editor’s Note: This report is a collaboration between NEPM and The Republican.

The superintendent of Springfield Public Schools served his last day on the job Thursday, leaving a few weeks short of his planned retirement, after school and city officials reacted with outrage to disparaging comments he made this week, in a private conversation, about Springfield leaders.

The resignation came after a morning press conference at which the main target of Superintendent Daniel Warwick’s comments, Latonia Monroe Naylor, defended herself and her family.

Warwick was recorded calling Monroe Naylor and her family “freaking scumbags.” A conversation Warwick was having with a staff member was inadvertently captured on a voicemail he left. In it, he insulted Monroe Naylor’s extended family, referring them to the “crazy Monroes.”

Surrounded by her husband and dozens of relatives from both the Monroe and Naylor sides of the family, Monroe Naylor defended her family.

“We’re ministers, we’re clergy, we’re community service people, we’re bankers, we’re investors, we’re real estate business owners, we’re authors,” she said. " We have been pillars in this community for decades."

“So when you talk about LaTonia being a ‘scumbag,’ when you talk about the Monroes being ‘scumbags,’ when you talk about the Naylors being ‘scumbags,’ you are talking about the city of Springfield being a scumbag,” she said. “You are talking about our children.”

Several speakers, including city officials and relatives, expressed their anger and frustration over the comments in a Thursday morning gathering in the School Committee chambers at City Hall.

Warwick confirmed Wednesday the voice in the recording is his, and he apologized. Warwick can be heard making ugly and negative comments not only about Monroe Naylor and her family but about Roger L. Putnam Academy Principal George Johnson.

“Yesterday … a conversation between myself and a colleague was somehow recorded. I am mortified,” he said in a statement provided by the school department, after being asked about the recording. “The remarks that I made were the result of total frustration with some of the issues we have been dealing with to uphold school department policies.”

Warwick wrote in a Thursday letter to Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno that we would resign effective Friday.

In a statement, Sarno said he accepted Warwick’s retirement letter because it was the right thing for the school district.

“It is time to move forward with the healing process as we, the School Committee, will now consider appointing an interim superintendent to serve until Dr. Sonia Dinnall’s contract is finalized,” he said. Dinnall was selected last week as the superintendent to replace Warwick.

Monroe Naylor said Thursday she was gratified by the support received from people outraged by Warwick’s comments.

“I’m excited and elated and everything in between,” she said in an interview with NEPM and The Republican. “I think it was absolutely compelling that almost 200 people gathered together from all kinds of races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, religions, you name it, who said ‘enough is enough.’ And the message was sent, and it was heard and I’m so thankful.”

Bishop Talbert Swan II, president of the Greater Springfield chapter of the NAACP, said Warwick did the right thing to resign, given what has come to light.

Swan said Warwick made the best decision for the community and students who have lost confidence in his leadership. Swan was the first to formally request that both Warwick and Kimberly Wells, the chief schools officer for the district, who allegedly can also be heard on the recording, resign.

“Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not continue the process of giving additional raises and contract extensions in a last-minute rush before the new superintendent takes over. Let her select her own cabinet,” Swan said. “Do not sully the graduations and celebrations of our students that are going on. Close it out today.”

Swan had the same message for Wells.

The Greater Springfield chapter of the NAACP has filed a request that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education do an audit of all personnel decisions made in the district in the past 10 years.

Wells has not responded to requests for comment.

A family affair

Monroe Naylor spoke at the event of her upbringing in Springfield and about experiencing gun violence at 16.

“I was shot in the chest, walking home from a studio with one of my friends. And I remember at that moment that on that night it felt like I died. And in many ways, I did. But I felt like a phoenix was reborn,” she said. “I came back with this renewed sense of purpose, this renewed sense of passion.”

Monroe Naylor said she started to question why she had been robbed and shot. She wondered why young people were turning to theft and violence as a way to survive.

“Why is it that they’re dropping out of high school, not going to college? And when I started to ask those questions, God put it in me that you have to be the one to help make a difference. I realize that education is what separates the haves and the have nots. I realize that it is what makes the difference between success and the school-to-prison pipeline, or the school-to-the-grave pipeline,” she said.

Naylor went on to graduate with a master’s degree in science in nonprofit management and philanthropy from Bay Path University. She founded Parent Villages, a nonprofit agency that serves families, in 2006. In 2017, she became a member of the school committee.

“I ran for school committee, and I won. Not because of the majority of political people, but because of my community that stood with me in that time,” she said.

Putnam principal criticized in recording

Swan, the local NAACP president, spoke at the City Hall gathering about a portion at the end of the recording in which Warwick disparages Johnson, the principal of Putnam.

In the recording, Warwick discusses Johnson and his involvement in Monroe Naylor getting extra tickets for graduation earlier this week. Warwick can be heard saying, “The synapses don’t all fire with George.”

Swan said he was shocked at Warwick’s description of the principal.

“I’m mortified that a Black man who has successfully moved Putnam High School in the right direction because of his brilliance and integrity would be stereotypically labeled as dumb,” he said.

In a phone interview Thursday, Johnson said he is still processing his reaction.

“I know the data; I know my status,” Johnson said in regard to the outcomes of Putnam students.

Joesiah I. Gonzalez, vice chair of the Springfield School Committee, said Warwick’s comments reflect a recent pattern of attacks and oppression. “We have been in the trenches against this system,” he said. “As the vice chairman of the Springfield School Committee, I want to make clear that I condemn this recent occurrence.”

Gonzalez said he will vote against Wells if she is presented as a choice for interim superintendent.

Gonzalez said he believes Warwick’s immediate resignation is best for the city and wants now to pivot the committee’s attention to healing.

Gonzalez said he appreciates the idea of an apology from Warwick, which was offered late Wednesday, and the mayor’s offer of a school committee retreat for restoration. But he said it is important to tell the truth about what Warwick said.

New leadership, clean hands and a pure heart are needed, he said, but “action speaks louder than words.”

Gonzalez said systems in place in Springfield education have disproportionately affected marginalized people. Those need to be deconstructed, he said.

He was critical of a press conference held by Sarno to “assail” committee members for challenging the superintendent selection process. “Calling us ‘childish’ and ‘petulant’ because we ask for transparency. And because we uplift the voices of the people in this city,” he said. “Hijacking local democracy when they didn’t have the majority vote and they still don’t have the majority vote.”

Gonzalez said that as far as he is concerned Johnson’s synapses work just fine.

“He led Putnam Academy as a shining light. Those are the people that they’re talking about. The Latino, the black community.”

Gonzalez said that as a person of faith, it is important to him to reflect on how to move forward and proceed in the midst of turmoil, hate and hurt.

“My prayer is that we would not lose this momentum, this moment in history, to impact our children. I remain committed to working with everybody. Let us as a city, as a people, stand against this pervasive culture,” he said.

“Warwick and Kim Wells, pack your bags and get out,” he said.

Seeking contract

The school committee last week named Dinnall as Warwick’s successor. She is a Springfield resident and longtime educator who most recently served as the chief of family and community engagement for the Springfield Empowerment Zone schools. She has worked in the city schools at different times for a total of 23 years.

The committee has not negotiated a contract with Dinnall, who will serve as the city’s first female and second Black superintendent. It is unclear if she, Wells, the chief schools officer and second in command to Warwick, or someone else will take over as school leader until a contract is signed.

Wells was also a candidate for superintendent.

Sarno said Thursday that the city will consider appointing an interim superintendent to serve until Dinnall’s contract is complete. Sarno serves as committee chairman.

Gonzalez said he will consider all options, but believes the board will have to meet as soon as possible to appoint an interim.

He said he wants to explore the possibility of fast tracking contract negotiations with Dinnall so she can take over quickly. Although her start date was not discussed at the time of the appointment, Gonzalez said he expected she would begin in early July, since Warwick had been expected to leave on July 1.

“I hope to sign a contract soon and try to move on from what is a not so pleasant time in the city’s history,” Gonzalez said.

Warwick, who worked for Springfield schools for a total of 48 years and as superintendent for 12 years, earns roughly $310,000 a year.

When he announced in January that he was retiring, officials praised him for many successes in his long career, but his last days as superintendent are now tainted.

“It was never my intention to hurt anyone,” Warwick said in his prepared statement and apology Wednesday. “I sincerely apologize for the disparaging characterization it casts on School Committee woman LaTonia Monroe Naylor and her family.”

The Republican's Jeanette Deforge contributed to this report.