The Boston School Department has placed three administrators at Boston Latin Academy on paid administrative leave, just two weeks before the new school year begins, as the department investigates allegations of harassment, discrimination, and intimidation.
School officials did not identify the individuals, but said they were program directors, who typically oversee academic departments and evaluate teachers. Other staff members will fill the roles temporarily.
A “leadership coach” will be assigned to work with headmaster Emilia Pastor and the rest of the school team to resolve a variety of issues, according to a letter Interim Superintendent John McDonough e-mailed to staff Wednesday night. Copies are also being sent to parents.
“I view these efforts as collaborative and productive, not administrative or prescriptive,” McDonough wrote. “We share the same goal of ensuring that Boston Latin Academy continues to be a school that reflects [the Boston public schools] at our very best. We share your sense of urgency that requires us to make changes to position all students for success in a wide range of higher education opportunities.”
Latin Academy, located on Townsend Street in Dorchester, is one of the city’s exam schools, where admission hinges on passing an entrance exam. The school, which currently has an enrollment of 1,700 students, originally opened in 1878 as an all-girls college-preparatory school and is often confused with the better known Boston Latin School, which initially taught only boys. Both schools went coeducational in the 1970s.
McDonough’s actions stem from concerns raised three months ago by dozens of Latin Academy teachers, who say the school’s administration was creating a hostile work environment and was forcing teachers to lower academic standards, through tactics such as mandating they award more As and Bs to students.
If teachers refused to comply or asked too many questions, they said, school administrators often targeted them for removal, stepping up classroom observations and writing nuanced evaluations that picked apart performance and offered little constructive feedback for improvement.
Adding further anxiety, teachers said, the administration appeared to be developing a pattern, whether intentional or not, of pushing out older teachers and black teachers. Staff outlined their concerns in a seven-page letter to McDonough in May, which was later reported by the Globe.
Teachers reached for comment Thursday said they were relieved to return to school next month with certain administrators out of the building.
“We are pleased,” said one teacher, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the allegations. “There was tremendous trepidation and fear what happened last school year would continue this year. The term bloodbath was being thrown around.”
The dispute flared after the school system rolled out a revamped evaluation system over the last two years that is intended to provide more constructive feedback to teachers, administrators, and other educators with an eye toward improvement.
But teachers at some schools across the city, as with those at Latin Academy, say adminstrators are using the evaluation in punitive ways and may also be discriminating against teachers of certain demographics.
In fact, the first batch of districtwide data, released last year, showed that teachers across the system who are black, Hispanic, or older were more likely to receive a low rating, prompting school district officials to step up training.
At Latin Academy, school district officials met with dozens of staff members on the last day of school, fielding their concerns for about three hours. Representatives from the School Department’s Office of Academics, Office of Human Capital and Office of Equity, which handles discrimination complaints, then investigated throughout the summer.
McDonough said in his letter that “additional changes remain a possibility” at the school.
“We will monitor the situation closely in the months ahead,” McDonough wrote. “We are taking these steps so we can effectively address the concerns that have been raised by faculty, staff, and students. Our work is not yet finished.”
McDonough declined an interview request through a spokesman.
“He tried to put everything he can say about the topic in the letter to be as open as possible about the actions we are taking while also respecting the confidentiality of the process,” the spokesman, Lee McGuire, said in an e-mail. “For now he is going to limit his comments to what is in the public letter, so everyone has the same information.”
Councilor Tito Jackson, who chairs the City Council’s Education Committee and has raised concerns about the situation at Boston Latin Academy, said he believes the School Department acted decisively.
“I believe the changes in administration are justified so Boston Latin Academy can move forward,” he said. “I’ve spoken to many teachers, as well as staff members, at Boston Latin Academy and I’m taken that every single person who I spoke with were squarely focused not on their own job but the future of the city of Boston and the preparation of the talented young people who go to BLA.”
Teachers said they appreciated that school district officials took their concerns seriously.
“They really listened to us and were supportive,” said another teacher. “I do feel confident that they are going to help us make this school year a better one and we can just get back to teaching and learning.”