The superintendent of the Duxbury school system is leaving the district with two years left in his contract after back-to-back controversies rocked the South Shore town this spring. He has been appointed to the top job in the North Attleborough schools, pending contract negotiations.
John Antonucci’s four-year tenure at the helm of the Duxbury Public Schools ended turbulently, after two scandals this spring prompted the firing of two of the high school’s championship-winning varsity coaches.
Dave Maimaron, the high school’s popular but controversial football coach, was dismissed after players used Holocaust-related play calls during a game in March. The Globe also found that Maimaron fostered an unprofessional and vulgar culture over his 15-year run as head coach.
Within two weeks came an unrelated crisis of even greater proportions: A Duxbury family accused John Blake — a physical education teacher who also coached the Duxbury boys hockey team since 2003 — of repeatedly sexually assaulting their son in the mid-2000s, creating a life of addiction and torment that ended in his death by overdose at age 27. The parents notified Antonucci of the alleged rape last November, and Blake was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. The public did not learn the reason for his departure until the family filed a lawsuit in early March, a month after the investigation concluded.
Both controversies upended the affluent coastal community and led several residents, particularly those enmeshed in the public school system, to raise concerns about the administration’s lack of transparency and action. That tension most recently came to a head during a hostile School Committee hearing in late May where Duxbury school officials and parents sparred over the handling of the two episodes.
“Tragically, both issues we are dealing with here relate to the most basic requirement of our school system: the physical and psychological safety of our children. But instead, the administrators, I believe, are more worried about their image and reputation instead of being focused on the safety of our children. The school leadership’s complete, continued silence and lack of apparent leadership on these issues is deafening and terribly disappointing. The community put their trust in you,” said one Duxbury parent in the forum, which was conducted virtually.
“Please don’t put words in anybody’s mouth,” said Antonucci in response. “I’m not going to sit here and have my integrity questioned with misinformation.”
Over the course of the more than hour-long interview for the North Attleborough superintendent’s position, which was broadcast on a local access television station, Antonucci was never directly questioned about the Duxbury scandals.
Asked by a North Attleborough school board member to describe “a time when you had to call upon every tool and in your personal and intellectual tool chest to help resolve a crisis,” Antonucci referenced each controversy as “very emotional” and “distressing” episodes.
“I think there are some people who would probably disagree that we did a good job of communicating. I would fundamentally disagree with that. I actually take pride in that we gave as much information as we could,” he said in the interview.
Antonucci leaves Duxbury with two years remaining in his contract, which School Committee members voted unanimously to extend to 2023 in the fall of 2019.
While nominating Antonucci for the job, North Attleborough school board member James McKenna praised his “courage” and said part of the appeal of Antonucci was that he’d been “battle-tested.”
Antonucci was one of three finalists chosen from a field of 29 candidates for the North Attleborough position now held by Scott Holcomb, who announced that he will step down in August from the post he has held since 2017. Antonucci has been a superintendent of schools for 16 years, first in Westwood and, since 2017, in Duxbury.
He declined a request from the Globe to comment on the new role, citing ongoing contract negotiations, but sent a letter to Duxbury parents Friday afternoon with the news.
“My decision to seek new employment was made with mixed emotions, as I have thoroughly enjoyed the last four years working in the Duxbury community. The Duxbury Public Schools, in particular, are first-rate, and are filled with incredible students, and talented and dedicated faculty and staff,” he wrote.
It was not immediately clear when Antonucci would officially step down from his role at the helm of the Duxbury schools, but a private investigation ordered by his administration into the football team and its use of Holocaust-related language concluded last week. The findings of that investigation have not been made public. The lawsuit against Blake and the Duxbury Public Schools remains ongoing in US District Court.