As two crises engulfed Duxbury Public Schools this spring, the embattled superintendent, John Antonucci, started looking for a new job.
Parents in Duxbury were criticizing Antonucci’s leadership, citing a controversy over antisemitic play calls by the football team as well as sexual abuse complaints and long-running misconduct allegations against a hockey coach who also was a gym teacher. With two years left on his contract, Antonucci set his eyes on a superintendent opening in North Attleborough, a school district some 40 miles away.
By early June, as the scandals still simmered in Duxbury, North Attleborough officials announced Antonucci’s hiring. But his selection has since spurred sharp reactions among parents in both towns.
“From what I’ve read not qualified in my opinion!” one parent commented on a community Facebook post. Others questioned his track record and wondered whether his new district had done its due diligence.
North Attleborough School Committee members say he’s right for the job. The group voted unanimously last week to confirm Antonucci’s contract, calling him a “battle-tested” leader for the district of roughly 4,000 students.
Though Antonucci only briefly discussed the Duxbury scandals in his public interviews for the North Attleborough job, school board chair Ethan Hamilton said Antonucci talked more frankly in closed-door interviews about how he handled the crises.
“His responses were point on — we had no concerns he had handled anything inappropriately,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton declined to elaborate on the specifics of the conversation or how closely Antonucci was questioned about how he had handled earlier misconduct complaints against a coach, citing his concern about becoming involved in the ongoing litigation against the Duxbury Public Schools.
He added that Antonucci had denied he was seeking the North Attleborough job because of the issues in Duxbury, and that the superintendent was drawn to a district that “had the same values he holds dear to his heart.”
The Globe reached out to two dozen parents in North Attleborough, several of whom declined to be quoted, citing a fear of retaliation against their children. But online, the news sparked conflicting discussion.
“I hope it’s a two year contract,” one commenter wrote in the Facebook group devoted to local issues.
Another poster, who described herself as a parent of grown children, said she was unsure what else the incoming superintendent could have done in Duxbury.
“I have no dog in this fight other than my tax dollars and the school system affecting home values,” she wrote. “I just like to look at all sides of an issue. Can he improve North Attleboro Schools?”
In a statement, Antonucci praised North Attleborough as “a community that has core values that align with mine” and called the new role a “perfect fit.” He declined to discuss his departure from Duxbury in more detail.
Hamilton, the North Attleborough school board chair, said he had not heard any negative feedback about the selection since it was announced.
“We talked to city superintendents, county superintendents, people who had worked with him,” he added. “Everyone just had a glowing review.”
Antonucci, who starts Aug. 1, leaves behind an acrimonious situation in Duxbury, where few other school controversies have captured such widespread attention. Both the head hockey and football coaches have been ousted. The district is entangled in a civil lawsuit accusing leaders of overlooking the sexual abuse. Administrators said last week the longtime athletic director, Thom Holdgate, who oversaw both programs, would not return next year.
Antonucci’s Duxbury contract was extended two years ago, into 2023. In March, a scandal involving Duxbury High School football players using Holocaust-related play calls during a game triggered an investigation into the football program’s culture. It also sparked the dismissal of head football coach Dave Maimaron, who apologized and later resigned as a special education teacher in the district.
Weeks after the controversial football game, a local couple sued John Blake — a Duxbury middle school gym teacher and high school hockey coach — and accused him of sexually assaulting their son repeatedly during the 2000s. The lawsuit, also filed against the district, forced administrators to reveal Blake had been the subject of multiple complaints dating back at least to 2017, and had been quietly put on paid administrative leave during an investigation when the family contacted Duxbury police last November.
Blake has denied the allegations and has not been charged criminally. School administrators, including Antonucci, defended their handling of the complaints, saying they had looked into each allegation and felt there was no basis to take more action against Blake.