The headmaster of Boston’s only vocational high school, who came under fire last week over a scheduling problem that left many students and teachers without classes, resigned Saturday after the School Department discovered she never gained certification to lead a school in Massachusetts.
Diane Ross Gary, who worked in education for more than three decades mostly in Connecticut, applied for certification in Massachusetts last August when she took over as headmaster of Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury, but never completed the paperwork, according to a Boston School Department spokesman.
That means a person without the proper credentials has been leading a school in desperate need of an academic turnaround for more than a year, even as the School Department removed 10 teachers at Madison Park this summer who lacked the appropriate state licences.
It is unclear why the School Department had not checked on Gary’s license before Friday. Interim Superintendent John McDonough looked into it Friday morning in anticipation of a conversation with Gary later that day, said Lee McGuire, a School Department spokesman.
The School Department scrutinized Gary’s credentials as the Globe began to examine Gary’s background for an upcoming profile and asked the state on Friday whether she was certified.
“We should have followed up much sooner to confirm she had completed the process,” McGuire said Saturday. “It’s what we do for our teachers, and we certainly should have done it in this case as well.”
According to the state, Gary never took the necessary test to become certified and never forwarded her college transcripts.
She also never received a temporary waiver from the requirements, which Massachusetts sometimes grant to educators coming from another state to ease the transition.
The resignation is the latest blow for Madison Park, which is tasked with preparing students for a range of technically skilled jobs or for college, but which has been plagued by low standardized test scores and graduation rates.
Over the summer, Madison Park also grappled with plummeting freshmen enrollment and scrambled to fill nearly 60 positions three weeks before classes started.
During much of that time, McDonough and Mayor Martin J. Walsh have faced criticism for keeping Gary on the job. Retaining her as headmaster went against the recommendation of an internal team put in place earlier this year to develop a strategy to prevent state-mandated interventions.
As recently as last Monday — the third day of school during which most students and teachers had not been assigned to classes — McDonough voiced his support for Gary, saying in a response to a Globe question he had confidence in the headmaster.
A day later, students staged a demonstration before school began, demanding that classes begin immediately, while the School Committee and the mayor voiced outrage over the lack of schedules.
McDonough could not be reached for comment Saturday.
In announcing Gary’s departure in a letter to the Madison Park community Saturday night, McDonough did not mention Gary’s lack of certification or blame her for any of the school’s problems.
“A leadership change is the right thing to do at this time,” he wrote.
He later added, “I know that many people enjoyed getting to know Dr. Gary and believe she has not been well-supported by us in the past. Your voices matter to me and I have heard them.”
Gary’s detractors — including teachers and parents — have contended that McDonough and Walsh bowed to political pressure from elected officials who wanted Gary to stay. Both McDonough and Walsh have denied the accusations, although Walsh told the Globe in July that he discussed the issue in a meeting with elected officials and the Friends of Madison Park who are supporters of Gary.
McDonough and Walsh have said they believed Gary deserved more than a year to prove herself and that the school needed stability at the helm.
But now the school faces a its third consecutive school year with a different headmaster in charge.
Kate Norton, a spokeswoman for Walsh, said the mayor agrees that Madison Park needs a leadership change.
“Clearly, something went wrong in this instance,” Norton said in a statement, referring to the School Department’s failure to check Gary’s certification sooner. “As the mayor has been saying for months, we have a number of significant issues facing us with Madison Park on the whole. This is another in a line of problems that we are working hard to correct to better serve our students.”
Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said he is hopeful about new leadership.
“We are optimistic that this new beginning will begin to restore Madison Park and bring it up where it should be,” Stutman said. “The staff wants to get to work Monday and wants the kids in the classroom.”
Gary could not be reached for comment Saturday night.
But in a letter to staff, she said that she and McDonough agreed Friday “that it is time for me to move on.”
“I am confident that this is the right decision to make, and the timing is right for me and my family,” she wrote. “This is a great school with a bright future. I know that there are many in the community who will disagree with my decision, but I know in my heart that this is the right one for the school.”
Madison Park has been deeply divided over her leadership. Many staff have complained that Gary was often abrupt and did not connect well with students. She was quick to correct students who called her “Ms.” reminding them her name was “Dr. Gary,” according to some teachers and students.
Staff also faulted her for spending too much time in her office.
Gary told an education consulting firm that was conducting a review of Madison Park last fall, that she spent “less than 25 percent of her time in classrooms,” according to a copy of the report obtained by the Globe.
But the Friends of Madison Park and other allies say that the School Department failed to provide her with the appropriate support.
For instance, they said the department delayed for months providing her with a mentor and imposed a hiring freeze that caused the last-minute hiring.
“Whether its superman or superwoman, when you are not given the proper resources . . . that puts you at a disadvantage,” said a member of the Friends of Madison Park on Friday before the resignation occurred and asked not to be identified.
Gary gained the post with questionable credentials. She had never worked as a principal before and served as an assistant director at a regional vocational school in Hartford, Conn., for one year in the late 1980s, according to a copy of her resume the Globe obtained on Friday.
She has held a variety of teaching jobs at secondary schools and colleges in Connecticut, and before arriving in Boston she had worked for more than a decade at the Connecticut Department of Education as a “program manager,” according to her resume.