Former Amherst Superintendent Morris takes HR job in Westfield schools

  • Michael Morris, the former superintendent of Amherst-Pelham Regional School, is now the human resources director for the Westifleld public schools. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/4/2023 4:01:22 PM
Modified: 10/4/2023 4:00:21 PM

AMHERST — Former schools Superintendent Michael Morris, who resigned from his position at the end of August after seven years leading the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional school districts, is taking the helm of the human resources department for the Westfield public schools.

“I really enjoy working in school districts and understand human resources plays a critical role,” Morris said in a phone interview on Wednesday afternoon, two days after he began as the director of human resources. “I’m excited to work with strong staff here in Westfield.”

On Monday evening, Morris, who continues to make his home in Amherst, was introduced to the Westfield School Committee.

“I’ve received an incredibly warm welcome,” Morris told the committee members. He also observed that the meeting, being held at City Hall, was just steps from where his wife, Melany Burgos-Morris, grew up, adding that she had also gone through the city’s school system.

“Really happy to be here to support the staff, students and community in Westfield,” Morris said.

Morris, 45, left public service in Amherst after 23 years in the district following a closed-door session with the Amherst Regional and Union 26 school committees in August. The following day he and the chairpersons of those committees announced that he would resign at the end of the month, and that his departure was “not due to any wrongdoing on Mike’s part.” A separation agreement that went into effect Aug. 31, reached with the committees, is paying Morris his annual $178,500 salary for 10 months after the separation, or $6,868.69 every two weeks.

That brought to a close a tumultuous period in which Morris faced criticism from some in the community over his handling of reported mistreatment of LGBTQ students at the middle school and allegations that gender-based bullying was not being stopped, leading to a Title IX complaint over a lack of intervention.

Additional investigations are underway into the actions of middle school counselors and the responsibility of Morris and Assistant Superintendent Doreen Cunningham in hiring them

The Amherst Pelham Education Association, the union representing teachers, paraeducators and clerical staff, also issued a no confidence vote in Morris, just a day after Morris began a two-month medical leave on his doctor’s orders, citing ongoing stress and alluding to mental health issues.

When Morris returned, in preparation for the new school year, he unveiled a robust plan aimed at making the schools more welcoming and a comfortable learning environment for all students in the fall, including creating a new mental health and behavioral administrator position.

Until this week, Morris had spent his entire professional career in Amherst. A 2000 graduate of Amherst College, Morris began as a teacher at Fort River School, served as interim assistant principal and then principal at Crocker Farm School beginning in fall 2008, and then joined the central administration in 2012 as director of evaluation and assessment. He was promoted to assistant superintendent in 2014, then interim superintendent in 2016 upon Maria Geryk’s departure, and had the interim tag removed in 2017 when he agreed to be the permanent superintendent.

Morris said he has seen how human resources is essential to the functioning of schools, not only in getting people into jobs, but for other important tasks, such as when the start times for the Amherst elementary and secondary schools flipped and the dual Spanish-English language program Caminantes was launched.

On Wednesday afternoon, Morris was in the midst of his new work, interviewing finalists to become principal at the city’s virtual school.

“There’s a whole range of things I’m jumping into right now,” Morris said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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