Removal of Gardner Pilot Academy Principal Leaves School Reeling

With Erica Herman gone and a new interim principal in her place, the Boston Public School superintendent wrote that Gardner Pilot Academy families and faculty could start to heal. But three months in, the school is still reeling.
By Jina H. Choe and Jack R. Trapanick

Parents and teachers at Allston's Gardner Pilot Academy are divided over the decision to remove the school's longtime principal.
Parents and teachers at Allston's Gardner Pilot Academy are divided over the decision to remove the school's longtime principal. By A. Skye Schmiegelow

On Feb. 7, Ana Ramirez — a parent with two children at Allston’s Gardner Pilot Academy — unmuted herself on a Zoom call to deliver an impassioned plea to the Boston School Committee.

“The reason why I’m here is because I would like to ask the committee and the superintendent to please return Ms. Herman to her job,” said Ramirez, a member of the school’s governing board, who spoke in Spanish through a translator. “We need transparency. We need honesty coming from you on your behalf.”

Ramirez and others had come to the February meeting to protest the removal of Gardner Pilot Academy’s longtime principal, Erica Herman, who had been forced out in December for allegedly violating Boston Public Schools reporting policy.

By the end of the month, Boston Public Schools superintendent Mary B. Skipper sent a letter attempting to explain the district’s decision to families.

The letter painted a dark picture of a school administration under which “unaddressed and egregious Code of Conduct violations” had occurred by students, with references to “persistent bullying” and “sexual misconduct.”

The “vast majority” of them had gone unreported to the district, Skipper wrote.

Rather than providing closure, it left parents baffled over how a high-performing school long considered a haven for families in the district could have suffered from malfeasance “that could be so bad to require this incredible chaos at the school,” as one parent put it. Another described herself as “in deep despair.”

Since Herman was forced out, parents and some staff have continued to maintain that the former principal transformed Gardner for the better, commending her emphasis on restorative justice practices and mediating rather than punishing student conflict.

Though less vocal, many of Gardner’s teachers have kept quiet support for the change of leadership, arguing that Herman had treated her staff poorly behind the scenes and failed to consistently report incidents involving students, as required by BPS policy.

With Herman gone and a new interim principal in her place, Skipper wrote that Gardner families and faculty could start to heal. But three months in, the school is still reeling.

‘A Welcome Change’

Well before parents challenged the district on the removal of Herman, GPA staff had written to Boston Teachers Union alleging Herman fostered a “hostile” work environment.

In a November 2023 letter to the Boston Teachers Union obtained by The Crimson, the GPA Faculty Senate wrote that under Herman, there was “unclear and inconsistent” documentation of student incidents in violation of BPS protocols.

“This dynamic creates a divisive environment and negatively impacts staff relationships, which then impacts our ability to provide support for our vulnerable population,” faculty wrote in the letter.

BPS policy dictates that bias-based misconduct must be reported to the school administration. Under state law, instances of bullying — which involves repeated acts that cause or threaten harm against a student — must be reported to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The letter also said “there is a general unease throughout the building,” and how a “significant number of staff members” operate “out of fear of administration.” Faculty called for an immediate formal evaluation of Herman.

“Though typically the Governing Board would be the next step to address all of our concerns, we have come to the union instead out of our fear of retaliation and lack of action from administration,” the letter added.

Some GPA teachers and staff said at the February meeting testified they had personally experienced verbal harassment from Herman.

GPA learning specialist Stephanie Wing said at the meeting that she supported the continued tenure of Katherine Atkins Pattenson — the current acting principal.

“Ms. AP consistently exhibits a calm and professional demeanor, which has provided staff with an opportunity to engage in difficult conversations, ask questions, and provide suggestions and feedback, which is a welcome change from our previous administration,” she said.

In the interview, Herman defended her treatment of staff and emphasized her commitment to students.

“When you hold people to an extremely high standard, they don’t always appreciate you,” she said.

She added that BPS’s allegations were “full of misrepresentations, omissions of truth, lies.”

“Anyone who’s ever worked with me or for me,” she added, “would just say that this kind of behavior is just not who I am.”

‘The Atmosphere is in Mourning’

To many parents, and a number of staff members, the allegations were completely at odds with their perception of the woman who helmed Gardner for nearly 20 years, a contrast to the district’s famously high turnover.

Over a two-day period, The Crimson spoke with parents dropping their children off and picking them up from school for their perspective on the recent tumult. All of the 13 families who were approached, many interviewed in Spanish, disagreed with the decision to remove the principal.

Parents brought up incidents where Herman had personally helped them when they faced financial and other barriers, including providing direct support with summer programming and covering school-related expenses. They criticized the district’s decision to remove her with little communication and in spite of her widespread support.

“They removed the principal from us overnight,” Ramirez, the GPA parent, said in an interview in Spanish.

“Because of this our school came undone — the school isn’t the same now,” she added.

A Boston Public Schools spokesperson did not respond to comment for this article.

“The Gardner Pilot Academy under Erica and Joe operated like no other school,” said Jean Power, another parent.

Power said that, under Herman, the Gardner had helped pay for the funerals of school family members who died during the pandemic, and started an adult education program to teach English and job skills to families in need.

“These are life-changing things,” she said, noting the school’s contrast with the reputation of the district broadly, which was recently under threat of a state takeover.

In an interview with The Crimson, Councilor Elizabeth A. “Liz” Breadon echoed the parents’ sentiments.

“Principal Erica Herman and Vice Principal Joe Sara are dedicated educators who’ve given many, many years of service to Boston Public Schools,” she said. “It’s a great loss to the community and the Gardner Pilot Academy that they have been suspended.”

Asked how the school can or should move forward, another parent, Hermelinda Torres, said she wasn’t sure.

“It would be wonderful for Ms. Herman to return,” she said in Spanish. “We’re trying to take in everything that happened, but it’s not easy.”

—Staff writer Jina H. Choe can be reached at

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at Follow him on X @jackrtrapanick.

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