Jason Meland, principal of Haverhill High School for about a year, is leaving the job to return to Boston Public Schools.
In an email to staff Tuesday afternoon, Meland acknowledged his stay at Haverhill High “has been shorter than I initially intended,” but said it is the “best decision” for him and his family.
“I will forever be grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside and learn from each of you, our families, our greater Hillie community, and most importantly our amazing students. You’ve welcomed me with open arms and shown me time and again the power and passion of Hillie Nation, and I will carry this spirit with me as I prepare to take on my next opportunity,” Meland wrote.
Superintendent Margaret Marotta, in a separate email to the Haverhill School Committee, said the search for a new principal begins immediately. “While the timing for this search is not ideal, I am hopeful that by advertising the position at a competitive salary we can attract and retain the right person for the job,” she wrote.
Meland’s short tenure was bookended by crises—similar to those witnessed around the country as schools reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the start of school, there were reports of reports of sexual harassment, vandalism and fighting at the high school—some fueled by challenge known as “Devious Licks” being spread on the TikTok social app.
An eight-person scuffle in September included members of the high school football and basketball teams. Meland told the School Committee what discipline was being meted out to those involved.
“So we’re working with the coaches for the consequences for our scholar athletes. All the individuals involved were sent home yesterday afternoon and we held disciplinary hearings with each of them and their families this morning,” he said.
Within two months, Haverhill High School reported 15 fights involving a total of 44 students. Haverhill Police Capt. Wayne Tracy was forced to dispel the first of many rumors, telling a November gathering of families “there is no evidence to suggest an increase in violence is due to gangs.”
Meland told the same group problems appear largely rooted in social media taunts outside of school hours. Marotta also noted pupils involved tend to be freshmen and sophomores—particularly those who did not have a normal transition between middle and high school because of the pandemic.
This spring, the principal also found himself waging a campaign against false social media rumors, fueled by misleading student phone videos and parents’ postings. In a late March incident, he told parents “To clarify, the altercation was physical and resulted in a student being removed from the building by Haverhill Police Department. While there are rumors of a stabbing on social media, police found no evidence of this. However, a knife was found on the scene and immediately confiscated by police.”
In her email to School Committee members, the superintendent also appeared to acknowledge these challenges. “It has been a difficult year and we wish him well,” she said.
Meland came to Haverhill after serving as principal of James P. Timilty Middle School in Boston.