Superintendent Who Banned Halloween, Columbus Day Jobless Again

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Former Scarborough Schools Superintendent Julie R. Kukenberger has another acrimonious school departure in her wake as she leaves her job with the Melrose, Mass. public schools.

“The School Committee has been notified that Superintendent Julie Kukenberger will not seek a successor contract with the Melrose Public Schools beyond the current year,” Melrose School Committee Chair Jen McAndrew wrote in a letter to fellow committee members Tuesday.

Kukenberger, who has worked in education since 2005, was the superintendent of the Scarborough Schools from 2016-2019 and the interim superintendent in the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District. In the spring of 2020, she won the job of Melrose Schools Superintendent, beating 32 other applicants.

In Melrose, Kukenberger’s tenure was marked by strident advocacy for left-wing crusades, including switching Columbus Day to “Indigenous Peoples Day,” changing the school mascot from the Raiders to the Red Hawks, and “deemphasizing” Halloween celebrations.

Kukenberger attracted national attention for unilaterally cancelling Halloween in the school system. Late Night host Jimmy Kimmel, who used to be funny when he hosted Comedy Central’s The Man Show, took a jab at Kukenberger last October.

At the same time Kukenberger was taking a stand against Native American-themed mascots, the famous Italian cultural icon, and Halloween, schools in Massachusetts and across America were struggling to teach kids math and reading, according to student test results released Monday by the federal Department of Education.

In Maine, Kukenberger became a lightning rod for drama and conflict during her brief tenure as the superintendent of the public schools in Scarborough.

In November 2018, she signaled she would not seek an extension of her $148,000/year contract.

That decision followed a citizen-driven recall campaign and 70% of the Scarborough Education Association voting “no confidence” in the districts School Board and Kukenberger, according to a report in the Portland newspaper.

Kukenberger provoked parent ire in Scarborough by pushing for school start time changes, ousting a popular long-time school principal, and suspending student voter registration drives.

The straw the broke the camel’s back for Kukenberger’s time in Melrose appears to be a lingering $2.2 million shortfall in the school district budget.

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