Westbrook schools’ athletic director, whose suspension of about 30 high school athletes was overturned last fall by a controversial decision, has submitted his resignation, citing the “incestuous culture of the community” among his reasons.
Marc Sawyer, who will leave at the end of June after two years in the position, said Tuesday that he thought his “dream job” would be serving as athletic and activities director for Westbrook schools, which he attended. As it turned out, he said, “It wasn’t the right fit.”
In a letter to Superintendent Marc Gousse, dated Saturday, Sawyer said he was unable to improve the athletic and activities program because of “the incestuous culture of the community, individuals placing their own needs ahead of the overall group, and the inability for many to understand appropriate boundaries.”
Sawyer, 41, said Tuesday that his letter didn’t refer to specific incidents, but to an overall “difference in philosophy” between him and the community, particularly about holding students accountable for their actions.
“Almost from the very beginning, my decision-making was being challenged because people had concerns about where my allegiances were,” he said.
In February, an investigator’s report about the school department’s decision to overturn the suspensions of student-athletes who attended a drinking party in October identified problems that included a lack of support for administrators from parents and officials.
Sawyer, who made the initial decision to suspend the students, said the fallout from that incident isn’t his reason for leaving but was “a defining moment” in his time at Westbrook.
He said he has no job lined up for next year.
Gousse would not comment on the content of Sawyer’s letter, but acknowledged that “this year, in particular, presented some challenges for our community.”
He said Sawyer’s announcement came “completely out of the blue” for him.
“His resignation will leave a void in our school and our community,” Gousse said.
Michelle Fournier, a teacher at Westbrook High School who was an outspoken critic of the administration throughout the suspension controversy, said she’s sad to see Sawyer go.
“This is another example of a good person that we are losing, and I am afraid we will continue to lose good people if the culture and climate of our school department does not change,” she said.
The report by John Alfano, a Biddeford-based labor mediator, led to a series of community forums about the high school’s culture. A committee is now working on a proposal to improve the district’s alcohol policy, which the investigator found unenforceable.
The current policy says student-athletes who are “knowingly present” where there is alcohol are in violation.
Sawyer allowed four girls who were at the party to attend their soccer banquet, after he decided that one of them hadn’t violated the policy and before he had a chance to interview the others.
When Principal Jon Ross found out that the girls were at the banquet, he determined that the investigation was flawed and overturned all of the suspensions, suddenly enabling several football players to play in a playoff game that day.
The decision prompted an outcry from the community and accusations of preferential treatment for the athletes, including a son of a school board member.
Although the report didn’t accuse any school officials of malfeasance, it did fault them for creating an appearance of favoritism. It also attributed the handling of the situation to administrators’ lack of experience with such matters.
Sawyer, a 1991 Westbrook High graduate, worked as a health and physical education teacher and baseball coach at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish before being hired as Westbrook’s athletics and activities director in July 2012.
He has a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education from the University of Maine, and a master’s degree in health education and a certificate of advanced graduate study from the University of New England.
“I am very appreciative that the city of Westbrook provided an inexperienced hometown kid with the opportunity to lead their Athletics and Activities,” Sawyer wrote in his letter. But “leaving with integrity is far more important to me and my family than anything else.”
Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: