By Halle Newman
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14- The Vermont Agency of Education (AOE) held the third hearing for Burlington High School (BHS) Director of Guidance Mario Macias. After a yearlong investigation, the AOE charged Macias with seven counts of unprofessional conduct, and Vermont Secretary of Education Daniel French recommended that Macias’s educator license be revoked. The first hearing took place on November 15 with a second hearing on December 13. Today’s hearing is expected to be the last until the hearing panel releases their decision in January.
The day started with a testimony from BHS alumni Mary Markley (class of 2018) via telephone. Markley said she found Macias to be unprofessional throughout her senior year when she was working with him to apply to college and for scholarships, notably the National Merit Scholarship.
The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition for scholarship established in 1955. Of the approximate 1.6 million entrants, 7500 earn scholarships based on the Finalist’s academic record, information about the school’s curricula and grading system, two sets of test scores, the high school official’s written recommendation, information about the student’s activities and leadership, and the Finalist’s own essay.
Markley said that Macias told her he hadn’t heard of the scholarship, but that he would try to help. To do so, he had to complete a recommendation.
Markley said she became concerned when Macias did not complete his part of the application.
“I didn’t want to lose out on the chance to win $2,500 dollars towards college,” Markley said.
She testified that Macias expressed an “inability” to fill out the form on her application. She and her mother scheduled a meeting with interim Principal Tracy Racicot to address the situation.
On the day of the meeting, Markley said she was repeatedly approached by Macias so he could tell her that he had completed the form. She said Macias pulled her out of class, confronted her in the BHS lobby, and interrupted the meeting with Racicot by knocking on the door for a long time until he finally let himself in.
“The meeting concluded with Ms. Racicot saying that she would stand behind her guidance department,” Markley said. “Even though I felt there was incompetence, she still wanted to continue to help Mr. Macias overcome any sort of these difficulties.”
Markley testified that Macias failed to send in an accurate GPA, a transcript from her senior year, and her midyear reports. Midyear reports are required by most colleges, and serve as updates on applicants. They typically include grades, any changes to the student’s progression in high school, or any general updates on the student, including awards and scholarships.
“[Macias told me that] We don’t do midyear reports at Burlington High School,” Markley said. “I decided to email [Macias] the exact statement put out by my colleges…about how they needed midyear reports from the first marking periods.”
Markley checked in with Simrat Peltier, another guidance counselor who resigned last June.
“[Peltier] pulled up my information online and she said that the information on the midyear reports that Mr. Macias filled out for me was incorrect,” Markley said. “The grades attached were listed as eleventh grade.”
Markley said her GPA and the GPA scale were both entered incorrectly in the report as well. She said she also thought that Macias never sent the report to one of the schools she applied to after he said he did.
“[Macias] often claimed to have done something that it turned out he had not done,” Markley said. “He seemed to change his account on what he’d done halfway through the conversation,” Markley said, referring to a conversation with Macias when she asked him how he had submitted her reports to Yale University. She was under the impression that Macias emailed Yale her reports, but later found out that Yale only accepted faxes. She confronted Macias again later that day about the issue.
“He raised his voice and told me that if I wanted a different guidance counselor, I could go get one,” Markley said. “Eventually, I did get a new guidance counselor.”
Markley said Macias made the college process significantly more stressful.
“It made me lose faith in the guidance department at BHS,” Markley said. “I just felt really disillusioned. I couldn’t trust him.”
After Markley’s testimony, Macias took to the stand. His lawyer, Francisco Guzman, questioned him for over an hour about his history as an educator and his job expectations at BHS.
In 2016 Macias applied for a middle school assistant principal position. Instead, Nikki Fuller, the Burlington School District Director of Human Resources, recommended him for the position of Director of Guidance at BHS.
“She thought I was a good candidate to be the director of school counseling,” Macias said. “I did such a good job in the other interview in which they wanted to bring more diversity to the school as well as to the [guidance] department…I got hired.”
Macias was hired in July of 2016.
Macias said he was surprised when the charges against him came out in September.
“I had never been written up in 20 years [of working in schools],” Macias said. “[I was] taken aback. It was a [tough] year that year…I was just surprised…I was offended especially with my 20 years of experience.”
Macias said he felt uncomfortable working at BHS after various press outlets reported the charges against him.
“I asked for paid administrative leave due to the fact that all my information was leaked to the press,” Macias said. [Disclaimer: The BHS Register obtained the AOE affidavit on Macias and published the charges against Macias through a lawful public records request on September 10.]
Macias said he brought positive change to the BHS Guidance Department as its director, and described how the office ran during his second year as director: 2017-2018.
“The communication was a lot better, [and] the environment was a lot safer, less toxic, more understanding of the leadership and what direction we were going to,” Macias said. “Each one of the counselors took more responsibility.”
Three of the counselors from the previous year (Larissa Urban, Yvette Amblo, and Adrien Preston) resigned after one year working under Macias. They were replaced by Simrat Peltier, Tony Settel, and Lise Bruder.
Macias said the Guidance Office better met the needs of students that year.
“[Students] started to come to the office more and we tried to keep an open door policy,” Macias said. “We saw that each one of them got service.”
Macias continued to testify later that day, but the Register had to leave the hearing. This article will be updated with information regarding the rest of the hearing when information is available. Stay tuned.