Kennebunk High School theater director Michael Herman announced his resignation effective immediately Wednesday morning, in an effort to save the winter musical production of “As You Like It.”
Herman, who was hired in September to run the new theater at KHS, had originally submitted his resignation to be effective March 30, which would have been after the production was completed. Herman came under fire for creating two fake Facebook profiles, which he acknowledged were an attempt to gain access to two private Facebook groups, “KBK Moms” and “Not Quite KBK Moms,” where he says members were criticizing his program.
“Last night we received word from the superintendent that indicated she was dangerously close to shutting down the show due to ongoing and increasing pressure being put on her and the school board,” Herman said in a statement Wednesday morning. “This is simply not an option that we are willing to live with – it is unfair to the students and as we have always said, they come first.”
Herman said he has tendered his resignation and stepped away from the show as director. Superintendent Katie Hawes issued a statement shortly after Herman’s announcement saying “In light of recent events, I have determined that it is in the best interest of the district to discontinue Michael Herman’s involvement with the production, effective immediately. I believe the current situation and its level of disruption to the educational learning environment have become untenable. As superintendent of schools, I am responsible for ensuring a safe and secure learning environment for all students, and I have based my decision on that primary responsibility.”
After the fake Facebook profiles were discovered and brought to the attention of administrators, Herman said he was given a resignation letter by school officials and asked to sign it late last week. He then received support from students in the theater program and earlier this week considered rescinding his resignation. That changed Wednesday morning.
“This is not the resolution that we all hoped for, but I’m just not willing to hurt the kids anymore,” Herman said in his statement. “I am so humbled by and grateful to all of you who put your reputations, friendships, and energy on the line throughout all of this and I am heartened by the fact that this community will be able to experience this show and its message of love in spite of and especially in the face of adversity.”
The musical adaptation of “As You Like It” is currently cast and in full rehearsal. The play is set to open March 1 with more showings March 2-3 and March 9-11.
Hawes said Herman’s wife, Rachael Yoder, who has been the assistant director of the production and has an extensive background in theater, will continue the play without his involvement.
“I am confident that we can see this production through in a positive and meaningful way,” she said.
Herman added that Chiara Klein, founder of MaineStage Shakespeare, which Herman and Yoder are part of the leadership team of, will step in to assist Yoder. The KHS production of “As You Like It” is a collaboration with MaineStage Shakespeare and The Public Theater in New York.
District officials became aware of Herman’s fake Facebook profiles via email on Jan. 24 after being alerted by Kennebunk resident Leslie Trentalange, who in addition to administrators, notified the RSU 21 School Board and the Kennebunk Police Department. In her email, Trentalange said, “An employee of RSU 21 at Kennebunk High School has been using his RSU 21 email account to set up fake Facebook accounts, join a local Facebook group, post insulting and inflammatory comments and ‘Facebook friend’ a number of Kennebunk minors and KHS students and parents.”
Trentalange does not have a child in the theater programs at KHS, but said she fears that Herman is a “safety risk” to the students. She said there are others who feel the same way.
“I fear that if someone would go to such lengths to hide his identity so he could ‘speak out’ with hostility on social media, he presents a safety risk,” Trentalange wrote in her email.
Theater parent Gregg Dinino adamantly disagreed.
“I trust those two implicitly. I see in Michael what we would all classify as a good teacher and a good leader. He challenges them and sets the bar high. He strikes a great balance. It’s been terrific to watch his interaction with the kids. The kids feel like this is suddenly a big deal, suddenly it’s in a whole new league because of Michael and Rachel and the experience they bring. These are kids who in many cases feel kind of left out in high school,” he said.
Dinino said he has known Herman and Yoder for at least 10 years, through his daughter, Ana, a KHS senior involved with MaineStage Shakespeare. Herman appointed Dinino set designer of the KHS fall play “The Crucible” and he said he has put dozens of hours in on the set of “As You Like It.”
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