Bloomfield Hills superintendent retires for ‘personal reasons’ following assembly controversy

Patrick Watson to retire July 31 to spend more time with family

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. – The superintendent of Bloomfield Hills Schools will retire this summer after fewer than four years in the role, according to an announcement made Tuesday.

Superintendent Patrick Watson will officially retire on July 31 after overseeing the Bloomfield Hills Schools community for 3.5 years. Watson said he decided to retire for “personal reasons,” and that he wants to spend more time with his family.

The announcement comes weeks after the school district came under fire following a controversial assembly at Bloomfield Hills High School. Some members of the community called for prominent district figures, like high school Principal Lawrence Stroughter, to resign after a Palestinian American activist spoke during a diversity assembly in a community with a significant Jewish population.

Members of the community criticized the school for allowing Huwaida Arraf, an attorney and well-known pro-Palestinian activist, to speak during a 10th grade assembly and called her remarks antisemitic. Arraf said, however, that criticizing Israeli policies toward Palestinians is not antisemitism.

“I am very much a part of the fight against antisemitism and all forms of racism and discrimination, and I came to speak as part of a diversity panel assembly talking about the dangers of racism and making people feel excluded,” Arraf said.

Stroughter was placed on leave at the end of March. He issued an apology to the community that did not name Arraf, but did blame her, “the speaker,” for allegedly deviating from what they had agreed to talk about.

Superintendent Watson also issued a letter to the community amid the controversy, saying the district “made a mistake” and accepts responsibility for “failing to guide our student organizers properly.”

“We have identified significant areas for improvement and we acknowledge we need to do better,” Watson wrote last month. “We deeply regret that our process failed our students and created division in our school. None of our students should carry the burden of this -- it falls squarely on the district.”

Watson did not mention the assembly controversy in his retirement announcement made on April 18. Instead, he named key moments and memories from his tenure, and complimented what he called the “talented, dedicated, and caring staff” in the district and their “incredible students.”

“Though this is a difficult decision, please know that I am truly committed to working with our Board of Education and administration to support BHS through the transition. I firmly believe that our district is well positioned for future success,” Watson wrote Tuesday. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to serve the students, staff, and community of Bloomfield Hills Schools as your superintendent.”

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.