School communities throughout the Mountain View Whisman School District are demanding answers after a surprise move by school board members last week to remove four school principals from their posts.
In an email sent Friday, March 2, Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph told parents that the board approved "several administrative changes" effective June 30, including the removal of Landels Elementary School Principal Steve Chesley, Theuerkauf Elementary Principal Ryan Santiago, Mistral Elementary Principal Marcela Simoes de Carvalho and Graham Middle School Principal Kim Thompson, all of whom were "offered another position in the district."
District officials have declined to comment on why the decision was made, citing confidentiality surrounding personnel issues.
Since the announcement, parents have rallied together and launched petitions to reinstate both Thompson and Chesley, and say the school communities have a right to know why the district office and the school board are replacing top administrators from nearly half of the district's nine schools in one fell swoop.
Graham parent Alan Wessel, whose online petition to retain Thompson as principal has already received more than 700 signatures, said Thompson made strides to turn Graham in the wonderful, high-achieving school it is today. Thompson has worked "tirelessly" to support all community members, particularly the less-privileged children enrolled in the school.
"As a parent, I'm devastated, because I can't imagine Graham without Kim Thompson," Wessel told the Voice. "And I can't understand how this kind of a decision could be made without consultation of the Graham community."
Graham PTA president Hafsa Mirza said she and other parents were "shocked" by the news, and that Thompson has been engaged administrator who has been deeply involved in PTA and English Language Advisory Committee (ELAC) meetings during her tenure. Parents are uneasy to see her leave, she said, particularly when the district is poised to adopt a new eight-period schedule next year.
"This is something where the district owes parents an explanation," Mirza said. "Whatever their decision is based on, I think it's very important that we are given background on why this is happening so suddenly, with all the changes coming."
Graham ELAC president Janett Campos told the Voice that she's been receiving a stream of phone calls and text messages from parents worried about Thompson leaving the school, which she said would be a huge loss for the Latino community at Graham. She has not only supported programs like the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE), but has taken the time to show up at every single one of the sessions, Campos said.
During the workshops, Campos said Thompson has made sure to provide families with dinner and child care, as well as tutoring from teachers on site. For families who speak English as a second language or don't have a college education, losing Thompson amounts to losing their top advocate at the school, she said.
"She has given a voice to the Hispanic community," she said. "We're going to fight, and do what we can to keep fighting for her."
The Friday announcement said that Heidi Galassi, the assistant principal at Graham, has been reassigned to become the new principal of Landels Elementary, and that Santiago has been reassigned as the new assistant principal at Graham. That leaves in place only Assistant Principal Vern Taylor, who was appointed to the position at Graham last October.
As a result, Graham's entire leadership staff will have had little tenure at the school when the new bell schedule launches in August.
A second petition was launched to reinstate Chesley, which garnered close to 300 signatures as of Monday morning. Landels parent and PTA member Claire Blake emailed trustees saying she was "shocked and saddened" by the announcement to remove Chesley as principal, and that parents have been asking her for some kind of explanation.
"All of them were saddened and angry at this news," she said. "The lack of transparency around these changes is not only disappointing, but unfair to our community. The fact that the Landels community was not able to express any opinion on this is upsetting and not acceptable."
Parents are planning to host an open forum on Wednesday, March 7, for the Landels Community, which is being billed as an opportunity to discuss the leadership changes and ways to take action. The event is set to start at 6:30 p.m. at the Madera Lounge in Building B located at 455 W. Evelyn Ave.
Board president Laura Blakely told the Voice in an email that she is limited by the Brown Act and confidentiality protections for personnel, but said the board and district administrators arrived at the "extremely difficult" decision to change leadership at several schools, which she referred to as a "necessary" move to best serve the students at Landels, Mistral, Theuerkauf and Graham.
Blakely said the school board voted to release the principals based on several factors including performance, evaluations, survey results and student academic performance for more than a year, and that each administrator was contacted by district leadership on "multiple occasions" leading up to last Friday's announcement. She said she worked personally with the principals and respects and values their contributions, and that the decision was in the best interest of the students.
"I find the whole situation heartbreaking," Blakely said. "Sadly, popularity and likability on their own are not sufficient to ensure effective instructional leadership and great educational outcomes for kids."
Board members Jose Gutierrez and Tamara Wilson did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and board members Ellen Wheeler and Greg Coladonato declined to comment, deferring to Blakely.
The administrative shuffle comes after a number of key staffing changes in recent years, which has led to new leadership at every single school in the district within the last five years. After June 30, the longest serving district principal will be Terri Lambert, who has led Castro Elementary since the 2013-14 school year.
Galassi rose through the district's ranks from a math coach to being named assistant principal at Graham last year, before district officials named her as the new Landels principal last Friday. Galassi was among the staffers who struggled to implement the district's sixth-grade digital math program Teach To One, which was scrapped partway through the 2016-17 school year after vocal parent opposition and a series of administrative missteps over the handling of its half-million dollar contract.