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Is it something in the air? Neighboring school principals retire unexpectedly

By Katy Murphy
Monday, July 16th, 2007 at 5:03 pm in leadership changes, people, resignations.

 Thursday update: The location of the meeting has been changed to the Montera cafeteria.

The longtime principals of Joaquin Miller Elementary School and its next-door neighbor, Montera Middle School, retired this month — much to the surprise of some parents.

Some learned about the departures of Linda Lu and Cheryl Rodby through letters mailed home. Others, such as Maria Ku, found out through a Yahoo! group for Montera families. (What would parents do without their online networks?)

Before new leaders are chosen, district staff say, they want to gather input from families. A meeting for parents at both schools is scheduled at 7 p.m. July 23 in the Montera cafeteria.

Eric Nelson, a central office administrator who oversees Joaquin Miller, says people will split into small groups, according to school, and discuss “the skills and characteristics they’re hoping to see in their principal.”

District staff will meet with teachers earlier in the day to ask the same questions.

Ku notes a potential problem with the setup: Many families, she says, have kids at both schools. Are they expected to choose one child over the other?

Nelson says it will be easy for people to float from one side of the room to the other, but Ku isn’t convinced that will work. “How can a meaningful discussion happen with people running back and forth?” Ku asked.

I attended a PTA meeting just last month at Montera. One of the topics of discussion was campus discipline and an upcoming consultant’s report on ways to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and referrals. There was no mention of a leadership change.

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  • Hills and Flats

    Hmm…. Interesting. Does the district give the same consideration to parents at schools in the flatlands? When was the last time that parents below 580 were given a chance to discuss “the skills and characteristics they’re hoping to see in their principal.” If only the parents in these schools were faced with the terrible dilemma presented to Ms. Ku. My goodness, the challenges of having to move between conversations!

  • Katy Murphy

    Actually, I believe it does. In June, I attended a similar “skills and characteristics” session at Fruitvale Elementary School, which is definitely in the flatlands. Of course, parents were so floored by the sudden retirement of Ms. Ivey that some chose to protest, instead.

  • Maria Ku

    Soliciting input from community in principal selection is currently a standard process in
    ALL OUSD schools. I’ve heard that this process was successful in Bret Harte Middle
    school last year.

    A different question is on how OUSD informs parents of their right to participate in the
    process – very many parents at JM & Montera have not been officially notified of neither
    their principals retirement, nor the upcoming meeting.

    Another elementary school parents tell me that when they put their time and effort into
    their principal selection two years ago, they then were told by a School Board member
    that the principal actually had been selected by OUSD before their input was ever
    solicited.

    I’m wondering if all that’s going on with JM & Montera now is just a show, too. . .

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    Principal Turnover in OUSD is a serious problem. At some point the District has to ask itself: why are so many Principals quiting OUSD or retiring?. Sherman Elementary had 4 principals in 5 years. Maxwell has had 2 in the last 3 years. Why can’t the district retain Principals?

  • Katy Murphy

    Eric Nelson, who works with elementary schools in OUSD, e-mailed me this statement in response to the blog, which I offered to post:

    “Every OUSD central office staff is committed to changing the perception that OUSD is not responsive to the needs of students and schools. Director of Leadership Services Joel Baum and I, who will facilitate the principal selection input meeting for Joaquin Miller and Montera Middle School on July 23rd, have made ourselves available via phone and email to listen to each and every parent that wants to give input. This was communicated via letter to every parent at both schools. We want as much input as possible in order to find principals at each school that will be a great fit for the communities and kids that we serve.

    The OUSD principal selection process is very comprehensive and involves the input and thoughts of literally hundreds of folks adding up to thousands of hours of time spent to find high quality leaders. We know that this is an important decision for every child and parent, and we put the utmost care and expertise into the decision.

    Eric Nelson
    Network Executive Officer
    OUSD”

  • Maria Ku

    About Eric Nelson’s statement about that himself & Joel Baum “have made ourselves available via phone and email to listen to each and every parent that wants to give input”.

    I contacted Joel Baum on July 11 as soon as I first read his announcement of the joint meeting. There was no reply or acknowledgement of receipt of my email for the first 6 days. Yesterday I tried calling his both phone numbers (which incidentally say, on July 17, “I’ll be back on July 9″, so I guess he doesn’t check them that often?), and I left him a telephone message yesterday morning, also alerting him to my never-replied-to email message.

    Finally, he both called & emailed me at 4:45pm yesterday asking me to call him back so that he could talk to me on the phone. I’ll call him when I’ll have a chance.

    So much for making themselves available. . .

  • Turner Dodge

    “James Jones, Jr., Parent, said: Principal Turnover in OUSD is a serious problem. At some point the District has to ask itself: why are so many Principals quiting OUSD or retiring?. Sherman Elementary had 4 principals in 5 years. Maxwell has had 2 in the last 3 years. Why can’t the district retain Principals?”

    James, being a principal is the hardest job in the district. They need to balance the needs of the students versus the demands of the teachers, the wishes of the parents, the regulations of the state and the orders of the state administrator. They are always between a rock and a hard place.

    The district knows why the principals are leaving. Retaining them is just not a priority. If it was, this would not be happening. The principals would be getting what they need to have their schools function normally.

    What OUSD needs to do is stop overburdening the principals with unnecessary stuff; let them lead their schools; stop playing budget politics and give them the money they need. Then hold them accountable to reasonable goals, not ridiculous lofty untested theoretical fluff concocted by those Broad residents.

  • James Jones, Jr., Parent, etc.

    Turner, that the job is difficult is beside the point. Any organization experiencing a high-rate of turnover in a key leadership position, has to take a serious look into why that is. It doesn’t matter how elaborate and open your Principal Selection process is if you can’t retain them. Also, I believe Teacher job satisfaction and, ultimately, teacher turnover is connected to Principal turnover. It must be hell to have new leaders with new personalities and new visions and leadership styles every year or so.