Shhh, listen… Is that the sound of optimism?

Debora Rinehart was sure she’d hear a pack of lies about parent involvement when she showed up to last night’s Joaquin Miller/Montera principal selection meeting.


But she left so optimistic about the interview process — which includes a panel of parents from each school who roughly reflect its demographics — she was inspired to write a letter to the Tribune. (“I could be wrong,” she stipulated to me over the phone.)


I’m very interested in leadership issues as well as parent involvement. So, being the nosy reporter I am, I’m angling to sit in on the upcoming audition at one of the schools. We’ll see how that goes over.


If you attended last night’s meeting — or another one elsewhere in the district — please share your experiences and your hopes for a new principal.


Here is Debora’s letter, which will probably appear in the paper in the near future:

Transparency in Principal Section

We got the letter in the mail during the Fourth of July holiday. Our principal at Joaquin Miller School had retired effective July 1, 2007. In the ensuing discussions with friends, neighbors and colleagues, it was discovered that the principal and the Administrative Assistant of Montera Middle had also retired at the end of the school year.

We all know that the State runs nearly every aspect of the Oakland Unified School District. There was to be a meeting, first at Joaquin Miller School, then changed to Montera Middle School to accommodate more parents. We walked in jaded, “knowing” the district was going to assign the “right” principal to our school – and to Montera, for that matter.

I was wrong. What we found is that there will be representation from the teachers and the parents in the process. The process will be open – dare I say, transparent. The parents will be representative of the schools, African American, Asian, Hispanic and White, parents and teachers of GATE kids, Special Education kids and the students who show up every day and do their best work and those who are not working up to their potential. In the end, we will choose a principal who will lead our school, and our students toward success and atmosphere of learning and acceptance. Last night we walked out of the Principal Selection Meeting with renewed hope for transparency, for a great future leader of our school and for a school district that’s on the right track.

Debora Rinehart

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Kate Wilson

    Dear Debora,

    Don’t let the district fool you! Those are the same feelings we all had regarding Maxwell Park and Skyline but in the end we as parents and community members had no say. It was a “Make them Feel Good” scam. They already knew who they wanted and went ahead with their plans regardless of what we said. It was a very sneaky way of doing things just like the “options process” for school selection. They make it sound as if the parents can send their children anywhere but it is still based on your home address like always. People still have to use friends’ addresses or get the required ID with bogus addresses in the school neighborhood of chose (this is still very easy to do). The district does not have the brains or support to check out false IDs. My children are all grown now but the same games are being played by both sides with different names.

  • Debora Rinehart


    I am optimistic and will keep an open mind. I believe the difference between the two sets of environments is that while there was great support for Maxwell Park and Skyline, the students are severely underperforming with regard to test scores. When the dynamic of test scores come into play, I honestly believe the power is taken away from students, parents and teachers because administrators are under tremendous pressure to increase the scores. In addition, we wanted out school district back from state control so we had to show “strong leadership.”

    The scores for Asian and White students without disabilities at Joaquin Miller are VERY high. African American students are below par, but not enough to bring the school below 800. I believe that’s what will make this process different. I believe the new principal we select MUST be held accountable for bringing in a program or assistance so that the scores of African American children is on par with white children.

    I am optimistic, cautiously optimistic. And I understand this is about class, and race, and socio-economics as much as test scores.

  • Debora Rinehart

    The optimism was real – the process was real and the outcome is real!

    Montera Middle School has a new principal – Russom Mesfun!

    The principal was chosen using the platform outlined in July. The teachers, parents and district worked together and chose together.

    Great choice, Russom Mesfun knows the Oakland Unified School District, has worked with the past graduates of Montera Middle School and has made a commitment to the Montera community.

    It’s doesn’t get much better than that!

  • Maria

    I know one can’t please everyone and I don’t know anything about the new Montera principal except for what I found on the net, but these puzzled me – his previous school’s community seems to be happy to see him go:

    1. Some interesting opinion about our new principal – scroll down to see under comments: http://www.lodinews.com/articles/2007/08/15/news/5_regional_070815.txt

    2. Another one:

  • Debora Rinehart

    In speaking to a parent that was on the committee, it should be noted that Russom Mesfun was committed to school safety, implementing the steps for the GATE programs that had begun last year, increasing the test scores for all students (scores for African-American students have been typically 100 points lower than their white counterparts) and working with the Joaquin Miller principal to reduce the incidences of student misbehavior on the JM school site.

    I do know that Russom was the top choice and that the committee feels good about the choice.

  • georgia smith

    Dear Miss Reinhart,
    BE CAREFUL telling people that the new principal of Montera was the BEST choice. We can assure you that those of us here in Lodi so wish we had checked his references BEFORE we bought his charm and safety BS story. Our children were at Christa McAuliffe and we have never met a more controlling, egotistical, hater of African American kids, special education kids–bascally any kids who do not idolize him right away. This man should not be in education that involves either children or human beings. We caught him in so many lies and deceits it was unbelieveable…..both toward the teachers he claimed to have supported but consistently undermined to our children GOOGLE this man…….it will scare the heck right out of you and anyone who can read. He has two other alias’s which for someone who is supposed to be an educator, we can’t find a REASON FOR THAT and quite frankly scares us to death for him to be around my children. Tread carefully because you in Oakland will experience the most dreadful and dysfunctional year of your children’s education. Call teachers in Lodi or in Morgan Hill if you want to know what really happens once he is in the building. Sad but true.

  • Katy Murphy

    Here is a link to an article in The (Stockton) Record about Mesfun. It was written last December, mid-way through his first year at McAuliffe, and it’s fairly flattering.


    Last week, the same newspaper referred to Mesfun as a “polarizing figure.”

  • Anonymous Person

    Katy, That MAY be a flattering article, but it’s also one sided and FILLED with misinformation. The reporter took bits and peices of quotes to share, to make the man look good. I, too had to deal with the ramifications of the district hiring this man, and it made my home life unbearable for quite a while because of him. He drove many of his teachers to their Doctors for anxiety medications just so they could get through their day. The teachers were VERY afraid to say anything negative about this man for fear of their jobs. He is a bully, harasser, and a complete liar.

  • to katy

    Katy, Please be aware that the article you referred to in December was written by Mr.Mesfun and about Mr. Mesfun. It was completely inaccurate, but the paper wanted information on the school. Yes I agree it was quite flattering, but it was not true at all. He did not inspire respect, he demanded it and bullied his way through. Thank goodness he is gone.

  • Melinda Zeyen

    I am afraid that Georgia Smith, Anonymous Person, and “to katy” are right on the money. Russom Mesfun should not be a principal at ANY school. He practically destroyed ours (Christa McAuliffe Middle School, Stockton).

    Unfortunately, Mr. Mesfun doesn’t know how to manage. He has terrible people skills. He thinks the whole world should revolve around him. And if it doesn’t, he will call you into his office and ream you out. Many people have had the union rep sit in on the meeting because they are afraid of what he might do or say. Many students, parents, and teachers have left his office in tears. Many people go out of their way to avoid this man.

    This man came into leadership at our school last August. This man is like no other person I have ever worked with. I truly feel that , because of what he has done (and not done), he should not be working in an educational setting, should not be responsible for managing others, should not be allowed to wield his power over others.

    Even though his big talk is to “respect the teachers, he does not treat others with respect. He treats his staff like they do not know what they are doing. He tells the veteran teachers exactly what they should be doing in their classrooms even though the teachers have been very successful in many years of teaching. He nitpicks the tiniest of details and yet does not see the big picture.

    But don’t trust what he says. He lies. He has lied a number of times to both students and staff and yet when confronted with the facts, he denies them.

    Whatever support he has comes from 1) people who do not know what is going on at the school and takes what ever he says at face value, or 2) he coerced them into being on his side. He has no rational base to explain any of this to be any more than a quest for power using deceit and lies.

    I hope that this man can realize that he does not have what it takes to be a principal.

  • Jim Mordecai

    I have always believed in staff and parent involvement in principal selection. I still believe in it, although my only exerience in being involved in selecting a principal resulted in joining in an unaminous selection in a total disaster of a principal.

    The gentleman was a good actor at the interview but was without either principles or a care for the welfare of children. Adventurely he was caught in a financial scandal and, at that time, one of the few principals fired by the District.

    A good interview doesn’t necessarily make for a good principal. So the question may become what is to be done if the selection committee got it wrong?

    Hopefully that is a question that the teachers and parents at Montera will not have to ask.

  • Esther

    If the information about the principal of Montera is true, are the parents and community going to sit back and
    allow the students, other administrators, teachers, office staff, custodial staff and the community to spend the 2007/2008 school year being bullied by the principal?

  • Rhodes

    Mesfun is not new to OUSD. He was assistant principal at Skyline before he left to wherever. Stdents loved him at Skyline and some even called him “dad”……………..Welcome back Mesfun!!!

  • concerned parent

    We were initially impressed by Mr. Mesfun and fully believed he was a man of conviction and dedication.
    However, based on a recent action, we have our doubts. Our son was suspended for three
    days for “…playing with a friend, twirling his body around. His friend hit a pole very hard and had to
    be taken to the hospital.”

    Both students admitted it was an accident. Mr. Mesfun and the VP in charge said the same. Yet, our son was

    Montera is a school that needs someone with the drive of Mr. Mesfun, but also someone who does not have the morals to achieve the “ends by any means.”

  • Debora

    Concerned Parent: I agree with the decision to suspend your son. The child who needed to be taken to the hospital should have been suspended as well. As one of the parents who attended the meetings to hire principals at both Joaquin Miller and Montera, student safety, and reduction of rough-housing which was intimidating other students was one of the items we wanted the new principal to handle. Mr. Mesfun has handled the issue. Parents of students and the students themselves are not used to be accountable for their behavior. They should have been all along.

    The type of rough-housing displayed by your son and his friend are not appropriate for school hallways. I hope he used his suspension time to study.

  • Cindy

    I will be meeting with the new principal soon and will ask the hard questions for my son’s sake.
    I believe that being hard on the kids at the middle school level is a MUST. I will not complain if the man
    is just asking for excellent results and respect.

  • http://www.lodinews.com/articles/2008/03/22/news/4_suit_080322.txt Mary Smith

    March 20, 2008

    Three former Christa McAuliffe Middle School teachers have filed a lawsuit against the school’s former principal, Russom Mesfun, and Lodi Unified School District.

    In the lawsuit, Tracey Singh, Sharon Verle and Kevin Duncan, all white and older than 40, accuse Mesfun, who is black, of “creating an atmosphere in which older employees, white employees, female employees and disabled employees” were discriminated and retaliated against and received unequal treatment.

    The suit, filed in San Joaquin County Superior Court on Feb. 27 by San Francisco attorney Stephen Jaffe, says Mesfun favored minority and young, female employees. The teachers are seeking more than $25,000 each for damages and attorney’s fees.

  • Small Town Kid


    Nextset is right on this – students are absolutely not qualified to have an opinion on security cameras in school. This is something that needs to be dealt with at the schoolboard/administration/faculty/adult level.

    There are definitely other school districts that use them…

  • Small Town Kid


    Nextset is right on this – students are absolutely not qualified to have an opinion on security cameras in school. This is something that needs to be dealt with at the schoolboard/administration/faculty/adult level.

    There are definitely other school districts that use them…

  • Small Town Kid

    Gordon Danning:

    I misspoke about this topic. Earlier I said, “students are absolutely not qualified to have an opinion on security cameras in school.” Of course, they have opinions – thinking about and discussing issues is part of learning to become an adult.

    I meant to say that students are not qualified to make the decision on whether to have security cameras or not. That’s up to the administration and school board.

  • Gordon Danning

    Small Town Kid:

    I certainly did not mean to say that students should be the ones to make the decision. Heck, they haven’t even consulted teachers. But any security measure involves some diminution in personal liberty, and that needs to be balanced against the benefits to be derived from that new measure. The District really should get student input, because they might learn a thing or two. For example, two of my female students spontaneously responded to the fact that someone downtown will be monitoring school hallways as “creepy.” Unfortunately, the District has a long history of implementing decisions without consulting those directly affected, and as a result money and resources are often used suboptimally. You should see the graffiti magnet that the district created when they did reconstruction at my site last year.

  • Nextset

    Gordon Danning: I do agree that students should be canvassed by faculty and administration so that their observation on everything from the food service to security are well known. I strongly object to any pretense that students have decision making input on important decisions. That difference should be made clear to the students, staff and parents. Students do not run the school and in no way at all are responsible for management or operations.

    As far as the thread about the new administrator –

    I would be very concerned about the data involving his character and behavior at San Joaquin County. If this material is substantially true it is a huge red flag for an unsuitable personality to be on the property. Having said that you are not looking for “Nice Guys” when you hire school disciplinarians. You might even want a hypervigilant ACOA type. They are not always fun personalities. They are their to get a job done, not to be anybody’s buddy.

    Concerned Parent: As far as him suspending a student involved in horseplay that sent a fellow student to the hospital – get a grip woman! People (boys) involved in something like that really do need to take 3 days to think about their ways and what changes are required. Or maybe only 2 days. The point is that you have to back the exercise of reasonable discretion of your staff even if you disagree with it and would have made a different decision perhaps if you had that job at that time. Unless no reasonable administrator would have done the 3 day suspension it’s a closed case.

    And you should train your kiddie to respect adult authority and not whine every time they are on the losing end of an administrative decision – otherwise they grow up behaving like an indulged brat. And negligence is to be punished – especially when it injures people. Boys need to learn that even more than girls. I have watched young people get prison terms for DUI crashes. No prior criminal history. What do you think happens to a 20 year old kid in state prison? Other times people lose eyes and hands and we hear the “didn’t MEAN it” BS. You should thank this man for working with your kid and helping him learn a lesson that you aren’t having to teach. That’s what school staff do all day.

  • Skyline Teacher

    Katy Wilson: Who is this Skyline principal who was forced on us? Unless you are going deep into the archives, I assume you are talking about the district’s decision not to retain Mr. Sye after his first year.

    Mr. Sye was not a terrible person, but he was not all that as a principal, I can assure you. Mostly, he seemed paralyzed by the scope of the school’s issues and lack of resources. He presented well at his interview and he could give a “fired up” speech but it was more style than substance.

    The current principal rocks, btw, but she is a temp out of retirement, unfortunately. The new selection process is underway.

    The key is getting some qualified applicants, that has been the problem in recent years — no competition for the job.