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More turmoil in the Skyline principal’s office

The principalship at Oakland’s largest high school is notorious for its political challenges. It’s no place for beginners. But from what I’ve heard, Skyline High School‘s various factions have embraced Al Sye, a veteran administrator — and the latest in a string of people to inhabit the principal’s office.

Recently, however, Sye became the subject of a central office investigation, and it remains to be seen how long he’ll stay at Skyline, or whether he’ll return for a second year. Chris Dobbins, a school board member who represents the high school, said Sye is off for two weeks, but didn’t say why.

What happened? According to unnamed sources cited in OakBook, an Oakland news Web site, four people anonymously accused Sye of making racially inappropriate comments and touching female colleagues in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.

Dobbins (who faced an inquiry of his own in 2007), told me last week that he supports the principal. He said he couldn’t comment on the details of the investigation, but that he hoped that Sye would remain at the helm of the school, which is undergoing a major academic overhaul under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

If Sye does leave as a result of this controversy, the school will have to hire its third principal in less than three years. Sye replaced Heidi Green, who left the district last June after being re-assigned to another Oakland school. Green’s predecessor, Amy Hansen, quit in August 2006, shortly before the start of the school year, leaving Skyline without a principal for weeks, if not months.

I used to get all kinds of complaints about the leadership (or the lack of a principal) at Skyline. This year, by contrast, it seems that Skyline’s African-American parent group, its PTSA, its teachers, its neighbors, and its students generally back the new principal and his vision for improving the school.

Wandra Boyd, of the group Concerned Parents of African American Students, says Skyline is not perfect, but it’s the first time in 14 years that she has experienced such unity of purpose there. Boyd told me she hoped the rumor — that Sye is being driven out of Skyline — was just that: a rumor.

What would happen to the school, and the students, if Skyline’s leadership were to change, yet again?

photo courtesy of The Skyline Oracle

Katy Murphy

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

  • Caroline

    One weird thing is that Amy Hansen was — well, a very poor fit in the job she left Skyline to accept — principal of San Francisco’s Lowell High School in San Francisco, where she was technically “interim” and lasted only a year, to the relief of the Lowell community. (Sorry if she’s reading this, which I realize may well be the case.)

    I was startled, when I was hearing all the complaints about her from my friends who are Lowell parents, to make friends with a Skyline parent and hear that she was respected and lamented at Skyline. This is some kind of lesson about giving a lot of thought to changing jobs.

    Where is she now — maybe she could come back to Skyline if this guy doesn’t work out?

  • Jose, Former Student

    Caroline,

    I was a student during Mrs. Hansen and Ms. Green’s time. The school was a first class joke from a student’s view. They had no structure and students did as we wanted to during those days. Ms. Green was always in her office working on her research for graduate school. Mrs Hansen was a little better about being seen in the school.

    My bother said, “Mr. Sye makes sure students get to class, he stops in classes to check on us, and there is more structure. It is great for our school.”

    One day, I was at the school with my mother to check out my brother. Mr. Sye asked my name and if I was going to college. I told him yes. He smiled at me and said, “Make the Skyline family proud.” He shoke my hand and hugged my mother.

    Can you believe this was the first time a principal of the school had taking the time to talk with me? I think he is great. He is changing things at Skyline for the better for my bother and other students.

  • Oakland Teacher

    Unfortunately (for OUSD), Ms Hansen is happily back at Berkeley High, teaching science as she did for many, many years. While I certainly thought of her (wishfully) after reading the above, let’s wait to hear the full story on Mr. Sye before jumping to the gun. I believe the last thing Skyline needs is another change of leadership (barring there being real info, not rumor, that has not yet come out).

    I would say that Skyline improved while Ms Hansen was there, but being principal at that school is a thankless job, and I am not surprised she left. She gave it 4 good years.

  • skyline teacher

    Mr. Sye has been on the job a few months. He has not improved the school, nor made it worse. He is still getting his feet wet.

    There are just as many cutters in the halls as in year’s previous, Jose, your brother’s POV aside.

    I’m not going to get into details, but this idea that there is consensus approval for Sye is silly. Right now, he’s just the latest guy trying to convince folks he’s the real deal.

    [If you know Skyline, you'd know there's NEVER consensus on anything!]

    What there is, however, is a feeling of desperation that we will ever have stable leadership. If Sye is out, we will have our fourth principal in as many years. Meanwhile, under state and federal mandates a “redesign” of the school is being rushed through.

    Here’s a trivia question: Why is Skyline in that latter stages of the “Program Improvement” process and thus forced to redesign?

    Trivia answer: We can’t get 90% of tenth graders to take the CAHSEE.

    Surreal.