By Theresa Harrington
Two Mt. Diablo district administrators met with parents at Sequoia Middle School in Pleasant Hill yesterday to find out what kind of principal would suit the campus.
About 11 parents showed up, after teachers met with Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and Support, and Julie Braun-Martin, assistant superintendent for personnel.
Parents said they want a principal who will continue the excellence at the school and support the teachers and staff the way former Principal Hellena Postrk did. Postrk has been promoted to a position in the district office, where she will coach other principals about how to improve their schools, Lock said.
One parent said she wasn’t aware Postrk had been promoted until she received a district message informing her about the parent meeting.
Braun-Martin explained that the district developed a spring eligibility pool of candidates for high school and middle school openings. The board appointed Bill Morones as principal of Ygnacio Valley High June 15, replacing Carolyn Plath, who retired.
The district first paper screens candidates and then forwards those they’re interested in to first round interviews, Braun-Martin said. These interviews include a parent representative, classified staff rep and teacher rep.
For Sequoia, parent club president Nancy Morgan is the rep who sat in on interviews Monday. Morgan said she is not allowed to discuss the interviews.
After the first round, some candidates are fowarded to a second round interview with Superintendent Steven Lawrence and other district office administrators, including Lock and Braun-Martin. Lawrence will be given the list of qualities Sequoia parents are looking for, Braun-Martin said.
If he believes he has a good match, he will forward a recommendation to the board in July. If not, the district could pursue another round of applicants and might seek an interim principal, who would most likely be a recently retired principal, Braun-Martin said.
Lock cautioned that the district is not looking for an exact replica of Sequoia’s most recent principals, including Postrk, Vivian Boyd and Jim Durflinger. Instead, the district will try to find someone who meets the “hopes and dreams” of parents and staff, she said.
One parent said she’d like a candidate who’s familiar with the district and community, as well as the special “Academics Plus” status of the magnet school, which attracts students from throughout the district. Another parent said she wants a principal who will advocate for Sequoia within the district, is transparent and able to make tough decisions.
The parent of an incoming seventh-grader said she’d like the new principal to be visible on campus and to maintain student safety as a high priority.
Morgan said she wants a principal with an “open door” policy, who is approachable and communicates well with students, parents, staff and the community. She also noted that the school is expected to accept more than 900 students in the fall, including some who request transfers from the district’s lowest-achieving schools (Glenbrook and Oak Grove middle schools in Concord), under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Lock said both she and Braun-Martin have been in the district more than 20 years and that they understand Sequoia and will communicate its unique qualities to Lawrence and principal candidates.
Lock said she started her career in the district as vice principal of Sequoia Middle School. Braun-Martin said she was formerly principal of Monte Gardens Elementary, which feeds into Sequoia.
Braun-Martin assured parents that the district conducts background checks on all applicants who are seriously considered. She said the district invited internal candidates to apply for the openings at Glenbrook and Sequoia after the Glenbrook principal left and Postrk was promoted.
“We’re looking for the best person,” Lock said.
Principals must have an administrative credential, as well as administrative experience, Braun-Martin said. She does not give out information about the size of the candidate pool, she added.
If candidates are interested in both the Glenbrook and Sequoia openings, the interviews could be combined, she said.
The district is also conducting elementary principal interviews for openings at Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton, and Monte Gardens and Silverwood elementary schools in Concord. The board may hold a special meeting next week, if Lawrence decides to recommend one of the candidates recently interviewed.
Lock said Shore Acres Principal Kari Rees will stay at that school after all, because the state clarified its reform requirements, saying principals could remain if they have been at underperforming schools three years or less, instead of two years.
All administrators in the district were given their tentative fall assignments June 30, Lock said. Both Sequoia’s vice principal and student services coordinator are tentatively scheduled to return to the school, she said.
Lock told me after the meeting that she often conducts reference checks, but isn’t involved in background checks. She said the district always calls the candidate’s most recent supervisor during reference checks.
Lock confirmed that written applications ask candidates if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony and ask them to explain, if they have.
“Usually, when they indicate, ‘yes,’, we research that and investigate that,” Lock said.
She said she didn’t know if Christopher Nugent, who was unanimously appointed by the school board as principal of Mt. Diablo Elementary in Clayton last month, revealed his DUI conviction on his application. Nugent later withdrew his name from consideration, after reports surfaced about his DUI arrest, charges of resisting arrest, and his previous resignation from a Tennessee school district after he inadvertently posted student Social Security numbers online.
Nugent wasn’t convicted of resisting arrest and wasn’t prosecuted for the online student security breach.
Lock said she didn’t think Lawrence knew Nugent, since Nugent was from Elk Grove, which is outside Contra Costa County and quite distant from Lawrence’s previous district in West Sacramento.
“It’s not something you usually hide,” she said. “I’ve known several of the candidates.”
Lawrence wouldn’t need to recuse himself from the selection if he knew a candidate, she said.
“Actually,” Lock said, “if you know someone, that gives you more information about a person…that’s first-hand information that I may know and I use that.”
Braun-Martin said she couldn’t discuss Nugent’s application. She said candidates are fingerprinted after they are approved to be hired, but that additional paperwork must be completed before the hire is completed.
Nugent chose to withdraw his name after the board appointed him, she said.
A DUI wouldn’t necessarily exclude a candidate from being appointed as a district administrator, Braun-Martin said. Instead, a DUI would be something that would be investigated further, she said, through interviews, vetting and reference checks, to make an informed decision about the candidate.
In response to questions from parents about the status of pink-slipped teachers, Braun-Martin said the district has begun calling them back.
Today, Jessica Beerbaum informed me she has been hired to teach fifth-grade at Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord, after being laid-off from her job at Silverwood Elementary in June. She was number 24 on the layoff list, she said.
“Things change everyday,” Lock said. “We don’t want to lose good teachers.”
Lock confirmed, however, that popular College Park High School instrumental music teacher Johnnie Johnson moved to Texas after being laid-off in June. Similarly, former Sequoia Middle School instrumental music teacher Marcus Goodlow moved back to Texas last year, after being laid-off.
This year’s Sequoia instrumental music teacher Eric Thompson has also been laid-off. And star Sequoia music student Larry Wang, who was featured in the Times as a “Hometown Hero” on Monday, has transferred to the Acalanes district to attend high school, in part because of its more stable music program. He would have attended College Park, had he remained in the Mt. Diablo district.
Lock acknowledged that some good teachers are moving out of state, tired of going through the anxiety associated with pink slips each year, as the result of state budget cuts.
“What we’re doing in California is a tragedy,” she said.
Would you be comfortable with a principal who has been convicted of DUI? Do you think candidates’ convictions should be disclosed to the board before the superintendent recommends them?
By Theresa Harrington