Woodside Elementary principal takes administrative position at Oak Grove Middle School and is replaced by retired principal as interim leader of scandal-rocked school
I have received a copy of a message sent to Woodside Elementary families by former Principal Jenny Cronan about her decision to take an administrative position at Oak Grove Middle School, which is also in Concord. Here is her message:
“Dear Woodside Families:
I hope this communication finds all of you well and enjoying the final weeks of summer vacation. This past year has been a transitional and challenging one for the Woodside community. It has also been a revealing one for me, as leading Woodside has helped bring me to my true calling as an instructional leader focusing on common core standards in English Language Arts. Consequently, I have requested, and was granted a transfer to Oak Grove Middle School, in a co-administrator role as Program Specialist of English Language Arts. Despite my excitement at this new opportunity, it is somewhat bittersweet as I will be leaving those within the Woodside community who have been steadfast at supporting my efforts throughout the year. I thank all of you who partnered with me during this transitional year. Nevertheless, I leave you in good hands, as Mrs. Ava Sudduth, an accomplished retired Principal from Mt. Diablo Unified, will begin the year at Woodside as your Interim Principal. Please help make Mrs. Sudduth feel as welcome as you have made me here at Woodside. Again, thank you all for the opportunity, to be a part of your community, and I wish you all a fruitful school year.
I called the school to find out more about Sudduth and learned that she sent a letter to teachers detailing her 30-year history in the district. She taught fourth- and fifth-grades at Shore Acres; taught third- through sixth-grades at Diablo Vista Elementary, which preceded Sequoia Middle School; became an administrator in 1989 and worked at Bancroft , Walnut Acres and Wren Avenue elementary schools; and was a principal at Bel Air and Sun Terrace elementary schools.
Cronan’s decision to transfer to Oak Grove comes on the heels of the arrest of Woodside fifth-grade teacher Joseph Martin, who has been charged with 109 sexual abuse charges involving 13 former students between 2006 and April of this year, when he was arrested. A lawsuit filed July 8 against the district alleges that administrators ignored complaints against him and that his classroom was an isolated, single portable unit with windows blocked by children’s pictures and other items, making it impossible to look inside. In addition, the lawsuit alleges Martin had little outside supervision or accountability.
A claim filed July 31 against the district alleges that Martin was allowed by district officials to return to his classroom to “say goodbye” to his students the day he was placed on administrative leave. The claim alleges Martin took this opportunity to corner one of his victims and try to dissuade the boy from reporting fondling incidents. This claim contradicts Interim Superintendent John Bernard’s statement that “The teacher in question was removed immediately and has not returned to the campus.”
The claim names Martin, former Woodside Principal Jennifer Sachs, former Woodside Principal Michele Batesole, Cronan, former Superintendent Steven Lawrence and former General Counsel Greg Rolen as employees who failed to report suspected child abuse to police or Child Protective Services.
Although Sachs is Bernard’s daughter, he told me that would not influence the investigation and that the district is participating fully with police. Sachs is now Director of Categorical Programs in the Pittsburg school district.
The same day Martin was placed on administrative leave — April 25 — the school board held a closed session and “received information relative to a personnel matter,” then voted 3-2 to release the superintendent from his contract without cause and 4-1 to release the general counsel from his contract without cause. A majority of board members had expressed an interest in replacing the superintendent and general counsel since the November election, due to a perceived lack of trust in the district and low employee morale. Trustees held their first closed session to discuss possible dismissal of Lawrence and Rolen on March 25 — one month before Martin’s arrest.
In a closed session Wednesday, trustees discussed potential litigation based on facts and circumstances in one matter related to a claim filed on behalf of “J. Doe.” Afterward, Board President Cheryl Hansen reported that the board gave “some direction to staff on how to proceed with that potential litigation.”
Although school starts Aug. 28, the Woodside Elementary website still lists Cronan as principal and Martin as one of two fifth-grade teachers at the school: http://www.mdusd.k12.ca.us/woodside/Woodside_Elementary/Faculty_%26_Staff.html
How can the district help the Woodside staff, students and community get off to a good start this school year?
Staff writers Malaika Fraley and Matthias Gafni contributed to this report.