Part of the Bay Area News Group

Woodside Elementary principal takes administrative position at Oak Grove Middle School and is replaced by retired principal as interim leader of scandal-rocked school

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, August 16th, 2013 at 12:00 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

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.

Most Sincerely,
Jen Cronan”

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 arrested — 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.

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • Doctor J

    And what about Sequoia MS ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    I just called Sequoia MS and was told by the person who answered that she wasn’t aware of any communication sent to parents about why Connie Cirimeli left or where she is going. Like Woodside, the Sequoia website still lists Cirimeli as principal: http://sequoiamiddle.mdusd.org/staff.

    I have also sent an email to Rose Lock asking why Cirimeli left and whether an interim principal has been named.

  • Doctor J

    Frankly, Jenny Cronan’s email and the sudden transfer just 3 weeks before the start of school is nothing short of a whitewash. The fingerprints on this cover-up are clear and familiar: Rose Lock and Julie B-M. Just the fact that no advertisement for a principal for Woodside occurred until August 9 is clear and convincing. When is MDUSD going to start telling the truth ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    To help keep track of the administrative musical chairs, I’ve compiled a blog post of board appointments, interim superintendent appointments and reassignments (that I know of), and key vacancies: http://www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment/2013/08/16/mdusd-appointmentsassignments-for-2013-14/

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s the answer to the mystery about Cirimeli: https://bms-smfc-ca.schoolloop.com/cms/news_item?d=x&id=1374485016798&group_id=1251176559894&return_url=1376687997759

    Mt. Diablo’s loss is San Mateo’s gain.

  • Theresa Harrington

    More charges filed against Martin: http://www.contracostatimes.com/contracostatimes/ci_23878271/former-concord-teacher-now-charged-109-molestation-counts

    I updated the above post to reflect the new charges and victims. Prosecutors say there could be more victims.

  • Doctor J

    Why did Julie B-M wait a whole week before posting the Sequoia MS principal vacancy ? Connie Cirimeli was approved by the San Mateo Foster City USD on Aug 1 and their Supt put out a press release on it on Aug 2. Didn’t Rose Lock and Julie B-M realize the urgency ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    It’s also surprising that no one has bothered to let the parents know what happened to their popular principal, with student registration beginning in just four days: http://sequoiamiddle.mdusd.org/

  • Concerned

    I hope the district has counseling for the staff at Woodside in place before school starts. Staff members are frustrated and are grieving. They need to be guided by professionals on how to answer parents’ and students’ questions regarding Joe Martin. The wonderful staff at Woodside are outstanding teachers and classified staff. What about the siblings of the victims that go back to Woodside? This community is very involved at Woodside and need all the assistance that the district can offer. Let’s do all we can for the school immediately!

  • Parent

    #9 The Woodside community is in shock, but before the district offers counseling to teachers or parents, they should reach out to the victims and their families. Not one attempt has been made by the district to help address the emotional needs of the victims.

  • Doctor J

    Remember the Crisis Intervention Counseling Team — at least on paper — where are they ? Mrs. Sudduth is 71 y.o. and a resident of Martinez. I wonder if she even knows all the details of the Joseph Martin scandal.

  • Theresa Harrington

    I received an email from Rose Lock stating that Cirimeli did send a message to staff and parents about her departure and that retired Principal Vivian Boyd is interim principal at Sequoia MS.

  • Doctor J

    At least Vivian Boyd is familiar with Sequoia MS having served as its principal in the early 2000′s after which I believe her next stop was Dent as Director of Curriculum and Instruction. Rose Lock is really reaching into the past. But the question remains, WHY Julie B-M and Rose Lock waited so long to post both the Sequoia MS and Woodside jobs ???? Many school districts started last week, more start this week, and MDUSD is way behind the curve !!!! WHY???

  • Doctor J

    @TH#12 Did you get a copy of Cirimeli’s email to parents ? Why did she say she is leaving the district ?

  • Concerned

    I certainly agree that the victims and families need counseling, too. Yes, the Woodside community is in shock.

  • Doctor J

    Its tragic how children who are abused by trusted school teachers become like lepers and are shunned by the school district. If a fellow student is killed by a reckless driver, the school district is all over it to provide counseling to students, teachers and administrators. Why the difference ?

  • Theresa Harrington

    I didn’t get a copy of Cirimeli’s letter, but I’ll ask for it.

  • Teacher

    Vivian Boyd and Ava Sudduth are both great administrators!

  • Doctor J

    @#18 The both retired as the MDUSD culture began to deteriorate. Can Sudduth, in her 70′s, survive without a VP ? How many school districts in Northern California will have started school by Aug 26 ? Aren’t all the quality principals already committed for the year ? MDUSD’s record of hiring principals from outside the district is dismal.

  • Sue Berg

    Teacher #18,
    Having worked with both, I agree. They are certainly each capable of opening and overseeing their respective schools for as long as needed.

  • Doctor J

    @Sue#20 I don’t doubt the qualifications and past performance of these two educators, but being a principal today is so much more than “overseeing” — it has changed so much in the last several years. It is being the instructional leader and being trained in the assessments and implementation of Common Core to assist the teachers in interpretation of the testing assessments, Rti, etc. and the whole rigor of changed instructional practices. The principal is expected to help the teachers in their assessment functions. These two educators have not been involved in the $hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the consultants and the principals are expected to train the teachers. Not only do I worry about their endurance after such a long absence, but I do know that there are retirement limits on how long they can work — neither would be eligible to complete the entire year. The longer they are in place, the greater likelihood we will see drops in API and AYP at these schools. I wish them the best.

  • Sue Berg

    Dr. J #21,
    No one is saying that either interim assignment is more than short term. Some commenters here have expressed concern about schools being without principals during the prep for, during, and after the opening of school. As it has always done when a principal position is vacant, MDUSD has turned to capable, experienced retirees to handle the responsibility.

    Retirees who sign up for these assignments have not “gone fishing” since they were last in a school. They have continued to be involved in education, sometimes serving as substitutes during the school year. They may teach in the local colleges’ teacher training programs, be mentors to new teachers and principals, serve as paid or volunteer consultants or advisers, and/or participate in education studies.

    I am impressed with how many educators–teachers and administrators–never fully “retire” from working in the field. They comprise a great pool in which districts can find qualified people able to keep programs running when vacancies, illnesses, or other disruptions occur.

    As a note, Vivian Boyd was MDUSD Director of Curriculum and Instruction for several years before she retired in ’09 or ’10. Implementing standards, testing, assessments, RTI, differentiated instruction, and other practices–she’s led staff through it all. She was also long-time principal at Sequoia Middle. I expect that school community is happy to have her back.

  • Doctor J

    @SB#22 Sue, since you have been gone from MDUSD about the same time as Vivian, if Vivian had implemented Rti so effectively, why did we have to spend tens of thousands of dollars this last year training the principals and staffs in Rti which was being touted as “new” in the Rti Academy ?? The “assessments” have changed considerably with increased emphasis on data analysis. You have the additions of the EL Master Plan, Disproportionality, the recent Leadership Institute with Mike Mattos, and the implementation of the Marzano Instructional Strategy in which the principal plays a key role. The bottom line is teachers will return in a few days, school starts next week, and MDUSD’s recent track record of hiring Principals from outside this district is a disaster. Just think about the last two principals at Sun Terrace, Ayers, Woodside, and the list goes on and on. So what makes you so confident that MDUSD can find two quality principals after most other school districts have already started the school year, especially when MDUSD has had trouble all summer filling principalships and getting qualified exceptional candidates ?

  • Sue Berg

    Dr J, I stand by my comments regarding the ability of experienced educators with whom I have worked to handle the challenges in today’s classrooms, schools, and districts.

  • Just wondering

    Sue, Dr. J apparently has all the answers. As you can see everytime anyone writes anything positive, Dr. J finds a way to counter that. Thanks for trying, though!

  • Chicken Little Parent

    Oh my, Dr. J is right! What are we to do???? The sky is falling! Bringing in retired administrators with decades of experience, oh my, what a terrible idea! The schools will surely fail with them at the helm. And of course there is not a single solitary qualified person in the whole entire world that will ever apply for these jobs! Oh my, oh my, oh my! The answer is obvious. We must shutter these schools immediately for the sake of the children. There is nothing else we can do! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

  • Flippin’ Tired

    “Doctor” J @3, what exactly do you think the district is hiding? Can’t you maybe have some empathy for Ms. Cronan? She had probably the worst year of her life, and she wants to start fresh elsewhere doing something productive in the education field. She probably feels Woodside would be better served with another administrator. Here’s an idea – why don’t you ASK HER YOURSELF? If you don’t like the speed at which Personnel sends out vacancy notices, why don’t you volunteer your time to help them?

    Life throws people curves, and they deal with it the best they can. So glad you’re the only perfect employee in this district, and can sling mud and accusations without any splashing back on you. Must be a nice halo you wear. Can’t wait until you’re exposed.

  • Just wondering

    I agree with Flippin Tired

  • g

    In this and other districts, a lot of dirt, from dust to mud, hides behind “it’s a personnel matter.”

    Who is telling the truth, Bernard or the student? Was Martin given permission to “go say goodbye” giving him the opportunity to further harrass (one or more) students? If he wasn’t there, perhaps Bernard himself was given incorrect information. When Martin was “removed” from class, which district administrators were there. Was one of our “legal counsel” employees there? If so, did they agree to allow him to return to the classroom?

    Some questions shouldn’t require a trial to get the answers. Such as: We know he was removed from class; exactly who was there, and what were the real actions taken at that moment in time? Have personnel decisions/changes been made based on the answers to those questions? If so, did every staff member involved receive the same level of scrutiny?

  • Doctor J

    @FT#27 Its impossible for me to have “empathy” for the acts and lack of actions of Jen Cronan as you suggest in regard to the student abuse by a teacher that occurred during her watch — but she was only one of several principals during the period of the alleged molestations. “Empathy” is “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another”. I believe, based on the facts and circumstances of the Martin case at Woodside as we learn more and more, that she was “relieved of duty as principal” at Woodside, and that Rose and Julie found her a position for this year, since it was so late in the summer. Jen Cronan came to MDUSD with a background of not only being a principal, but also a district administrator — I believe in Oakland USD. My sympathies lie with the student victims and their families. I believe that if MDUSD had been correctly practicing the Mandatory Reporting law, many of the victims could have been spared. Interesting that at the recent MDUSD “Leadership Institute” that they did not use the Rolen/Cooksey/Braun-Martin cursory production on Mandatory Reporting, but indeed, hired an outside consultant to present a more extensive review. Not sure, but this may have been required by the MDUSD insurance company following the preliminary internal investigation of the Woodside events.

  • Theresa Harrington
  • Doctor J

    If the Martin case is anything like the Moraga case: $1.8 million X 13 victims = $23.4 million. I would say that is way over the insurance coverage and will dip into the MDEA “expected” raises. Lets have some full disclosure on what the District insurance coverage really is for the Martin case !!!

  • Doctor J