Hope School parents were quite shaken last week when superintendent Gerrie Fausett announced her plans to reassign all of the district principals in the fall. But so far the other two district schools, Vieja Valley and Monte Vista, appear to not be too stirred.
“It’s created quite an uproar at Hope School,” said Fausett, who became superintendent in January. “I have several calls from other schools saying that they understand. That they like their principal but that they understand the need to have a district perspective and the sharing the wealth with regard to what each principal can bring to the site.”
About 100 Hope School parents gathered in protest at the district office Friday morning, as the result of a hastily organized phone campaign after Fausett visited teachers at each of the three school sites to make the announcement the day before. Letters also went out to parents explaining her decision to move Hope School principal Patrick Plamondon to Monte Vista School, Monte Vista School principal Judy Stettler to Vieja Valley School and Vieja Valley School principal Barbara LaCorte to Hope School.
Some of the Hope School parents carried signs that read “Don’t tear the heart out of our school,” to which Fausett responded, “For me, the heart of the school has to do with teachers and students, and that’s what I look at when I try to make these difficult decisions. I don’t believe that Patrick is the heart of a school, just like I was not the heart of Santa Barbara Junior High or Washington and that good things happen in the classroom where teachers and kids interact and that’s what it’s all about.”
Fausett stressed that the decision was not made lightly. “As a superintendent you’re hired to make some really tough decisions. This is a decision that has been really tough. I knew it would be tough, and yet, I’m not going about it light heartedly at all, I’ve given it a lot of thought.
School board members are backing the decision but Fausett said she did not get their consent. “The policy says the superintendent shall assess the needs of the district and assign management personnel to meet that need. It is something that the board knew that I was planning, but I didn’t necessarily ask them for their approval or anything,” she said.
Still, the regularly scheduled June 6 board meeting should be quite a lively one. Hope School parents held a meeting May 31 to plan strategy.
Vieja Valley parents were planning a forum on June 1 to provide an opportunity for people to voice their opinions in a “neutral environment.” A note to parents from the PTA Executive Board stated, “One of the strengths of our Vieja Valley community is that we are a thoughtful, intelligent group of individuals. We try not to act (and react) purely on emotion, which does not usually lead to good decisions. We like to get the facts and hear various viewpoints.”
Monte Vista parents did not have any kind of an organized effort as of press time.
This type of principal shakeup is not an anomaly on the South Coast. In 2001, Isla Vista School and Foothill School switched principals, and El Rancho School switched with Ellwood, according to Goleta Union School District assistant superintendent Daniel Cooperman. Goleta also made some other principal reassignments in the 1980s, he said.
Fausett — who previously served as principal of Santa Barbara Junior High, principal of Washington School and as Santa Barbara’s Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education — characterized the management move as something that’s common in both the private and public sectors.
“I’ve had the experience of being moved from one place to the other and though it’s not necessarily something that you welcome and embrace all the time, but what happens is that once you get settled and started with the new school year and you realize that there are great parents and great kids all over this district and I think our principals need that benefit,” she said. “It benefits our students, but it’s going to benefit our principals as well.”
Asked if the decision to move the principals had anything to do with declining enrollment or closing one of the schools, Fausett said that was not a factor and that the moves are to strengthen the district. “As we’re in principal meetings and we’re working on curriculum or textbook adoption or whatever, Patrick will have the benefit of knowing two-thirds of the district instead of only one-third … it helps principals help superintendents make the right decisions.”