Hope trustees ratify principal reassignment

In recognition of the “diversity of opinion” with regard to Superintendent Gerrie Fausett’s reassignment of the Hope School District‘s principals, the board of trustees voted unanimously to ratify the decision, despite that they were not required to do so.

Joseph Liebman was not at the July 1 meeting, where his colleagues took the opportunity to publicly query Fausett about her decision to move Hope School principal Patrick Plamondon to Monte Vista School, Monte Vista’s Judy Stettler to Vieja Valley School, and Vieja Valley’s Barbara LaCorte to Hope.

“What are the key benefits of principal rotation?” asked board member Todd Sosna.

“The most important thing is to have administrators who are well –versed in more than one section of the district,” said Fausett.

Board member Elizabeth Owen asked Fausett to address rumors that the principal rotation was connected to the possible closure of Hope School.

“We have no plans to close Hope,” countered Fausett, adding that any decisions about whether to minimize or maximize enrollment in the three school district, which has about one-third transfer students, would be made in a public forum.

The possibility of the district switching its funding to Basic Aid — the model used by the Montecito and Goleta Schools to ensure funding even with declining enrollment — has been floated in the Hope District for years, and will likely be on the table again in the fall, along with trying to cure the district’s budget woes with a parcel tax, a strategy that failed with voters in 2003.

As for the timing of the principal move, Fausett said “our scores are so close” that it is likely that one or two schools may be designated with program improvement status under the No Child Left Behind Act, and she was concerned that doing a move after that would be perceived as punishment for the principals.

Unhappiness over the rotation has already had some fallout. Fausett said that the Hope District Foundation Auction, which raised over $70,000 last year, would probably not happen this year. The controversy has also motivated some parents to become more active in board politics. Hope School parent Craig Malley brought a video camera to record the meeting for others.

Ed Adams, a Hope School parent who has said the board and superintendent didn’t follow the proper process in making the rotation decision, told them, “Guaranteed we will be here watching what goes on to see that in all decisions you follow the process that you’re supposed to.”

A few people have suggested that the news would have been accepted much more favorably if the principals had been part of the announcement. But Fausett said that wasn’t possible.

“Trust me when I tell you I would have done anything to keep this board and this community from going through what we have gone through. There is a reason why I did it the way I did it. It wasn’t the easiest way, but I had to do it that way. ”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon in 2005.

Hope principals transferred

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.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on June 2, 2005.

Fausett has high hopes for Hope District

Gerrie Fausett

Gerrie Fausett

While Gerrie Fausett won’t take over the reins of the Hope School District until January, she’s had her eye on the top position for a while, and said she made her intentions clear to former Santa Barbara Elementary and High School District Superintendent Deborah Flores and Interim Superintendent Brian Sarvis when she took over as Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education last spring.

“I did not want to have them count on me being here and then disrupt things without knowing that it was a possibility (that she would leave if she got the Hope job) …. It was an opportunity that came up at a time when I’d been waiting for it,” said Fausett.

She will be following in the footsteps of Les Imel, who is retiring as superintendent after nearly 14 years with the district. Fausett had nothing but praise for her predecessor, and hopes to be able learn from him as she takes over the helm of the Hope District, which includes Hope, Vieja Valley and Monte Vista schools.

Tight budgets are one of the challenges Fausett will face in her new job, but she said these aren’t anything new. “Hope School District is certainly not unique in being able to escape any of those (challenges) and the budget situation is going to continue to be a difficult one to resolve and, at the same time, pay employees what they deserve and need to remain in this community and to be part of our community,” said the former principal of Santa Barbara Junior High and Washington Schools.

The other big challenge coming up is the St. Vincent’s low-income housing project, which could potentially bring about 60 new students into the district.

“I know the St. Vincent’s project will change the face of the district a bit, but that’s several years down the line and that may prove to be a thing that affects Hope School District a lot or perhaps a little. We have to kind of wait and see what develops with the project,” said Fausett.

The school board is also likely to spend considerable time weighing the impact of transfer students (which now comprise approximately 30 percent) on the three schools.

“We need to have big conversations about it and get public input, as well as teachers’ concerns, on the table and make sure that we’ve got all the facts before we start trying to devise an ‘okay what are we going to do if or when,’ scenario,” said Fausett. “It’ll be a year of fact finding and trying to put things together and formulating a plan that has the participation and input from all sides of the community.”

Because she comes from the Santa Barbara District, Fausett already has the advantage of knowing the principals and being acquainted with the current board members. She also knows who to call with questions in the county and Imel has assured her he’ll make himself available as well.

Parent participation has traditionally been very strong in the district and Fausett said she is looking forward to getting to know everyone. She sees the parent and school relationship as similar to that of a doctor and patient.

“You want your doctor to be your partner, but if your doctor tells you that this is the best treatment, you’re going to go with that best treatment. … A parent may have an idea about what would be a good idea, but the teacher should be the one to say yes, but research has proven that this is the way to go about this simply because, blah, blah, blah and then the teacher goes ahead and institutes the program like the doctor institutes the treatment. So it’s a partnership but … somebody’s got to be the chief,” she said.

“… And then there will be times when we go to parents and say ‘what do you guys think about this,’ so that we can get some feedback and form that partnership. That’s what’s going to make the district even stronger. Hopefully I can continue the good work Les has started.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on October 21, 2004.

Schools offer preliminary headcounts

With the high cost of housing driving declining school enrollment figures throughout the state, there were a few bright spots in the preliminary local students counts.

Bishop Garcia Diego High School was reportedly up to approximately 270 students this week. In January, the Catholic school announced that it was severing relations with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in order to have more local control. At that time a board of directors was formed and the school began actively marketing to the community, a move that resulted in additional students for the fall.

As of Monday, the Hope School District had 1,415 students enrolled, said Superintendent Les Imel. This is approximately 20 fewer students than the district had budgeted for, but still more than the 2003-2004 year end count of 1,371. Imel stressed that those numbers — of which approximately 30 percent are inter-district transfer students — were not final.

Vieja Valley, for example, took in four new students (not included in the 1,415) that day, said Principal Barbara LaCorte.

Getting a handle on enrollment figures is particularly critical in these times of uncertain state funding, but administrators all stressed that the numbers were still fluctuating.

The Santa Barbara Elementary School District had a very preliminary count of 5,386 students, versus a projected 5,585 students, while the secondary district was over its initial projection of 9,474, with a preliminary headcount of 9,762.

The Goleta Union School District had 3,773 students on the first day, but again, emphasized the count was still preliminary.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on September 16, 2004.