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Laurelwood Principal Appointment Surrounded in Controversy

While the new principal of Laurelwood Elementary School is yet to be announced, speculation that the hire is from outside Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) instead of the current Assistant Principal has put the district administration at odds with members of the Laurelwood Elementary School community.

At the start of the April 7 School Board meeting, District Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp announced that she pulled the announcement of the new Laurelwood principal for a later meeting.

“Leading into the decision on Thursday night, the district began getting information indicating that the integrity of the process may have been compromised, as protected personnel information was beginning to appear publicly,” said Dr. Kemp in a statement to The Weekly. “In an effort to ensure the integrity of the process, I felt that it was best to pull the agenda item in order to evaluate if the integrity of the process had been compromised.”

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Dozens of parents and teachers at Laurelwood Elementary appeared at the school board meeting, frustrated, disappointed and angry about reports that current Laurelwood Assistant Principal, Paul Fuller, did not get the job. They spoke up in support of Fuller, even though no announcement of the school’s new principal was made.

“Short of the Laurelwood Tiger mascot, Mr. Fuller has been the most prominent face on campus,” said parent Jodie Petrillo after the meeting. “He is always out greeting students—each by name—throughout the day…Nothing is below him; his time and attention are constantly focused on making Laurelwood a safe, inviting, thriving place for the entire community.”

“Mr. Paul Fuller has been our Assistant Principal for 7 years. We do not ‘think’ he is a good fit for our community, we know he is,” said Elizabeth, the parent of a Laurelwood student. “He has the soft skills and hard skills needed to keep our school thriving.”

It left many parents wondering why, given Fuller’s track record, SCUSD would choose another candidate.

“While it would not be appropriate for me to discuss the specifics behind each candidate, it would be fair to say that many factors go into a recommendation for school leadership,” said Dr. Kemp in a statement to The Weekly. “In this case, we are seeking a candidate who can foster positive school culture and climate and who has demonstrated instructional leadership competencies aligned to the educational needs for the school, and one who is aligned to our district’s vision and core values.

“One of Santa Clara Unified’s core values includes ‘Integrity and Ethical Stewardship.’ For me, that means that each candidate is evaluated on his or her own merits,” continued Dr. Kemp. “It is unfortunate that we have reached this point. Because SCUSD is observing spring break this week, I am limited in the actions that I can take. At our next board meeting on April 28, I will provide our Board of Trustees with an update on this process and a plan for how we will move forward to fill the vacancy at Laurelwood Elementary School.”

Parents who joined the April 7 meeting online, missed Dr. Kemp’s initial comments about the process because of a technical issue. A district spokesperson says there were issues with the live streaming software during the meeting, but the only part not captured on the feed was the removal of the recommendation from the agenda based on the issues of integrity.

Still, some community members believe this is just another case of a lack of transparency by SCUSD.

“It seems absurd that the Board members are expected to confirm a selection when they weren’t privy to the community input, nor were they involved in the interview process,” said Petrillo. “That essentially means they’re just supposed to blindly trust the nomination put forward by Dr. Kemp. If the 50 or so Laurelwood community members hadn’t shown up to the meeting, the Board would never have known how strongly the community feels about Mr. Fuller.”

“This is not the first time that the Administration has taken action that feels like it may be intended to conceal information that should be open to the public under the California Open Records Act,” said Elizabeth, a parent of a Laurelwood student. “The school district is supposed to operate in full view. At this point, many at our school are afraid to speak out because of the risk of retaliation. This is terribly disheartening. The administration’s actions seem to be pitting us against each other rather than showing that they have the best intentions for our students and teachers.”

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12 Comments
  1. Aida 1 month ago
    Reply

    Thank you SVV for bringing up this important matter! I saw a teacher at the grocery store and they commented, “I can’t talk! Did you hear what she said? She will fire me!”
    Intimidation and silencing is not ok!
    Not only are we dealing with an unclear hiring process, but we are also now dealing with leadership that wants to silence and intimidate the community. This should not be allowed and the board should look into this and the replacement of leadership.

  2. VN 1 month ago
    Reply

    Its articles like this that are compromising the integrity of the process

  3. NJ 1 month ago
    Reply

    Mr Fuller is an awesome Vice Principal! but what if the other candidate is more experienced? What we need is more transparency people. Please write to the board and Dr Kemp demanding more transparency of the selection process and may the best person win!

  4. CNelson 1 month ago
    Reply

    The District recommended the best person for the job. The hiring committee included Laurelwood parent and staff input. Sadly there are a handful of Laurelwood parents that have nothing better to do then complain to the Board member that they elected to get their elite 800 student school for the rich. While most schools have fallen to the 200-300 students and are in danger of closing. If there are 800 kids in their “boundary” then obviously there needs to be a boundary change. The Board keeps talking about equity and inclusiveness but yet they are giving this area what they want.
    And I might add, this area talks about paying for the bond… yet when you look up statics the BIRDLAMD neighborhood voted NO for the Bond BB. So why should the rest of Santa Clara pay for this neighborhood’s school??
    I encourage you all to call
    In to Board meetings to advocate for those schools that actually need and deserve improvement.

    • Aida 1 month ago
      Reply

      Voting no does not exclude you from paying for a bond if the measure passes during an election.

      • Duh 1 month ago
        Reply

        Duh….but it does show you do not support children or education and you have no right to pretend otherwise, I vote no but want rights of yes

    • Janet 4 weeks ago
      Reply

      You are quite the instigator… only 1 of 4 precincts in Birdland voted NO and only by 43 votes. That’s not Birdland voting no – that’s likely a few retirees or renters with no kids… nice try though, thanks for playing. And the district did not pick the best person for the job as they went against the recommendation of both the hiring committee and panel. Makes no sense. https://results.enr.clarityelections.com/CA/Santa_Clara/92418/Web02.214799/#/cid/144

  5. VMS 1 month ago
    Reply

    I’m failing to make the connection as to why voting no for a bond is justification for going against the community’s, teachers’, and students’ input into the principal selection process. If there is one, it would seem you’re suggesting this is retaliation for the community’s no vote.

    Not only does the Birdland community pay for this bond, but as of shortly after the publication all Santa Clara tax payers are also now paying the district’s legal counsel to intimidate and silence parents, teachers and the board. The fear of firing mentioned in Aida’s comment about the teacher who is afraid to speak up seems to be warranted both by the suggestion that this may be retaliation related to the bond vote and the very real fact that Stella has followed through on the legal threats made at the school board meeting.

    • VS 1 month ago
      Reply

      They can not fire teachers. These comments show that none of you know how schools work. Get a life.

      • Aida 1 month ago
        Reply

        If they cannot fire teachers, why is the superintendent seeking legal counsel? Is it to intimidate the community? To spend money? To flex her power? What is the goal of Stella and the district? This is starting to look a lot like San Bruno before she moved over to Santa Clara. https://www.smdailyjournal.com/news/local/san-bruno-park-elementary-school-district-board-dysfunction-fuels-superintendent-s-departure/article_2b336486-828a-11e9-93a5-8bd4aa784fa8.html

  6. NJ 1 month ago
    Reply

    I take a neutral position on this debate. Some people are suggesting that Dr Kemp is somehow corrupting the selection process – how can you be sure? perhaps the people suggesting this are biased against Dr. Kemp? or may be they’re not – I cant tell one way or the other. The only solution is full transparency. Going down the conspiracy rabbit hole is not healthy! I am going to assume everyone from Dr Kemp to Mr Fuller including the teachers have the bests interests of the school at heart. All we need to see is a comparative analysis of how each candidate will help the school achieve its measurable goals and objectives. Let us all write in to Dr Kemp and the board to demand this level of transparency. Please try to refrain from conspiracy theories and accusatory discourse and work towards a non-partisan solution instead.

  7. Janet 4 weeks ago
    Reply

    I’m a bit surprised at the vitriol for Birdland, but to each his own. That said, Laurelwood is an amazing opportunity for SCUSD to build a school to meet the needs of our changing resident dynamic (not all who live here own, so the misperception of great wealth is interesting). A new school here could check many boxes the district has to expand TK and Special Needs as well as meet the needs of an aging campus (older than most of the new ones in the so-called underserved neighborhoods). I’m more concerned with the lack of desire of the Superintendent specifically to head the recommendation of the hiring committee and panel to select Paul Fuller as the logical promotion to principal. He has acted in that role for the last 2 years and is an integral part of the school’s success. I am also concerned that our Board did not vet our Superintendent very well prior to hire. Her vision from past districts “to reconfigure the district and transition away from a neighborhood school system” doesn’t seem like a good fit for a district of our size and stature. Our district cannot afford to contract if we wish for it to thrive. Let’s all stop with the pettiness, think about the kids, and put our best strategies forward – 1) selecting the principal that the hiring committee and panel recommended (Paul Fuller) and 2) building the 800 student elementary school that the bond is ready to pay for (and has been approved by the neighborhood and the Board 3x already).

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