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.”
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.”