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SCUSD Board Meeting: Laurelwood Principal Panel Problems, Calls for Superintendent Accountability

Discontent amongst the Laurelwood Elementary School community has been brewing since they heard the Superintendent was snubbing their choice for a new Principal. Though not explicitly on the agenda, the community came to the Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees Meeting on Thursday, April 28 to air their frustrations.

 

Laurelwood Principal Hiring

The hiring of the new Laurelwood principal was pulled from the last Board meeting after the “integrity of the process may have been compromised,” according to Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp in a statement to The Weekly. In response, at the very top of the meeting, the Laurelwood community filled public comment regarding the Superintendent’s performance evaluation to be discussed during closed session.

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The Laurelwood community presented a formal complaint about the “harassment and intimidation by Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp and unlawful actions to silence the freedom of speech of community members on an issue of public interest,” said Lizzie Smith on behalf of the community.

Many of the speakers said they were on the panel tasked with recommending a new Laurelwood Principal. They said they received a troubling letter about an investigation. Some were emotional, saying they saw the letter as another breach of trust and mistreatment of the District’s staff and parents. They called the letter “a threat,” “a scare tactic,” “intimidation,” and “retaliation.” Speakers called Dr. Kemp “a bully” who needs to be held accountable. Some even called for her resignation, saying that Santa Clara Unified needs new leadership and District relationships have been ruined.

Additionally, they resented the panel process. Saying their input was just for show since the District ignored their recommendation to hire Assistant Principal Assistant Paul Fuller.

The Board couldn’t say too much since it was a closed session item. However, Board Member Andy Ratermann made a motion requesting a Board meeting as soon as possible to discuss the status or confirmation of the investigations concerning the hiring of principal at Laurelwood and possibly terminate the investigation. He also wants to review and update the hiring practices and human resources practices. This passed unanimously. Some of the items can only be discussed in closed session, but most will be in open session.

 

Open Enrollment

The open enrollment process has changed a lot since the Enrollment Center opened. Johanna Gonzalez, Enrollment Center Manager, said the process is much more transparent, efficient and collaborative now.

Vice President Vickie Fairchild shared concerns from parents who said it appears like the District is not admitting students from the open enrollment waitlist even when there seemed to be space. She stated that it was the law and they had to admit students from the waitlist if the school had capacity. Board Clerk Bonnie Lieberman was also concerned. Especially at Laurelwood, it appeared that they were keeping the open enrollment numbers “artificially low.” In light of declining enrollment and Laurelwood transferring teachers out, Lieberman was unhappy to see so many students on the waitlist being turned away while also displacing teachers.

Rob Griffin, Attendance and Discipline Coordinator, used to handle enrollment and said before the Enrollment Center, they relied on the school sites to report if they had space to admit from the waitlist. But now with the centralized Enrollment Center, the process is much more streamlined.

Staff and the Board agreed that open enrollment is very complicated and relies on so many factors. Chief Business Official Mark Schiel said they don’t truly know enrollment data until one to two weeks into the school year, but they need to make decisions well before that. Additionally, the grade levels with open seats might not match up with the waitlist.

“We understand that students don’t move around in neat groups of 20,” admitted Board President Jodi Muirhead.

The Board didn’t take any action since it was just a report, but Fairchild requested more information on K-12 school capacity, staffing, and enrollment.

 

Climate Change Resolution

The long-awaited resolution, “Calling for Climate Change Action to Protect Students and Their Families” was presented by Kim Hunters, Environmental Science TOSA, and students. A student-led Climate Change group developed the Climate Change Resolution. The Board will take action at a future meeting.

 

Other News

The Board approved the agreement with the City of Santa Clara on the Youth Activity Center and “authorized District staff to make any final minor adjustments as necessary and direct District staff to bring the agreement back if they’re unable to resolve the remaining items with the City of Santa Clara.” This should help with Cabrillo Middle School’s facilities issues.

Ratermann submitted a request to clear up the Board’s expectations of the LGBTQQIA++ Workgroup. Including regular updates with recommendations and suggestions, a possible resolution, and including some non-voting ex-officio members to help advise. Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Brad Stam reported that the committee has met and is already working on the items in Ratermann’s request. Lieberman thanked Stam, saying this is what she wanted to see.

The Board approved appointing Jasmine Murphy as the new Program Specialist for Special Education and appointing Carlos Inda as the Technology Support Manager. The item requesting to fill the Professional Learning Specialist position was pulled. They approved the new job description for a Transitional Kindergarten Paraeducator.

Since the meeting was expected to go into the morning, the Board pulled less time-sensitive items and moved items to a future meeting.

Board Member Albert Gonzalez attended the meeting virtually and Board Member Dr. Michele Ryan had to leave partway through the meeting.

The Board of Trustees has a special meeting on Tuesday, May 3 at 6 p.m. and their next regular meeting is on Thursday, May 12 at 6:30 p.m.

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15 Comments
  1. Aida 5 months ago
    Reply

    The community members that were present last night were more than just Laurelwood teachers and parents.

    Like I said in my comments to the board –
    “ In the last couple of weeks the mishandling of the new Laurelwood principal search has put in full display the dysfunctional leadership we have in this district. Instead of defending the chosen candidate, Dr. Stella Kemp instead chose to cowardly claim the process was tainted. This in turn led to threatening letters being sent to parents and teachers that has the community as a whole shaken to its core.”

    It was a wide representation from teachers across the district with similar claims that Stella Kemp is not the leader for us. The incident at Laurelwood was just a the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Like a Wilcox teacher, Teddi Duffy, more eloquently said … Stella has served her 3 years at SCUSD just like in every other position she has held. The time for new leadership was yesterday.

  2. Janet 5 months ago
    Reply

    I have to admit I was expecting more from this anticipated article. SO much has happened since the last one.

    What began as a poorly thought out decision to override the hiring panels and select someone other than the recommendation to promote the Assistant Principal (Paul Fuller) to Principal, has become an entire district outcry on the mismanagement by and authoritarian style of the Superintendent. The calls to rethink and remove Dr. Kemp from her position is overwhelming supported by parents, teachers and the teachers union alike with a unifying message to recapture the “Santa Clara Way”.

    Though we didn’t receive any decisions by the board to instate Paul Fuller as the Laurelwood Principal, there is optimism that the process is being reviewed. I am hopeful that the Board members who stated they “heard us” actually did and that we will have a decision before the end of the school year.

    That said, there are now many other questionable decisions that are coming into light.
    1 – Why are our district Open Enrollment requests not being approved? Laurelwood has a waitlist as well as many parents who would like to send their kids there but are now being told the school is at capacity because 5 of our teachers were taken away. At Laurelwood’s peak – there were 780 students. This appears to be an intentional depression of our enrollment numbers to impact the new campus decisions.
    2 – Why is the new Laurelwood campus now being scoped to support 500 students (which is less than current enrollment and less than what the current campus supports)? Why isn’t the new campus being leveraged by SCUSD to both support our growing enrollment as well as the special programming the District is seeking to deliver for 2035 – like TK and Special Needs? What are we changing what was already voted on and agreed to?
    3 – Dr. Kemp’s vision from past districts is “to reconfigure the district and transition away from a neighborhood school system” – meaning centralization of everything. Sometime centralization creates benefits like efficiency and cost reduction, other times is creates control issues and under the guise of fairness can become an abusive instrument that enables favoritism. We are already seeing that it fosters resentment, fear and inequity – which is NOT the “Santa Clara Way”.

    I am so disappointed in our district. As a product of it and a current parent in it I am left scratching my head, searching for answers and wondering if it’s just easier to opt-out. It makes me sad. It makes me angry. I believe in the mission of SCUSD. I believe all students deserve the best education possible. I implore the board to stop ‘kicking the can’, make the hard decisions, take some quick wins and make Good Choices like we teach our kids. This should have happened yesterday – but this coming Tuesday works too!

  3. Laurelwood parent 5 months ago
    Reply

    To the reporter of this articles – your should leave the reporting of board members to your more accurate coworkers.
    First, you forgot to mention the other teachers from schools around the district came and besides Laurelwood and spoke of similar incidents tbut I guess we are not reporting that.. Second – no mention of the parent meeting that the superintendent has with parent of the Laurelwood community that went completely awry.? The Silicon Valley voice was there and took plenty of notes for you where the superintendent refused to acknowledge the concerns of the community and was shouted down. Why report in taht – it would have been a great lead in for this story. The audio for the meeting was posted on you tube.
    Third- “troubling letter about an investigation” is an interesting way of describing a letter sent by a rather large law firm demanding that personal emails and texts be “preserved” for an ongoing investigation with the implication that the school district would compel a judge for personal email and texts from parents in the school district.
    4- how many times was it mentioned that the superintendent did not reflect “the Santa Clara Way” had you picked up that part it would have been a great lead I. To the next part of the story that broke tonight….
    5. the implication of your writing suggests that it was just a bunch of parents being ridiculous – thanks for trying to add to Dr Kemo’s gaslighting strategy- but if we are so ridiculous – the why has Dr. Kemp posted a full apology for her actions and appointed Mr Paul Fuller as principal.

  4. HD 5 months ago
    Reply

    Poorly sourced and missing the main points of the meeting as stated by others. Based on what has happened no way Dr Kemp should continue. Will she have the integrity to resign? Who knows? Remember the board hired her so whether they have the fortitude to change course, who knows? Surprise us.

    • SL 5 months ago
      Reply

      Integrity – nope. She will not resign and board will not force her out. She has lost teacher support and parents however all her outside hires and consultant world support her. SCUSD will continue downward.

  5. Editor 5 months ago
    Reply

    The above article is coverage of the entire school board meeting as we cover every meeting in its entirety.

    For coverage on the Tuesday, April 26 meeting at Laurelwood School please see: https://www.svvoice.com/tempers-flare-at-laurelwood-school-meeting/

    • Aida 5 months ago
      Reply

      There are about two hours of teacher and staff comment from all DIFFERENT SCHOOLS throughout the district not just from Laurelwood. What happened at Laurelwood does not seem to be an isolated incident. Stella has demonstrated time after time how not only is she is not an effective leader, but she is also a master manipulator.

      • VB 5 months ago
        Reply

        Exactly! Just watch the video! You are a paper – do better.

        • Community Member 5 months ago
          Reply

          Watching the video is not sufficient. YouTube does not show that it was standing room only. The district office staff has grown so much over the last few years that seating for the public has been cut in half. They had to set up two more rows of chairs and it still wasn’t enough. People were sitting on the floor, standing in the doorway, and watching from the hall. The video also cuts out all the clapping and audience support for the speakers. To truly cover these meetings appropriately, reporters should attend them in person and not rely on often unreliable virtual streams.

    • LW Parent 5 months ago
      Reply

      “Coverage of the meeting in its entirety” does not equate to good coverage. the reporter that covered Tuesdays parent meeting was at least willing to talk to parents! Do better.

  6. Anonymous Teacher 5 months ago
    Reply

    Along with the other commenters, I too wish SCVV had been made clear how many teachers from across the District were in attendance at Thursday night’s board meeting and acknowledged teachers from other sites who had the courage to make a public
    comment. If one listens carefully and pays attention, there have been comments at board meetings about both poor management and outright hostility for the past several years. This is not a new concern and is not the issue of one single school. This is a district-wide problem that the School Board knows about and has know about it for some time. Since many of our trusted and long-standing employees have been forced out, those remaining are psychologically unsafe to call out bad behavior. LMI and true collaboration is just an illusion used to garner public support rather than to strengthen and improve systems. ‘Courageous conversations’ happen when the speaker agrees with the Superintendent, while the rest of us sit quietly in meetings fearing retaliation. When will this end?

    • Disappointed Community 5 months ago
      Reply

      It was teachers for 4 schools, not across the District! Just because you are not getting what you want does not mean there is a District wide problem. We have 1800 staff members, there was less than 75 commenters.

  7. UTSC Communications 5 months ago
    Reply

    Thank you for reporting about the recent SCUSD school board meeting of April 28th. It is true there were many Laurelwood community members and teachers who voiced their concerns at the meeting. It is also true, however, that teachers throughout the district courageously addressed the school board with their concerns. Specific examples were given about the direction our school district is moving under current leadership. The Laurelwood example is but one of many. As provided in our union report, “… we do not and will not accept… a method of decision-making where leadership conducts business by threat, intimidation, or using belittling and dismissive comments.” This situation is larger than Laurelwood and is indicative of the negative culture of intimidation that is permeating throughout the entire school district under the watch of Dr. Kemp.

  8. William Silva 5 months ago
    Reply

    I encourage the reporters to attend tomorrow’s meeting in person and get a real feel for what is going on. It is a mess in this district!

  9. Anonymous 3 months ago
    Reply

    Why doesn’t this news media mention that Dr. Stella Kemp has stepped down from the Superintendent role?

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