The political firestorm surrounding who would be named the next principal of Laurelwood Elementary School has ended. Still, the trouble may just be starting for Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD) Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp.
Exactly one week Kemp met with the Laurelwood community to tell them that the search and interview process to find a principal would start anew, the SCUSD Board of Trustees voted to name Laurelwood Assistant Principal, Dr. Paul Fuller, to the role.
The announcement was made during a special meeting of the School Board on May 3. Following a closed session, the Board announced the new hire. It also announced it would terminate the investigation involving Laurelwood.
“We are terminating the investigation involving Laurelwood initiated by Haight, Brown and Bonesteel and we gave direction to the board president to work with county counsel to hire an investigator to look into the complaint from 4/28/22 as required by Board policy,” said Board President Jodi Muirhead.
The investigation into Laurelwood started after frustrated and angry parents flooded into the April 7 School Board meeting. They had heard the District intended to recommend someone other than Fuller for the job of principal and they urged the Board to reject the nomination. They said Fuller was the obvious choice given his proven experience, dedication and commitment to the Laurelwood community.
At that meeting, Superintendent Kemp pulled the item from the agenda before it could be announced, saying “integrity of the process” was compromised. Days later, all the members of the school selection committee, which included teachers, parents and school staff, received letters from a SCUSD lawyer telling them of their legal obligation to “preserve and retain all documents and electronically stored information (“ESI”) (in its native format) potentially relevant to Laurelwood.” [SCUSD Laurelwood Investigation Letter]
Parents and staff who received the letter confronted Kemp during an April 26 Laurelwood community meeting.
Three days later, Kemp issued a letter to the Laurelwood community that read in part, “It is abundantly clear that how we handled the principal search at your school has created unnecessary pain and stress. For that, I am deeply sorry and I offer my sincerest apologies.”
She went on to say that she met with Fuller and decided to recommend him for the role of principal at the May 3 special school board meeting.
“Through this appointment, it is my hope that we can begin the process of healing as we work together on behalf of our children,” said Kemp in the letter.
The controversy surrounding the Laurelwood principal has encouraged other SCUSD employees to speak up and call into question the District’s leadership. Several people stood up during Public Comment to speak out.
“Good evening board members and Stella, have you had enough?” asked caller TDuffy. “You continue to hear a litany of situations where Stella doesn’t have any respect for the people in our school district or the culture or even understand…Again, as I will continue to ask you at every board meeting, have you had enough?”
Meanwhile, a letter signed by nearly a dozen teachers and staff members at Don Callejon School outlined a situation eerily similar to what ignited the fury at Laurelwood. Don Callejon has witnessed three school leadership changes in April, all of them catching students and teachers by surprise.
“As a school site, we have felt neglected by the District for years but this year we felt that neglect was magnified,” said someone who read the letter on behalf of the group. “Instead of working in a partnership with the school sites, which is ‘The Santa Clara Way,’ decisions were made by Stella and her cabinet without any stakeholder input. Moving forward, we would like the Board to consider the direction of the current district administration. Let’s get back to ‘The Santa Clara Way’ where we work in partnership for the good of the students.”