The already-heated dispute over the appointment of a new principal for Laurelwood Elementary School reached a fever pitch Tuesday when parents and teachers turned out to voice their anger about Santa Clara Unified School District Superintendent Stella Kemp’s evident decision not to appoint the school’s popular Assistant Principal, Paul Fuller, to the post.
Although there is no official confirmation, some believe that Kemp originally intended to appoint someone from outside SCUSD, despite the community’s overwhelming preference for Fuller.
The nearly two-hour meeting — characterized by bouts of applause, cheers and the occasional catcall — saw a lot of commentary about Fuller’s qualifications for the post, criticism of the Superintendent, demands to know what was leaked as well as by what authority Kemp started an investigation into it. However, none of these questions got specific answers.
Kemp pulled the appointment from the April 7 SCUSD Board meeting agenda because, she said, “the integrity of the process may have been compromised” and was “tainted.” She then re-started the appointment, initially saying that the former applicants couldn’t apply and then saying they could.
The Superintendent and the Board have refused to say what was leaked to “taint” the appointment and continued to refuse to answer that question Tuesday night.
“What information was shared that you believe is lawfully protected?” asked parent Lizzy Smith. We simply found out you have not hired Mr. Fuller and we’re understandably upset and angry. So, what’s different about us knowing when he [Fuller] didn’t get hired?”
Parents repeatedly pointed to Fuller’s rapport with staff, students and parents, as well as his extensive experience at Laurelwood and knowledge of its operations, begging the question: why isn’t he a slam dunk for the job?
Kemp offered no reasons, only saying the district had to “make sure that we are following the established either labor laws and code…and to make sure we’re following our board policy. We have a framework and plan and process for a personnel appointment.”
This answer, however, failed to satisfy anyone.
“I hire engineers, so I’m very familiar with the process of having criteria that you have to have,” said one parent. “I wish I could get the performance reviews of a candidate that I’m going to hire. So, what I’m hearing you saying is that we have performance review data like you have got,” she said, Kemp was forced nonetheless to, in essence, go through a hiring procedure as if there were no candidates.
What raised the most ire Tuesday night, however, was a letter sent to members of the selection committee informing them of their “document preservation duties.” This came from a lawyer, Gregory Rolen of Haight Brown and Bonesteel, whom Kemp appears to have hired unilaterally* to “investigate certain matters regarding Laurelwood.”
Board President Jodi Muirhead received a copy of the letter when it was sent out, but other Board Members say they found out about it when a parent published it on Facebook.
Characterized by some as “bullying,” this letter frightened some. One committee member’s son said that his mother has been “afraid to talk to anyone.” Others noted that in the countries that some parents come from, a letter like that “would mean that your family could disappear.”
Kemp said that the letter was a routine precaution to preserve records, something that would be done in any SCUSD investigation regardless of the matter.
* There is some question about whether Kemp exceeded her authority in hiring an attorney without a Board action. Ironically, one attorney who says she doesn’t have that authority is Rolen himself, who wrote on the subject a year ago for the California Policy Center.