Upset and worried parents are speaking out against the resignation of Taylor Middle School’s principal, while teachers there had an almost unanimous no confidence vote in the superintendent over the matter and are concerned on a larger scale about the district’s handling of retaining talented staff.
Principal Lesley Martin is leaving the school Friday. She said the details of her departure cannot be shared since it’s a personnel issue, but did say she doesn’t know what she will do after her last day. Her resignation was submitted the day after she received from the district what is called a “Letter of Concern.” A Letter of Concern is a standard personnel practice listing areas in which concerns exist and to which attention must be paid. The primary purpose of the letter was to provide focus for constructive conversations in furtherance of continuing successful leadership in all the facets of the principal position, according to a Dec. 6 letter to parents and staff at Taylor from Superintendent Linda Luna. Additionally, Assistant Principal Angie Toy also left at the beginning of the school year.
Mary Miller, an eighth-grade science teacher at Taylor, presented the Dec. 4 no confidence vote in Luna from the Taylor Middle classified and certificated employees to the board Monday night. At the meeting, she said the vote speaks volumes about Luna’s performance.
“We’re concerned about the failure in retaining staff,” Miller said. “There’s also been intimidation and humiliation.”
In terms of the no confidence vote, Luna said she understands the community is upset, but the most difficult part of the situation is that the public doesn’t know the entire story since it’s a personnel issue.
“It is upsetting to lose your principal in the middle of school year,” she said. “What is difficult is when someone resigns suddenly, people leave for personal reasons, and there are things that really shouldn’t be in the public. Lesley Martin was more than the staff’s principal; she was their friend and supporter.”
No one in the district requested or even mentioned the possibility of a resignation in connection with the Letter of Concern, the Dec. 6 letter stated. The district was stunned at receiving this response and initially refused to accept the offered resignation and urged Martin to think and reflect deeply before making such an important decision and to have further conversations with others, it stated further.
In Martin’s resignation letter, she wrote, “I have discussed each of your listed topics [in the Letter of Concern] with you previously and there clearly is no substantive value in going over them again. I therefore voluntarily resign from my position as Taylor Middle School principal effective Dec. 20, 2013.”
After submitting her resignation, Martin returned to her school, called an emergency teachers’ meeting and announced to her staff she had resigned. The Dec. 6 letter states this immediate action denied to the board and district any opportunity to discuss the matter and effectively removed the option of declining to accept the resignation.
Physical education and health teacher Karen Lotti was teary-eyed talking about Toy’s and Martin’s exits at the meeting.
“I believed we were building strong bulldogs (the school’s mascot),” Lotti said. “I urge you (the board) to do what you can to keep fantastic people like them in Millbrae schools.”
She received applause and a standing ovation for her comments, while another Taylor physical education and health teacher, Julie Nestor, is also upset and said the school has come together since Martin has been there. Nestor has worked at the school for 19 years. The school had five principals in the last 10 years and was having trouble changing, she said.
“The staff is deeply concerned by the action on accepting the resignation,” said Nestor. “We were moving forward in a positive direction. This staff couldn’t even be in the same room together three years ago. She’s not leaving because she wants to.”
Nestor added this issue was about respect, not money, and it’s belittling and sad the board didn’t recognize educators are in the business of people.
Seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher Julie Fiore said teachers and other administrators lack support.
“We’ve lost classroom aides, office staff, a certificated librarian, half the staff development days and substitutes who lack competitive salaries here,” she said. “Is it any wonder we continue to lose people and quality personnel without support? This is not about a particular person. Is it enough not to have enough?”
District employee and parent Susan G. Oval said Toy and Martin were referred to as the dynamic duo.
“We as a district need to come together and make this stop happening,” she said. “We’re so very sad you’re (Martin) leaving and need to dig deeper and find out why we’re not retaining staff.”
Meanwhile, parents were also outraged. Meadows Elementary School parent Jeff Steinberg said Martin’s departure is an egregious mistake. Taylor parent Joseph Olive described Martin as much loved.
“This is the first time I’ve heard young boys say things aren’t right,” Olive said. “Everything starts from the top and flows down. We don’t know what’s going on. I say we pull all our kids out of school for a day and have the state ask what’s going on.”
Martin was principal of Taylor for two and a half years and was formerly principal of Tierra Linda Middle School in San Carlos.
There’s a chance the school board will allow for more public comment on the matter at its next meeting, sometime in January.
Luna said it’s important to hear how people are feeling about the schools.
“I would much rather hear the feedback than not.”
At the same meeting, state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, presented a 2013 California Distinguished School Award to Taylor.
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