Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Parents spoke out at a meeting focused on the departure of Taylor Middle School principal Lesley Martin and finding her replacement.
Parents are expressing concern over filling the position of a well-liked Millbrae principal who recently resigned and the district’s ability to retain staff in general.
Principal Lesley Martin left Taylor Middle School in December 2013. Her resignation was submitted the day after she received a “Letter of Concern” offering constructive criticism from the district, according to a Dec. 6 letter from Linda Luna, superintendent of the Millbrae Elementary School District. The main issue with Martin was communication between the school and the district, Luna disclosed at a Tuesday night meeting held to discuss the resignation and steps moving forward. Additionally, Assistant Principal Angie Toy left at the beginning of the school year.
“I see this as an absolute train wreck and I don’t see the administration doing anything,” Taylor parent Rob Mantler said at the meeting. “My impression is that you threatened her with a bad evaluation. I’ve heard there’s a poisonous atmosphere for teachers. … I don’t think you should discuss a parcel tax unless you right this train wreck.”
Currently, Vahn Phayprasert, assistant superintendent of educational services, is pitching in at the school while Luna looks for an interim principal for the school. The interim will likely be a retired middle school principal with experience under his or her belt since the pool of candidates is slimmer mid-year. The district plans on conducting a search for a permanent replacement for Martin in February or March, Luna said. An interview panel of parents, staff, teachers and a community member would bring forth a handful of names for a potential principal. Background checks would follow, Luna said.
Following the resignation, the Taylor Middle School classified and certificated employees presented a no confidence vote in Luna mainly because of alleged failure to retain staff and “intimidation and humiliation.”
“I think about it all the time,” Luna said. “I am a human being and this is my livelihood. In no way does someone come to lead an organization to want to hurt it. What is it that’s being questioned about my leadership? I want to hear.”
Taylor parent Laurie Giammona said a lot of teachers may be afraid to talk to Luna and that it might be a good idea to bring in a third-party mediator.
Luna said she’s looked into why district faculty members have left since she began as superintendent in 2010 and found 14 percent, or four people, had left because they were unhappy. Two were Toy and Martin, another director was upset over board relations, while the fourth was unhappy over teacher relations. Fifty-one percent of those who left did so because of personal reasons, she said.
Giammona said she was concerned about how the vote of no confidence in the superintendent, and the district’s inability to retain staff, will affect the quality of the schools since it would seem difficult to pass a parcel tax under these conditions. Millbrae school officials are currently readying plans for a parcel tax on the June 2014 ballot. She also expressed concerns about the safety of the school without a principal to handle matters.
“It concerns me as a taxpayer,” Giammona said. “What are you doing about that as a board?”
Trustee Jay Price contended that not many people make efforts to run for the board, but noted the district has excellent leadership at all levels.
One parent asked the board directly why Martin left.
“Ego,” said Trustee Jay Price. “A clash of egos.”
Many at the Tuesday night meeting seemed upset by Price’s comment, some yelling that Price had an ego himself.
The board did have the opportunity to interview Martin after she resigned and learned she was unhappy at the position, said board President Denis Fama. The district does want to address issues of salaries, the work environment and facilities in the future though to make sure it stays a great school district, he said.
“The issue now is for us to fill the position and what we are going to look at to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “It’s been hard to listen to your (the parents’) criticism as just as it might be. … It’s not something we want to sweep under the carpet. I don’t know if there’s a fault; she took the right step for her and the fact is she’s gone.”
Possible solutions moving forward included hiring a human resources manager, reviewing board policies and procedures and increasing the board’s visibility on campuses.
Meanwhile, Taylor math teacher Carrie Wong defended the administration, noting Luna has done a good job. Wong did not support the no confidence vote in Luna. Wong admitted she and Martin had butted heads in the past, but said their relationship had greatly improved.
“I was emotional [when she decided to leave],” Wong said. “But I asked Lesley, ‘is there anything I can do?’ She said ‘no, this is the best decision for me and my family.’ I feel very fearful because of this negativity I keep hearing.”
There will be another parent meeting 8:30 a.m. Friday at Taylor’s library, 850 Taylor Blvd. The superintendent, Fama and Trustee Lynne Ferrario will be present at the meeting. There will also be another meeting when there’s more concrete answers, Fama said.
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