Teachers want Capuchino principal to leave

Shamar Shanks

A number of Capuchino High School teachers are asking for Principal Shamar Shanks to step down citing failed communication, an escalating number of disputes and concerns about tolerance. She plans to stay put, however.

In a May 30 email to Superintendent Scott Laurence and the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees, Capuchino High School union representatives Kathy Fogle and Naomi Tuite outline a variety of issues including: tension and growing discord between Shanks and the staff; a culture of fear for employees; and a lack of collaboration when it comes to decisions. They also point to Shanks making religious references that can be found offensive by those with differing views. As a result, most teachers recently said they would not like her to return as principal in the fall, according to the letter.

Both the district and Shanks note much change has occurred at the school, which can be difficult. However, they point to recent gains in test scores as proof the discomfort is worthwhile.

"I am whole-heartedly committed to Capuchino and I will remain to see our collective vision through,” Shanks wrote in an email response to the letter.

Similarly, Laurence expressed confidence in Shanks as the school leader.

"We are confident in the abilities of the Capuchino leadership and staff to sustain their steady progression. We will work with the staff and administration on the concerns expressed but I do not want the Capuchino community to lose sight of their recent gains or the positive focus on the students and their accomplishments,” Laurence wrote in an email.

Fogle declined to comment further.

Shanks has created a number of problems since joining Capuchino four years ago, teachers said in the letter.

"She has demonstrated significant inadequacies in her leadership skills, as well as management and personnel skills,” the letter reads. "This has resulted in a toxic school climate and the loss of many dedicated educators, with numerous others submitting transfer requests, thus devastating Capuchino’s long-standing culture of staff leadership, empowerment and cohesiveness.”

A consulting firm was brought in to help the school climate but only one meeting took place, teachers wrote. At that meeting, staff expressed feelings of being harassed, intimidated or fearful.

Despite the differences, Fogle and Tuite wrote that staff has remained dedicated to providing "an exemplary educational experience for Capuchino’s diverse learning community.”

Without change, the teaching faculty was asked if they would like Shanks to remain as principal. Only 10 of the 60 asked responded with yes, according to the teachers. Now the teachers are asking the superintendent and the board to support the request.

Laurence said the staff and principal have made great work over the last few years in terms of student performance, program development and community outreach.

"However, to achieve these results, a tremendous amount of change was necessary. Change can be unsettling, but at times schools need to re-evaluate and change in order to reach their potential,” he said, adding that he is confident in the leadership at Capuchino.

Similarly, Shanks pointed out the changes which have gone into effect in recent years including increasing involvement in two programs: Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college readiness system that has increased from two classes of 50 students to five classes with 130 students and the International Baccalaureate program, an academically challenging program that prepares students for college, which has grown from 132 students in 2008 and 312 this year. She added that there has been an increase in test scores and the creation of the Freshman Small Learning Community which led to a new Sophomore Small Learning Community.

Shanks ended by committing herself to Capuchino and the vision that all students graduate with the skills needed to be prepared for college and career opportunities.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: heather@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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