UPDATED: Parents offer input on selection of new La Jolla High principal, interim principal will start Thursday
To suggest criteria for the new principal: E-mail Area Supervisor Julie Martel at firstname.lastname@example.org (with La Jolla High Parent in the subject line)
By Pat Sherman
Nearly 100 parents of current and former La Jolla High School students met at La Jolla High’s Parker Auditorium Tuesday morning, Aug. 6, for an impromptu meeting to tell the school district what qualities and experience they would like to see in a new principal.
The San Diego Unified School District is replacing longtime La Jolla High principal Dana Shelburne, who was reassigned last month following the release of a 52-page audit of La Jolla High School’s associated student body funds that the district said is the longest and most negative it has encountered. The report found an array of missing or misappropriated school money (read more here).
School District Area 3 SuperintendentJulie Martel, who oversees the La Jolla Cluster of public schools, facilitated the meeting, which lasted a little more than an hour. Martel said she held a similar meeting with teachers and staff earlier that morning to collect the same feedback.This combined “site criteria” will be used in evaluating applicants for the position.
Criteria suggested by parents included:
• Classroom experience
• Principal who encourages teacher innovation
• Principal who stresses teacher accountability
• Willingness to work with other principals in the La Jolla Cluster (especially to assure a smooth transition this fall)
• Principal with strong fiscal management and budget experience
• Open, proactive communicator
• Principal with a vision for the students and school, who sets clear goals
• Engaged principal who strives to know students (preferably by name)
• Principal who fosters school pride and spirit
• Principal not caught up in the prestige of La Jolla, who will “get his/her hands dirty” improving the school
• Principal who understands and is involved in the school’s governance team
• Principal with experience in special education and gifted education
Selecting a principal: The process
Martel said hiring a new principal would take a minimum of three to four weeks. In the meantime, Pat Crowder, a retired SUSD principal, has been selected to serve as an interim principal at La Jolla High, beginning Aug. 14. She will remain in the role until a new principal is selected. Crowder spent 10 years as principal of Patrick Henry High School in San Diego before retiring in 2012.
Martel said she also hoped to have Shelburne’s replacement hired by Tuesday, Sept. 3, the first day of classes. The job is open to applicants from outside the district, though it will only be posted on the district’s website (sandi.net). Candidates already employed by the district will be given priority, Martel said. Before she is able to consider candidates from outside the district, Martel said she must demonstrate that district employees vying for the job are not a good match.
(A district spokesperson said the qualities listed in the online job description do not reflect all community input, due to word count restrictions, and that all input will be addressed during the selection process.)
The job was posted Friday afternoon, Aug. 9, in the employment section of the district’s website, with a salary range of $65,650 to $93,795 (based on education and experience). Applications must be received before midnight, Aug. 18, after which Martel will be sent a list of candidates and their applications to screen based on the criteria established by parents and staff. If none of the candidates are a good fit, the position will be posted again, Martel said.
The most suitable candidates identified by Martel will go through a “level one” interview process with Martel and Muirlands Middle School Principal Chris Hargrave, who Martel said would play a key role in the transition process at La Jolla High.
“She and I will design some questions and maybe screen 15 candidates,” Martel said.
Their choices will be called back for an interview with a “level two” panel comprised of Martel and Hargrave, plus three La Jolla High teachers, two parents and one classified staff member.
Several parents suggested that students be represented in the selection process. “High school students are very smart and they should be a big part of this,” one parent said.
Martel said she would “see how strict the rules are and if we can have one or two students participate in the process.”
Martel said she would likely rely on the advice of Vice-principal Will Hawthorne and Principal’s Assistant Rita McGee-Bastani to chose the parents involved on the level-two panel.
“They’ve already shared the names of people that are very involved in the school; your PTA president (Beth Penny) is one person who has come up,” as well as foundation president, Jeff Macelli, Martel said.
Martel said she is open to additional suggestions, which can be e-mailed to her. Teachers will likely vote to decide which of them serves on the panel, Martel said.
The final interview for the principal is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 28, after which the level-two panel’s top three choices will be sent to the district’s new superintendent, Cindy Marten.
“It’s up to her; she has the final say on a candidate,” Martel said. “In most cases, the (panel’s) No. 1 selection is the person that the superintendent selects. … Unless there’s some really strange reason, I think she would probably go with the community and the staff selection.”
Martel said she and the teachers were “pretty clear” that they want candidates who have already served as a principal — whether at a high school or middle school level. Those with only vice-principal experience will likely be screened out, she said.
Martel said staff and teachers also prefer a candidate who has been a high school teacher for at least five years.
“I’ve asked the staff to kind of keep an open mind in terms of whether they have high school experience or middle school experience, “Martel said. “The quality, the characteristics of the person, seems to be a high priority — flexible, a shared decision maker, inclusive of all the stakeholders. … They don’t want somebody coming in and being a top-down manager (or) somebody that comes in and brings their own agenda.”
Vice-principal also sought
The school is also hiring a second vice-principal, to replace Margaret Joseph, who accepted a principal’s position at Kate Sessions Elementary in July. Martel said Joseph’s successor would likely be chosen at the same time as the new La Jolla High principal, or shortly thereafter.
“(Vice-principal) Will (Hawthorne’s) strengths are great; now I need find somebody who has strengths that Will doesn’t have,” said Martel, noting that there are currently a lot of job vacancies in the district.
“My colleagues are also posting jobs and hiring people,” she said. “If we wait four weeks, we may lose some candidates who may be a good fit for this school. I will be working with Will and other staff members here to make sure that we get somebody who will complement the whole team.”
Martel assured that she also would be “spending quite a bit of time” at La Jolla High during the new principal’s first few months on the job.
“There are some things that need to be followed through with and worked out, so this school is a high priority for me,” she said, adding that vice-principal Hawthorne would help train the new principal.
“There may be quite a few people in the district that are very good principals that maybe want to move here to La Jolla, so we just have to wait and see who’s out there,” Martel said. “(We want) people who are selective about the school that they want to lead. … They’re not just trying to be a principal.”
The turnover for principals at most schools in the district is every five to seven years, whereas La Jolla High has had the same principal for the past 18 years, Martel said. Though the process may seem daunting, she said it is typically very effective.
One parent took the opportunity to voice her frustration with several tenured teachers at La Jolla High, who she referred to as “difficult” and “not really bringing the best out of the students.”
Another woman said her son, who just graduated, was frustrated that the former principal did not attended any of his band functions during the four years he was at La Jolla High.
“He wanted the principal to show up at just one band function — just to say, ‘Hey, this is our band, welcome,’ and then he could leave,” she said. “He never showed up.”
Another parent, who moved to La Jolla from East County, said her children noted a “negative vibe” on campus, and said there “seems to be a lack of respect for the kids.”
Responding to these concerns, Martel said the new principal would have to be somebody who is visible on campus, and engaged with both the students and staff.
“That person has to be someone who can motivate and inspire teachers to change,” Martel said. “Those who haven’t been evolving with the changing world have to get on board.”
Another parent suggested that the new principal should have positive relationships and engagement at the district level.
“That’s just something that I see can make a big difference for a site and for a cluster,” she said. “I’m not saying somebody who doesn’t push back when there needs to be pushback. Sometimes we need to say, this doesn’t work for everybody.”
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