For the second time in four months, an issue in front of the Encinitas Union School District board drew protests from concerned parents and students — this time the transfer of principal Jodi Greenberger from Park Dale Lane Elementary School to El Camino Creek.
Gathering in the same spot outside of the EUSD office where demonstrators held signs and chanted against putting money in the budget for yoga in schools, the protestors on Oct. 18 numbered more than 100, many of them Park Dale Lane students.
Greenberger’s transfer was made after another district school, Capri, lost its principal, so the principal from El Camino Creek (ECC) was moved to Capri, Greenberger was moved to ECC and new hire Erin Terry was assigned to Park Dale Lane.
While the specific issue for the protestors was the transfer of the principal, one thread that connected the latest protest to the earlier one was the belief that the district and board have shown a lack of transparency.
“We are protesting the lack of transparency that the Encinitas School board has had recently, in terms of dealing with decisions they have made that have affected our school (Park Dale Lane), El Camino Creek and Capri,” said Nina Seibert, a Park Dale parent and one of the protest organizers.
At the regular school board meeting that followed the protest, the EUSD trustees held a closed session discussion regarding the hiring of Terry, then an action item in public to vote to confirm her appointment to Park Dale Lane. Before each item, parents — as well as one student, Seibert’s son Max, a fifth-grader — outlined their concerns, which included the way the situation was handled and their perception that Park Dale was being treated like a lesser school that always had new, first-time principals that were then transferred to the district’s preferred schools.
According to speakers, the Capri principal left just two days into the school year, forcing the district, led by Superintendent Tim Baird, to scramble. After listing the position for a month and getting no takers, and with the interim principal only able to lead Capri through winter break, the district looked for an internal candidate, choosing Terry.
However, it was the decision to do the three-way principal shift — and a seemingly out-of-the-blue letter announcing the changes sent to Park Dale parents on Oct. 4 — that left the Park Dale parents and students with questions. Speakers noted that Greenberger’s special education experience was a great fit for Park Dale and admitted that while the school had seen some hard times, Greenberger was in the midst of a plan to turn things around and had already seen a lot of success with it.
With questions to be answered, parents invited Baird to a PTA meeting on Oct. 13, but were left unsatisfied.
“At the town hall meeting … they still offered no plausible, logical reason why they (moved two principals instead of installing the new hire into the open position),” said Seibert, who said board members Patricia Sinay, Marla Stitch and Carol Skiljan also attended the meeting.
Before the board voted at the Oct. 18 meeting, Baird spent 10 minutes outlining the district’s reasoning to the trustees and the packed house in the board chambers.
“Principals get moved around sometimes, it happens,” he explained. “There are some districts that do that automatically.
“If we took a vote of our schools, most of the time, we would never move a principal. I understand that and I appreciate it, I love that you are so passionate about your principal.”
Baird also voiced his confidence in Terry’s ability to do a great job as Park Dale’s principal, especially since she will have nearly half a school year to work alongside, and learn from, Greenberger before the switch.
When the board members spoke, Stitch assured the assembled parents that the board had heard their position and taken it into account, while Gregg Sonken — who was Terry’s sixth-grade teacher at the old Pacific View School — said he understood the parents’ frustration. Sinay and Skiljan agreed that the board and the district need to communicate better with parents.
Board president Emily Andrade addressed the dozens of young students in the audience directly:
“There is no way we would ever make a decision that we thought, in any way, was going to be harmful to you or to your school.”
After that, the motion passed unanimously.