Parents question the removal of Carmel Creek principal

Signs on the school and throughout the neighborhood call for the return of Carmel Creek Principal Lisa Ryder.

The Carmel Creek Elementary School community was left reeling after their “beloved” Principal Lisa Ryder was suddenly removed this month.

On May 10, the school community was informed by Solana Beach School District Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger that Ryder was being removed from her duties due to “unforeseen circumstances.” That morning the email was sent to Onsite Scholar parents announcing the change and Doug Kramer was introduced as the school’s interim principal.

For the record:

6:37 p.m. June 10, 2021Public comment was not moved at the May 20 meeting but was held before closed session at 5:15 p.m. It was stated on the board agenda however some parents were confused about the timing.

“Friday morning she was at school greeting all parents and then Monday she wasn’t there anymore,” said parent Nádia Dal Piccol, who described Ryder as a committed and dedicated principal who was the model of integrity, hard work and empathy.

The departure left a community confused—an outpouring of support could be seen around the campus and community with posters and yard signs. Parents said there have been numerous calls and texts between families and conversations at the park as everyone tries to figure out what happened.

“I haven’t heard anything but disbelief and shock from parents, staff, and kids,” said parent Ted Hibsman. “I have witnessed greater negative impact from this issue than the rest of the past year’s pandemic challenges.”

According to Brentlinger, as this is a sensitive and confidential personnel matter, there is not much more information that can be shared.

“I recognize this has been a very difficult situation for everyone involved and that many unanswered questions remain,” Brentlinger wrote in a letter to Carmel Creek families. “Out of respect for the confidentiality and privacy of this matter, some questions may never be answered to the satisfaction desired.”

In closed session at the May 20 meeting, the board approved the recommendation to reassign Ryder for cause. According to Brentlinger, Ryder will return to a previously held position of which she is certified to hold in the 2021-22 school year.

The Ryder family did not want to give any statements.

Over 200 signatures have been collected on a petition calling for an independent investigation of her removal and to bring her back but even if nothing comes of it, the community wants Ryder to know that the families appreciate and support her. Parents said the staff is “devastated” and the children, who adored her, miss her: “They’re looking for her.”

A sign up in the Carmel Creek School community.
(CV News staff photo)

Ryder was the third principal in the Carmel Valley school’s 27-year history. She had been with the district for 16 years and served as the Carmel Creek principal for the last six years. Previously, she served as the principal for the district’s Child Development Center.

Christopher Gardner, the site president for the Solana Beach Schools Foundation, had the opportunity to work closely alongside Ryder to help grow fundraising efforts for the K-3 school.

“She’s extremely passionate about her job,” Gardner said. “She knew everybody’s names and was very much the heart of the community…I don’t know anybody that didn’t like her.”

Gardner said he didn’t understand why she had to be removed in this way, with just weeks left in the school year. With an investigation into her removal, parents want to ensure that the administrative process was fair and, as taxpayers, they want to make sure that there are no financial consequences, that the district is not leaving itself open to liability.

Many parents planned to address the board at the 6:30 p.m. meeting on May 20 but there was a lot of confusion as public comment on closed session items is held at 5:15 p.m., not before the regular session. Several parents who planned to speak were unable to attend at the earlier time and said they went away from the meeting feeling frustrated and unheard.

Brentlinger clarified that the employee did have the opportunity to have the matter addressed in open or closed session of a board meeting and the district honored the employee’s decision to have the matter addressed in closed session. Brentlinger acknowledged the parents’ call for an investigation but said under California law, decisions regarding the placement of administrative employees are made by the board following a recommendation from staff. Additionally, administrative positions do not require improvement or remediation plans.

“There is no question that decisions like this are incredibly hard and require an analysis of all the facts, an opportunity to hear from the employee and staff, and, most importantly, engagement in thoughtful deliberation. I can assure you all of these processes occurred,” Brentlinger wrote. “I recognize the struggle this poses for the Carmel Creek community and want to reassure everyone that we will be here to support and work collaboratively as we move forward.”

The recruitment process for a new Carmel Creek principal is being finalized and is expected to include staff and parent community participation.

Many parents would prefer the return of Ryder.

“This is just one of those things that doesn’t feel normal. Nobody believes Mrs. Ryder did something to deserve being dismissed this way,” Dal Piccol said. “This is giving us a terrible end of the school year.

“Everybody loses with her departure.”