The Pleasanton school board appointed Robin Munsell the new Harvest Park Middle School principal Tuesday night, less than a week after the school head unexpectedly announced his resignation.
The trustees approved Munsell's appointment in closed session of its regular meeting by a 4-0 vote with board Vice President Mark Miller absent.
Munsell will start Monday. She has spent the last four years as the assistant principal of Gale Ranch Middle School in San Ramon. Prior to that she worked as an English teacher at Castro Valley High School for seven years.
Munsell was a top finalist among the interviewees for the Harvest Park vacancy in June, but ultimately Ethan Cheever was selected for the job according to district spokesman Patrick Gannon.
As an introduction before Munsell spoke, Pleasanton Unified School District Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dianne Howell read aloud comments that references had made about Munsell.
“'One of the best I've ever seen in terms of instruction and leadership,' 'hard worker,' 'dedicated,' 'respected by teachers' – I could go on and on,” Howell said.
Munsell's introduction was met with loud applause. She told the board and the audience that she was excited to start Monday.
“I'm beyond excited to step into this role,” Munsell said. “I know there have been a lot of leadership changes, and I want everyone to know that I'm committed to the Harvest Park students, staff and community.”
After her introduction, Munsell said that she's “heard amazing things” about Harvest Park Middle School and is excited to bring what she's learned in San Ramon to Pleasanton. She added that her initial approach will be to build relationships and learn more about the school.
“I'm passionate about supporting all students in their learning and teachers in their practice,” Munsell said.
Asked about the recent turnovers in the Harvest Park principal position, Munsell said she has a track record of only leaving schools to get a promotion and has worked at two schools in her career.
“I always commit 120% to the school and community I'm working in,” Munsell said. “I'm not going anywhere – I'm here to stay.”
Munsell is Harvest Park's sixth principal in a little over a year.
In summer 2015 former principal Ken Rocha was promoted to director of education for the district's elementary and middle schools. Jill Butler was selected as interim principal for the school year, but due to some district-level resignations that led to administrative vacancies, she was then appointed Pleasanton Middle School's principal. Steve Maher and Amy Theberge took over as interim co-principals last November and served through the end of the school year.
Outgoing principal Cheever was appointed in June and started July 1. Prior to taking the job in Pleasanton, he was the principal of Parkside Intermediate School in San Bruno.
In an email to the school community last Wednesday Cheever said he had accepted a new position closer to home, a decision he said he made because the demands of his job have been harder on his family than was anticipated. His resignation is effective Friday.
Gannon said last week that Cheever alone made the decision to leave and that the district did not know of any other reasons behind his departure. He did not know where Cheever was headed next and Cheever has not returned a request for comment.
After Cheever informed the district of his decision, officials considered appointing an interim principal or bringing in a retiree for a period of time but decided to go back to the group of top candidates from June. Shortly after Cheever announced his resignation via email, Rubino said he would recommend Munsell as his replacement to the board.
On Tuesday evening, Board of Trustees President Jamie Yee Hintzke said it plans to have a discussion on the district's hiring processes at a future board meeting.
School board candidate and retired Hart Middle School principal Steve Maher, the only person who spoke about this matter during the public comment period, said he was pleased to hear that discussion would be taking place.
“The current hiring process has negatively affected our students, staff, parents and community at-large,” Maher said as several audience members wearing Harvest Park attire stood up in support.
Munsell's appointment Tuesday followed two meetings at Harvest Park Monday night where district officials discussed the change with school parents who had been invited via email. The email was not sent to the media or the public at large.
About 60 people attended in total, along with Rubino, Howell, Gannon and Alisal Elementary School Principal Karen Johnson who is a Harvest Park parent and former colleague of Munsell.
Rubino said that parents listened well and had good questions about Cheever's resignation and the district's hiring processes.
“I think parents left feeling very informed and in a much better state than when they entered and had a lot of questions and concerns,” Rubino said. “We're going to be making it a very high priority to ensure a stability in our school administration.”
In other business
* The board heard and briefly discussed an update on the district's planned adoption of new English-Language Arts and English language development textbooks. Over $6 million has been set aside for these new instructional materials, as the district last adopted English-Language Arts textbooks in the late 1990s and early 2000s according to a board memo.
The district plans to order these new materials in the spring for implementation next fall. It is piloting some materials in the meantime.
“This is a pretty significant adoption for us as a district,” school board member Chris Grant said. “I look forward to hearing in a year or two from now how this all works out.”
* The school board also signed off on a memorandum of understanding between Pleasanton Unified School District and the Santa Clara County Office of Education. The agreement authorizes the district to pay up to $48,000 this school year for activities related to training and implementation of the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports approach.
* The board also approved a resolution in recognition of the Week of the Administrator, which is Oct. 8-15, and recognized seven PUSD students for demonstrating responsibility.
* The next Pleasanton school board meeting falls on a Monday – Oct. 10 – due to Yom Kippur.