Following Superintendent Dr. Darnise Williams’ formal departure from the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) last Wednesday, the SUHSD Board of Trustees held another special meeting on Monday to discuss the next steps in hiring a new superintendent.
After a three-and-a-half hour closed session that ran two and a half hours longer than intended, the Board announced they unanimously voted to offer Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services Crystal Leach the position of Interim Superintendent.
Woodside English Language Development teacher Jonda Farris de Gámez said, “That it should take three and a half hours to make a five-minute decision is shocking.”
Community members voiced the same concerns as in meetings last Monday and Wednesday, citing the supposed reversal of Dr. Williams’ work towards equity and the hypocrisy of recent actions given new Board members’ campaign platforms of transparency.
SUHSD Counselor on Special Assignment Glenda Ortez-Galán said, “Dr. Williams was the first superintendent that publicly acknowledged counselors and invested in our work because she understands the combined need for academic, college and career, and social-emotional work. She holds the highest of expectations for all students. Many have shared how they felt seen by Dr. Williams. I know how they feel.”
Ravenswood City School District Board of Education President Jenny Varghese Bloom asked, “Are you going to be people who move equity forward, or are you going to go back to the same old, same old that students of color that I represent in my district have experienced for over 40 years?”
M-A English teacher Abbie Korman said, “We feel unheard. A swift removal of the Superintendent makes us wonder if you really value the work we’ve been doing and voicing constant support for. We’re worried. We’re now in our third special closed session in one week. We’re tired.”
When Board members responded to public comments, Shawneece Stevenson was the only member to acknowledge the speakers’ anger. On the evening’s closed session, she said, “It wasn’t an easy meeting. I’d rather be transparent and really talk than just make an easy decision. I think it’s important to wrestle.”
She said, “I know the community is hurting, so there is a grief process, and we’re not going to be a perfect board in dealing with this, but we’re going to be a conscientious board and a diligent board. I’m looking at you all [audience members] because it’s now really about the audience. I heard that commitment from you all, and that settles my soul. It doesn’t mean I’m not grieving, it doesn’t mean I’m not hurting—I’m hurting because my community is hurting.”
On next steps, Board President Richard Ginn said, “Our plan is to schedule a study session sometime in the new year to consider all of the alternative methods for how a superintendent search might go and to get feedback on a process that, as much as possible, helps us achieve as many of our goals as possible, including transparency and accountability.”