The Coast Unified School District has begun the search process for a new principal, but when a standing-room-only crowd showed up at the district’s monthly board meeting Thursday, May 19, many of them wanted to talk about outgoing principal Jonathan Sison.
Sison and the district agreed to part ways last month, with a statement released to The Cambrian by Superintendent Vicki Schumacher stating that Sison would serve as “principal on special assignment” as of July 5 and had agreed to resign as of June 30, 2017.
That statement was released April 21, a week after April’s board meeting, so the May meeting was the first opportunity for the public to address the board about the decision in a regular, open session.
With about 60 people packed into the board chambers at the Old Cambria Grammar School, nearly one-third of them spoke to the issue of Sison’s departure. (In all, 17 speakers made their way to the podium, with two others yielding their time to Joseph Perez, who read from a lengthy prepared statement.)
I think there’s always two sides to the story. I think sometimes, people make decisions based on what they hear from friends, and they don’t know both sides of the story.
Sean Spradley, Coast Union math teacher
The first three speakers were all teachers at Coast Union. Ron Garcia said the decision for the district and Sison to part ways was “absolutely the right decision to make,” while Tim May said, “I strongly support this decision.”
The next speaker, math teacher Sean Spradley, said, “I think there’s always two sides to the story. I think sometimes, people make decisions based on what they hear from friends, and they don’t know both sides of the story.”
Students speak out
The side presented by Sison’s supporters was in ample evidence at the meeting, both among students and parents who attended. Following Spradley to the podium were valedictorian Xue DiMaggio, Karen Tatham and James Welch. All three spoke in support of Sison, as did Margaret Stern, a sophomore who spoke later.
“He is one of the most accessible and personable principals I’ve ever had,” DiMaggio said, adding that he always greeted students as they came to school each day and “went out of his way” to help in the college application process. “He has a kind word for everyone. … He truly cares about each and every student.”
Tatham said there were some “major issues going on” at the school, but added, “Doctor Sison is not one of them.”
She instead fixed part of the blame on some faculty members who, she said, “won’t help out at ASB events; they won’t help out on other things because they will not get a pay raise.”
Margaret Stern, a sophomore, said: “Doctor Sison has been amazingly supportive of the students here.” Sison, she said, is “always accessible on the quad” and “always coming up with creative solutions to our problems, so it’s pretty confusing to me why he’s no longer going to be our principal.”
Parents have their say
The district has given no reason for Sison’s departure, citing an inability to discuss personnel issues under the law. That restriction left parents and other community members in attendance looking for answers. Some at the meeting expressed frustration that the community had not been apprised of the situation before a decision was made.
Perez said the decision that Sison should depart was made “out of public view, with no preface and no reason stated.”
Chris Lawson, meanwhile, spoke about the personal impact a job loss had on him and asked the board to consider the effects of the decision on Sison and his family: “It’s not just him; it’s his wife and four kids who have to endure this for years to come.”
Nicole Linn expressed concern about a lack of continuity: “There’s been three principals in five years, so it seems like there’s much more deep-seated issues there.”
A new principal is not going to do anything for math scores. We have a million things that are wrong with that school, and they don’t stem from the principal.
Several speakers shared concerns over grades, teacher performance and some faculty members’ interactions with students. Some suggested that instructors, not Sison, should be held accountable for problems such as an increasing number of failing grades at the school during the third quarter of this year.
At the April 14 school board meeting, Sison gave a presentation that showed the number of F’s increased, year-over-year, in English/language arts, math, history and lab sciences. The number of failing grades in English/language arts increased from 12 to 27, while the number in history rose from two to 10. Sison, at that meeting, mentioned a possible correlation between the spike in poor grades and attendance issues.
Steve Kniffen argued at the May 19 meeting that “a new principal is not going to do anything for math scores,” adding that “we have a million things that are wrong with that school, and they don’t stem from the principal.”
Schumacher invited parents and community members to provide feedback on the process of selecting a new principal. A meeting to discuss the issue was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 23, in the board room at 1350 Main St.