SRVEA raises concerns about recent principal selection process

Daniel Shen and Caroline Lobel

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In a Nov. 12 letter to the San Ramon Valley Unified School District (SRVUSD), the San Ramon Valley Education Association (SRVEA) voiced opposition to the process by which Dougherty Valley High School Principal Evan Powell was appointed to permanently succeed former head Dave Kravitz.

The teachers’ union clarified in the one-page petition that it was not attempting to criticize Powell’s qualifications. Rather, it was concerned with the selection procedure’s lack of community input, as well as the precedent this could set for future years.

“We drafted a letter that objected to not having a say in our next principal. And this has nothing to do with Mr. Powell … If we were to just be handed someone, he’s a great guy to be handed,” SRVEA spokesperson Kerri Knapp said. “But what if we got handed somebody terrible?”

Knapp said that whenever a new principal has been needed in past years, a selection committee of students, teachers, classified, parents and District management has always been called to evaluate candidates. This process was used to bring Jason Reiman, Daniel Hillman and Kravitz — DVHS’s previous three principals — to the helm.

This time, however, the District appointed Powell to the principal position without prior communication with community members. Consequently, SRVEA urged in its letter that the District return to established courses of action in similar future situations. 

“We are stating objections to the process, and the hope is that next time around — because we know we’ll get another principal at some point — our voices can be heard,” Knapp said.

Though SRVUSD has not yet responded to the union letter, it did provide some insight on how the decision was made.

“The District used its discretion in making recommendations to the Board of Education that they believed would serve the best interests of the affected communities,” District spokeswoman Denise Jennison said. “As far as choosing Mr. Powell to lead Dougherty Valley, he brought with him experience as both a demonstrated leader as a successful principal, and as a member of the DVHS community.”

According to Knapp, SRVUSD justified not calling a principal selection committee by pointing out Powell’s prior experience as principal of Los Cerros Middle School. In previous years, Hillman and Kravitz were both assistant principals at Dougherty before principals, so the District followed the committee process in those cases.

While the substitution of Kravitz for Powell did spark feedback, it was only one of many administrative changes approved in the Nov. 19 Board meeting. The departure of former Director of Communications Elizabeth Graswich set off one notable chain of successions, causing Director of Instructional Services Chris George, Kravitz, Powell, California High Assistant Principal Andy Briggs and Windemere Ranch Middle Assistant Principal Jeffrey Osborn to each take up the previous administrator’s position.

In the same operation, the District also opted to not backfill nine total management positions, justified by “loss of revenue due to ongoing declining enrollment” as stated in its Nov. 19 press release. The memorandum also noted that this attrition “resulted in ongoing savings of over $1,400,000 to the District’s current year budget.”

Ultimately, as of Dec. 17, SRVEA’s letter awaits response from the District.

“SRVEA applauds the District for saving money that can be redirected into their teaching staff and the learning conditions for our students,” Knapp said. “When it comes to principal selection, however, we want to ensure we always have a voice in the decision-making process.”