Principal stays at Mt. Woodson school

Mt. Woodson Elementary teachers and other staff members react after Ramona school board President Dan Lopez announces that Theresa Grace will remain as the school’s principal. Front from left are Melissa Fortunato, campus safety officer, and teachers September Tamburrino and Roberta Nau. Behind them are, from left, teacher Peggy Powell and Jennifer McSparran, specialized academic instructor. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson
Mt. Woodson Elementary teachers and other staff members react after Ramona school board President Dan Lopez announces that Theresa Grace will remain as the school’s principal. Front from left are Melissa Fortunato, campus safety officer, and teachers September Tamburrino and Roberta Nau. Behind them are, from left, teacher Peggy Powell and Jennifer McSparran, specialized academic instructor. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

By Maureen Robertson

Hearing parents, teachers, and others talk about Mount Woodson Elementary School Principal Theresa Grace at the March 13 school board meeting, one could almost imagine her as Wonder Woman.

“Strong leader,” “awesome,” “phenomenal,” “fabulous,” and “energetic” are among words they used to describe Grace who was scheduled to be transferred to Hanson Elementary on Aug. 1.

That won’t happen. At last Tuesday’s meeting, about half of the meeting room was filled with Mt. Woodson Elementary teachers, parents, other staff members, and some children, many wearing “Commitment to No Excuses—Mt. Woodson Elementary” T-shirts. That’s the school’s motto this year. It’s part of the universal achievement theme at the school, teachers said.

Other supporters of keeping Grace at the school spilled into the hallway, and 23 — mostly teachers — stayed until just before midnight when the school board came out of a closed meeting to announce that Grace will stay at Mt. Woodson.

The proposed transfer came after Hanson Elementary’s principal, Shelagh Appleman, recently announced her resignation, effective June 30. According to district administrators, Appleman plans to return to the classroom in another district.

Because of student test scores at Hanson Elementary, the school is in the third year of Program Improvement, a federal No Child Left Behind plan to help improve scores.

Faced with replacing Appleman, the district chose Grace, a veteran principal at a school with similar demographics to Hanson, and trustees were scheduled to vote on the transfer at their March 13 meeting.

“If you look at her test results, we have the data there to show that she can certainly increase student learning,” Cathy Pierce, assistant superintendent of Education Services, said earlier in the month.

“Isn’t there an alternative option to help Hanson, a school in need, without sacrificing the progress and momentum at Mt. Woodson?” asked teacher Leslie Wilson.

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Superintendent Robert Graeff talks with Mt. Woodson Elementary teachers and others before the school board goes into closed session to discuss transferring the school’s principal. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

Teacher Adrienne Moreland suggested the district consider other options for increasing student achievement at Hanson.

“Mt. Woodson could become a sister school, mentoring and sharing and collaborating programs we have found successful at our site,” said Moreland.

Educator Damen Lopez of TurnAround Schools inspired Mt. Woodson teachers at their staff development day last year, said teacher Roberta Nau, and they decided to follow the program.

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Several Mt. Woodson teachers and other employees arrive early for the March 13 trustee meeting. Sentinel photo/Maureen Robertson

“We are halfway through this journey, but we cannot do it without Theresa Grace,” said Nau, explaining that research shows that “no school can become truly great unless a maverick leader is at the helm.”

Grace has studied and is committed to the turnaround school model, which embraces a culture of universal achievement, said Nau.

“We are in the midst of creating a truly exceptional school, and the loss of Theresa Grace will bring that to an end,” she added.

Later in the meeting, before voting on a packet of personnel recommendations, the trustees pulled Grace’s name from the list.

“I find myself in a quandary with this item, because it’s very easy to see why we have a public that doesn’t want to lose Theresa,” said Dan Lopez, board president.

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