District leaders' departures expected or exodus?

District officials reference promotions, life events while others point to previous administration

Several Pleasanton Unified School District leaders have left the district in the past six months, prompting questions from critics about the district's management.

Four upper-level district leaders have left since June, including the superintendent. The district spokesperson also recently resigned.

Some suspect tension within the district last school year led some leaders to seek other options. Others say the departures are less of an exodus and more of the expected -- albeit frustrating -- turnover after a superintendent leaves. And some say the departures would have happened anyway, particularly when considering retirements and promotions.

Former superintendent Parvin Ahmadi resigned in May to take a job as Castro Valley's superintendent.

At the cabinet level, assistant superintendent of human resources Bill Faraghan retired in June after a 27-year career in education. When reached by phone, he said he'd been expecting to retire for some time.

"I had been planning to retire when I reached retirement age for quite a while," he said. "There's no mystery to it."

Director of human resources Mark McCoy, who had been with Pleasanton Unified for about 19 years, resigned in October to take a job as Dublin Unified School District's assistant superintendent of human resources, a significant promotion that puts him in a cabinet-level position at Dublin's school district.

Director of technology services Chris Hobbs also resigned in October to take a parallel position at Union City's New Haven Unified School District, where he had worked before he stepped into his most recent post in Pleasanton.

Adding what some perceive as an "exodus" is the fact that deputy superintendent of business services Luz Cazares is on medical-related personal leave, according to district officials.

Interim superintendent Jim Hansen confirmed she is away on personal leave, not for any negative reason, and she intends to return. He declined to state when Cazares will return due to rules regarding disclosure of personnel information.

"We've lost good people, but there are a lot of good people who are interested in our positions as well," Hansen said. "I'm not feeling that there's dissatisfaction. Things like this do happen, where situations in their lives change."

PTA president Katie Brunner said she doesn't feel there's dissatisfaction currently, but turmoil in the previous administration could have made leaving an easy call for some leaders when a better alternative presented itself.

"Pretty much over the course of Superintendent Ahmadi's tenure, fairly divisive issues seemed to come up related to education," she said, referring to the issues of changing the district's calendar, legal action against former Walnut Grove principal Jon Vranesh and a discordant school board election. "I think a lot of the leaders are looking for a less-fraught environment somewhere else."

She also pointed out that while district-level resignations are more visible, she's spoken with teachers who have left the district due to similar reasons.

"I think last year was just a breaking point for a lot of people, and administrators are the easiest ones to see, but I think there are a lot of community members who were really broken last year," she said.

School board member Mark Miller, who ran on a platform that included reducing principal turnover, said there could be several reasons why some people have decided to pursue jobs elsewhere.

"First, I think our district's success makes our employees that much more attractive to other districts. Second, I think people get concerned in times of uncertainty, and the departure of a superintendent certainly contributes to uncertainty. Finally, I think a few people were frustrated with decisions made by the board, such as who we picked as our interim superintendent," he said in an email.

He noted the attrition of school administrators has slowed. Five new principals, including one interim principal, were placed in time for this school year -- most of whom are longtime district educators.

Brunner said she's seen a turnaround so far this school year with the way district operations have been managed, which may translate to less attrition.

"I think they're trying really hard this year to be open and transparent about hard decisions that are being made," she said. "Hopefully, we will start focusing on the great things our students and teachers are doing, and we'll remember why you come to Pleasanton."

Hansen said a lot of effort has gone into recruitment of talented people for the open positions.

Most recently, Pleasanton Middle School principal Aileen Parsons was named as the district's new director of human resources.

In addition, Dianne Howell is filling the post of interim assistant superintendent of human resources, Micaela Ochoa is working as substitute assistant superintendent of business services and Hansen started as the district's interim superintendent this summer.

A replacement has not been named for Hobbs' position, nor has a new district spokesperson been named. The previous spokesperson, Nicole Steward, resigned in October to take a job at Milpitas Unified.

Steward said by leaving Pleasanton, she could better pursue her goal of being an on-campus social worker, and the change would also give her a chance to pursue volunteer opportunities she participates in related to sexual assault and courtroom advocacy for foster children.

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14 people like this
Posted by John Gomes
a resident of Val Vista
on Nov 9, 2015 at 10:28 pm

The Pleasanton school district is running on fume and relying on a reputation that does not depict accurately the current situation. This is not a teacher friendly district. There will be three seats on the school board up for grabs in November 2016. The current boardmembers are out of touch. People are leaving PUSD because it's not a pleasant environment. Many administrators are incompetent and should be retrained or let go. Teacher retention should take precedence over retaining administrators.

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