New principal prompts excitement, questions of leadership turnover from Walnut Grove parents

Chris Connor steps into role of interim principal after Jan Steed transferred to district-level job

Parents and guardians gathered into a Walnut Grove Elementary auditorium last week to hear about the school's future following an announcement earlier in the week that the school has another new principal.

About 40 people came to meet Chris Connor, the school's interim principal and previously a PUSD vice principal, and to ask district leaders about why the school has had three principals in about as many years.

Walnut Grove's former principal Jan Steed left the school this week after she was promoted to assistant director of adult and career education, a new position that was created since the district's adult education classes will come back this year after they were cut in 2012 due to funding issues. Steed had been principal at Walnut Grove since May 2014.

Some parents appeared cautiously excited about Connor, who told the crowd he had spent his first few days visiting every classroom and trying to learn each of his students' names.

Interim superintendent Jim Hansen said he hopes Connor's interim title will be temporary and that he will be the school's new principal.

Connor, who has been an educator for 11 years in the U.S. and Scotland, previously worked as a vice principal at Mohr and Fairlands. He told the group of parents that hopes to stay as the school's leader and has no ambitions of moving up to the district level.

"No offense, but that is not me," he said. "I'm committed to Walnut Grove with my heart and soul."

At the same time, some parents said they were uneasy about the leadership turnover at the school.

"As a parent, I want concrete direction," said Jen Fried, a Walnut Grove parent with a child in third grade.

Fried echoed several parents' concerns, stating the district as a whole has a perception of high principal turnover during the past few years.

At the start of the 2015-16 year, four new principals and one interim principal started at Pleasanton schools. In November, Pleasanton Middle's principal Aileen Parsons was promoted to a district-level job, and Harvest Park's interim principal Jill Butler was chosen as her replacement. Harvest Park now has two temporary principals.

Part of the turnover is the domino effect of promotions of principals to district-level jobs after some district leaders left to pursue other opportunities this summer.

Walnut Grove's turnover is unique in that it has endured instability due to controversy. The principal before Steen, Jon Vranesh, was removed by the district from the school in 2013 after accusations of improper conduct -- which led to a drawn-out administrative hearing that was resolved in the district's favor in August.

Hansen acknowledged parents' concerns about longevity about schools, saying it's his hope the newly selected principals will be longterm leaders.

He pointed to Donlon Elementary -- a school that has had about five principals in five years -- and its new principal, Sebastian Bull. Bull has children in the district, his wife is a Pleasanton public school teacher and he's stated he's committed to the school.

"(Donlon) is like Walnut Grove. They've been through a lot of principals," Hansen said. "He's there for the long haul."

"We want someone who's going to be here for the long-run," Hansen said. "So we're going to test-drive Mr. Connor."

One parent said her third-grade son had been coming home every day talking about the new principal's Scottish accent and how Connor has promised to bring in a rugby ball so he can teach the kids how to play the sport.

Connor asked the parent whether a specific child was her son. He was right.

"I can't even believe you knew my child's name," the parent said.

Connor will hold "Coffee with the Principal" meetings next Wednesday at 9:15 a.m. and 7 p.m. at Walnut Grove's campus on Harvest Road for parents, guardians and others to meet him and ask him questions.

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26 people like this
Posted by KGP
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Jan 9, 2016 at 6:15 am

I am hopeful that this will be a good change. Much has changed at the district: principally new leadership at the very top. I also think that the district is making an effort to be more transparent than in the past. When JV left we didn't know for weeks, and then the email sent was pathetic. This time they notified us right away and had a meeting right away. I feel like the new leadership is aware of past transgressions and is making an effort to appease the high maintenance parents at the Grove. Don't get me wrong- I am one of them. I think we are a curse and a blessing; on the one hand we are demanding and can act entitled, on the other, we are very involved in our children's education and spend countless hours in the classrooms helping teachers and raising money to make our school a wonderful place to be.

I get that the for some people the knee-jerk reaction is mistrust, denial and incredulity, but we have to trust the new professionals to do their jobs and make the decisions that they are paid to make for our children. We will never get a detailed plan from them that some people have asked for; they are to some extent politicians, and they are bound by rules and regulations that we have no visibility into. I think the biggest problem is the institution, not really the people in it (with, of course, some exceptions). And the truth is,we are actually an amazing school district state - wide and our children are getting an excellent education. Most of what goes on for our kids goes on in the classroom, and our teachers are doing a great job with very few exceptions. We need to take the chips off our shoulders and get back to the open, caring, cooperative community that we all know we are beneath the surface of politics and drama. Just sayin...

12 people like this
Posted by pastandfuture
a resident of Birdland
on Jan 10, 2016 at 12:19 am

I wish the new principal at WG only the best. I hope he can put WG back on track so it is the school we all know it can be.

But I want to point out some issues with the above story. The issue with JV is not yet resolved. From what I can see it is still on going, in fact his case on the closed session agenda for Tuesday night. Not only did JV leave the school but so did the entire office staff as well as several teachers. A member of the janitorial staff was also made to leave against his will just this past September.

I too am hopeful that the new admin at the district level will do their jobsand be the professionals that we all know they can be but that hasn't always been the case in the past. Pretending problems don't still exist doesn't help anyone. Also looking at the salaries in the district it would seem that Jan Steeds move to assistant director of adult and career education appears to be a lateral move instead of a promotion as reported.

Like I said, I hope our school is finally on the mend.

18 people like this
Posted by Shaking my head....
a resident of Birdland
on Jan 12, 2016 at 11:48 am

I haven't had a child at WG in a few years but I did spend 18 years there and was pretty involved in the goings-on. Somehow WG has become a toxic environment for anyone who takes the job of principal. Don't let the official statement fool you: Jan Steed was forced out and received no support from the superintendent or the school board. She has been highly successful and effective at her previous positions and her removal is just the latest incident that proves to me it's not the principals, it's either the teachers or the parents who are creating "a hostile workplace." I'd like to know what the grievances are against her because the official statement implies that she left of her own accord and that's just not true.

1 person likes this
Posted by Ellen
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jan 12, 2016 at 10:30 pm

Chris Connor was a fantastic vice principal at Fairlands! He is well liked and respected by students, parents, and staff. He will be sorely missed at Fairlands, but everyone is so happy for his advancement! Pleasanton needs principals like this! Walnut Grove is so lucky to have him! I understand the doubts that the community has, but I think everyone will realize very quickly that Chris Connor is the real deal!

4 people like this
Posted by Curious
a resident of Del Prado
on Jan 13, 2016 at 8:54 am

I had the pleasure to meet Mr. Connor this past Monday at drop-off. He was very gracious, poised, and appeared passionate about the new role he was taking on. My kids seemed to take an instant liking to him.

I wish him best of luck in his new role.

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