News

Editorial: Documents reveal little about Harvest Park principal resignation

 
The 2018-19 school year starts in less than a month for Harvest Park Middle School, but questions remain about the departure of two-year principal Robin Munsell. Documents released by PUSD this month pursuant to the Pleasanton Weekly's public records request revealed little new insights. (Photo by Jeremy Walsh)

When Robin Munsell announced in May she was resigning her position as principal of Harvest Park Middle School after just under two years, the obvious question was why. And Munsell wasn't saying.

Human nature abhors a vacuum. When no clear reason is given, speculation begins. Especially since Munsell was Harvest Park's sixth principal since the 2014-15 school year. Ironically, at the time of her appointment in September 2016, she told the school board and audience, "I'm not going anywhere -- I'm here to stay."

Munsell came to Pleasanton from the nearby San Ramon Valley school district, where she had served as assistant principal of Gale Ranch Middle School in San Ramon for four years. Before that she spent seven years teaching in Castro Valley.

So a two-year stint at Harvest Park with apparently no new job lined up didn't sit right.

Pleasanton school officials directed us to Munsell, who we made several attempts to contact. She did not respond, or even acknowledge our requests, which only served to make us even more curious.

We filed a public records request with the Pleasanton Unified School District, and welcomed the cooperation and commitment to transparency offered by Superintendent David Haglund and his staff, both of which were lacking in previous administrations. Our request, answered by PUSD on July 6, produced 10 pages total, mainly copies of emails and Munsell's official resignation form.

We also did our due diligence searching databases for possible complaints filed against Munsell or the district related to Harvest Park, as well as any indication of where she'd be working next. Those efforts came up as empty as the "reason" section on Munsell's resignation form -- which she left totally blank.

The only real insights from Munsell on her departure -- albeit ambiguous -- appeared in a short email to a PUSD "Leadership Team" email group on May 7, four days after she informed district administrators of her decision.

"It is with a heavy heart that I inform you I will be resigning from my position as principal of HPMS at the end of the school year. This was not an easy or light decision to make. As for my next steps, I am looking forward to exploring new career paths and opportunities," Munsell wrote.

Making that public, or even an "I prefer not to answer" or "it's personal" response from Munsell to our initial requests, would have helped quell speculation about why she left Harvest Park, a school that could use a little less drama.

It's been a tough couple months for Harvest Park families. Their sixth principal in three years resigns for, apparently, no reason, and then a fire causes significant damage to the school's library before the ink was dry on the new principal's contract.

Terry Brenner, most recently an associate principal at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, assumed the Harvest Park post earlier this month.

School starts Aug. 13 with a(nother) new principal and, we hope, a fully repaired and functional library.

It's time to rebuild and restore stability and a healthy environment for staff and students at Harvest Park -- literally and figuratively.

Editor's note: The documents obtained by the Pleasanton Weekly are available here.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

45 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Kottinger Ranch
on Jul 19, 2018 at 4:30 pm

Mind your own business and find something else to report on.


50 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jul 19, 2018 at 6:45 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Brian, that was a very bizarre response. But you are incorrect. It absolutely is our business.

Our school communities deserve (a) people who will actually stay, (b) administrators who will nurture people to stay and grow within our district, and (c) the truth of why they have had so many principals in a short period. Six principals in four school years, and really five principals in two schools years, and one who almost made it two years, is cause for alarm, not just concern. Is it the students, parent(s), teacher(s)? Are district staff just inept at hiring qualified candidates? And how would an apparently vetted candidate make it nearly two years and suddenly fail? Are we not providing these newest members to our community with enough support to succeed?

Gina, Jeremy, did you ask if any settlements were made? They have to disclose if she was, for example, paid as a consultant or under some other guise. It goes through the warrant registers and must be accounted for in some way, even if not by name.


30 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jul 19, 2018 at 9:13 pm

Agree with Kathleen- there is something systemic that needs addressing. Digging into it is our business and the business of a journalist/publication


32 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jul 19, 2018 at 9:14 pm

Brian, It's a public school - that means public tax dollars. It is absolutely our business. The time, energy, and resources spent to find another principal is not small.


36 people like this
Posted by HP Parent
a resident of Birdland
on Jul 20, 2018 at 9:47 am

People are allowed to leave jobs without disclosing their personal lives, even school principals—just like you are. Robin was a great principal for HP, and I hope Terry will be as well. Let's allow Robin to follow her chosen path without hounding her while we give the new principal a chance.


24 people like this
Posted by Snowflake
a resident of Pheasant Ridge
on Jul 20, 2018 at 10:04 am

Here's a tip. When principals say "I'm not going anywhere -- I'm here to stay." or anything of that nature, don't take it literally. Do not take principals, or anyone for that matter, for granted. It's just a job and they say that because, well what else are they supposed to say when asked? It's a dumb question anyway. As their 'employer' our community can do a much better job developing, supporting and managing them. It is a tough job, compounded by... well, you only need to read the comments posted here to see what principals have to contend with - adults who are accusatory and diminish confidence in PUSD with their 'opinions' or prejudiciously curated "facts", taking their attention away from their students and staff. We can't give them highly competitive salaries, so let's at least allow them the time and space to do their job well based on what limited resources they have.


11 people like this
Posted by Harvest Park is a mess
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2018 at 12:11 pm

Harvest Park has been one big mess since Jim Hansen left, and the inept board along with Odie Douglas essentially turned the school into a pay-to-learn / pay-to-play private school. The board has no term limits; therefore, I know that most of the school board members no longer have children in the PUSD school system.

Meanwhile, while the PUSD management is allowing supposed "public" school teachers to be paid in cash for teaching, the library HVAC system somehow catches on fire. I'll bet the PUSD does *not* have annual servicing/inspection of each and every piece of HVAC equipment at its schools. The money instead is probably spent on globe trotting by the superintendent and board, conferences, trips and various administrative perks. Harvest Park is especially run down due to mismanagement and failure to properly maintain the school facilities and grounds.

Seriously, having to privately hand over cash to teachers to teach and/or to be able to join an after school club?

There is a long standing problem with the teachers demanding money from parents. Odie Douglas has allowed the school to be turned into a private school over the summer for most summers and year round tutoring so the teachers can be paid directly by the parents. Who would allow Facebook postings Web Link like:

"Who wouldn't want to do math like a champion with the incomparable Randy Lomas? Creative Problem Solving for incoming 6th, 7th and 8th graders combines the individual and team problem-solving challenges of Math Counts and Math Olympiad with Mr. Lomas's creative delivery of instruction. Creative and higher-order thinking skills developed in this course will encourage students to think differently in math. Spaces are limited!"

and

"enGAGE! in Creative Writing Through Creative Reading with Instructor Chris Scarborough to explore selections of great works of poetry and prose in a series of workshops designed to inspire their own writing. Students will be encouraged to share and critique their work in small group and class discussions. Mr. Scarborough's classes tend to fill quickly, so enroll today!"

No wonder parents are outraged.


18 people like this
Posted by Snowflake
a resident of Pheasant Ridge
on Jul 20, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Everyone is free to take on a second job. It's a win/win when teachers are willing to work and fill a need, just like everyone else. Why would you want to limit their freedom to do that? As long as their 'day jobs' aren't compromised, I have no problems whatsoever and commend teachers for doing what they need to do on their own time. In addition to EARNING extra money, it allows them to continue and refine their craft in ways that maybe they can't do during a regular school day, and they are able to try and test new things and bring it back to their classrooms.

HPIAM wrote "There is a long-standing problem with the teachers demanding money from parents." Really? Get real.


14 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jul 20, 2018 at 2:04 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Not exactly, Snowflake. I believe law prohibits teachers from charging for after school programs held on campus. It also prohibits them advertising anywhere using the district’s name (was done by one tutoring business, since stopped). Mind you, I’d rather pay and have enrichment for students (not tutoring) after school and at the school. My kids had it at Walnut Grove many years ago, but it was stopped.

As to Ms. Munsell, if she left for personal reasons, she could have said that. She didn’t. I don’t think anyone is trying to get into her personal space. But if she was squeezed out unwillingly and unfairly, if the administration failed to support her, that is information the Harvest Park community needs in particular so they can prevent “it” happening repeatedly. If any kind of payout was involved, like the former superintendent, where only innuendo is left in its wake, then taxpayers should know why the money belonging to our classrooms was spent in this manner and how much.


17 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Ruby Hill
on Jul 20, 2018 at 3:33 pm

Snowflake - couldn't agree more. If she has personal reasons for leaving, they are her own and are no-one else's business, certainly not the community's who seem to want to create conspiracy theories, wave pitchforks at every perceived incompetence, and who feel they have every justification, as a taxpayer, to question any/all actions or persons. If you are that outraged or have opinions that are so unflinchingly strong, run for office or at least recognize when it's NOYB...


4 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jul 20, 2018 at 4:00 pm

Pleasanton Parent is a registered user.

If I turned over the same position five times in three years my boss would have me in his office explaining - I'd be accountable for that. Probing this issue is the responsible thing to do.

On the second job front - again, I can have a second job if it doesn't create a conflict of interest to my first, or interfere with it.

If teacher's are getting paid to tutor the thing they should be teaching (especially same/similar grade level that is a conflict of interest. An elementary teacher that also teachers night classes at a local JC or University - not a conflict of interest.


7 people like this
Posted by Revolving door
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2018 at 4:18 pm

I'll bet the principal did not know when hired that Odie Douglas was on a mission to dumb down the curriculum and cancel the accelerated math programs. I was wondering if the Pleasanton Weekly actually attempted to contact Odie Douglas since he is the reporting manager to which all of the principals report? Have you asked him why basically 80% of the people at school sites he has hired have left the District? Have you asked the Board members this question as well?

Also, regarding the fire in the AC unit at the library, why in the world was the AC running at Harvest Park full throttle when the school was closed for the summer? Does PUSD never bother to turn off the AC even when the schools are unoccupied? In the last decade, I have never seen any school vehicles doing summer maintenance activities or routine power washing and repair work at the school sites during the summer. The last time I saw this happen was the summer of 2007 when the construction ended for the Measure B building program.

Since then, there appears to have been little to no routine maintenance. Given the poor air quality in the classrooms, I would not be surprised if they neglect to change the HVAC filters on a regular basis.

With students charging the chromebooks in the regular classrooms, the electrical outlets are completely overloaded. Not only are these extension cords a trip hazard, but it appears these circuits in these classrooms are not designed for multiple electrical cords and power strips to handle three dozen computers at once.
Were the circuit boards upgraded to properly handle the load of enabling the HVAC systems to run simultaneously with all the computer-load in the classrooms?


11 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jul 20, 2018 at 4:52 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Joe, if she had personal reasons, that is all she had to say. I am not asking what her personal reason was. But she didn’t say that. She left the reason blank. Something feels wrong and if it is and we don’t know what is wrong, we cannot hold anyone accountable.

Run for school board Joe or Snowflake. We need an opportunity to have open discussions with candidates, including the two incumbents.


Like this comment
Posted by Alida
a resident of Canyon Creek
on Jul 21, 2018 at 10:32 am

Alida is a registered user.

Dear revolving: you are incorrect in every single point you state. Where do you get your "information"?


2 people like this
Posted by Robert Adam
a resident of Del Prado
on Jul 21, 2018 at 12:23 pm

[Post removed due to offensive language]


1 person likes this
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jul 21, 2018 at 6:39 pm

The Pleasanton Unified School District is a self-developed "quasi-sovereign board of directors. The Pleasanton unified School District is not what voters elected.

In all outward appearances, the Pleasanton Unified School District Board of Directors, by way of their actions and activities are a unified governing monarchy.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Birdland
on Jul 21, 2018 at 7:11 pm

Comment relates to earlier post that was deleted.)


6 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jul 21, 2018 at 9:40 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Mike, I would let it go. Can’t speak for others. But she didn’t say that and it is fair to express alarm at what is happening over a period of years with no reasonable explanation. We don’t know she quit. I think a head in the sand approach is harmful to students, parents, teachers, and for those who consistently take the job and follow an apparent path from the front door to the back door.

As someone who used to fulfill PRA requests in another district, they hired a full time person to handle them eventually. If documents are readily accessible (usually electronically), redaction is usually the biggest time sink. If you are communicating openly as far as one can in a case like this, there would be no need for a request. In a recent request, I was able to find a recent former employee was paid $100,000 as a “consultant”, but that it actually was a settlement. Do you think we should not know about that kind of payout? Other good things come from PRAs, like weekly memos to the board being posted online. These are public documents and should be available to those that are interested.

But I think you know all this already.

This is about leadership—the governance team.


4 people like this
Posted by Livermore Parent
a resident of Livermore
on Jul 22, 2018 at 12:52 am

Wow, what is it like to live in a city where so many people care about quality education? Next door here in Livermore the school board voted at a special meeting in the evening on July 3 to siphon off $12.6 MILLION of MEASURE J money meant for our schools to buy our overpaid Superintendent Kelly Bowers an office in the hills? They think they can get away with it!


8 people like this
Posted by One big yawn.
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jul 22, 2018 at 7:13 am

One big yawn. is a registered user.

I don't know why anyone should care. School principals have no power to influence much of anything. They are highly paid figureheads beholdened to the teachers union.

I have met with pusd principals (years ago) to discuss poor performance of certain teachers only to be told "there's nothing I can do about it".

My kids are grown up now. For those of you with young children, get them in a good private school if you can afford it. Education in the formative years is so important.


15 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Ruby Hill
on Jul 22, 2018 at 6:22 pm

Kathleen "if she had personal reasons, that is all she had to say. I am not asking what her personal reason was. But she didn’t say that. She left the reason blank. Something feels wrong and if it is and we don’t know what is wrong, we cannot hold anyone accountable. Run for school board Joe or Snowflake. We need an opportunity to have open discussions with candidates, including the two incumbents."

First, this is a personal and personnel matter. If she elects not to say, for her own personal reasons, it's her decision to comment, and from a personnel matter, it is and should be treated as confidential, by law, not to be hashed out on the PW blog. Your second point, given the number of people who have left the district in recent years, there should be some discussion about the amount of turnover, at all levels of the district. That's fair, and there is a forum for doing so. What I am commenting to is the fact that there is no end of vicious, anonymous supposition (and far too much "probably", "I bet", and "I suppose" throughout the commentary on the PW) and in this particular case, whether you are a taxpayer, concerned resident, or frequent participant, it's really none of your business. I'd also add, that with the lack of personal and professional privacy that exists in our world today, most people adopt a "the less said, the better' approach to the world -frankly, good for them for doing so.

Finally, running for office... I have a co-worker who is a School Board member over on the peninsula, and as he has commented many times - it's no-win, there are no boundaries, too many loud voices and self-serving opinions and it is incredibly draining on his time. Given the tone of so many of the posters across the PW, I know that the experience would be duplicated here. I know the board has their issues, but I respect the fact that they are serving and deserve a little more respect and acknowledgment than they regularly receive on the blogs of the PW.


2 people like this
Posted by Grumpy
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Jul 22, 2018 at 9:14 pm

Grumpy is a registered user.

Joe, you may be right, but shouldn’t others discuss their concerns about the overall degree of turnover, this particular case being merely a blip?


Like this comment
Posted by Mehoff
a resident of Downtown
on Jul 22, 2018 at 11:17 pm

Just think, People move here because of the "Good" schools. This district needs to be more like the principals at Harvest park & Hart. It needs a thorough turn over of board members,etc. Obviously there are Bigger problems within the Ranks. Glad I don't have kids in this very screwed up organization.. Just Ridiculous.


10 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jul 22, 2018 at 11:29 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

Joe, I am willing to accept your supposition on the decline to state. There is nothing but a blank to fill in in any way one might suppose. It’s unfortunate that circumstances since Hansen’s move to Amador leave Harvest Park with far too many unexplained departures. What is wrong (hiring practices?)? Who should be held accountable? Like I said, it just feels like there is a problem costing a good school it’s stability.

Having served and having worked with and for a couple dozen board members and several superintendents, it is not for the faint of heart. What I’ve learned—as with your friend’s experience—is those people with opinions often hold a grain of truth in what they say. People are rarely completely off base. We have no term limits here (though all five board members have stated their support for limits, and four have ignored stepping down). I have tried to talk directly with most of our board and show up at meetings when I am concerned about an upcoming vote. I respect what they do and the inherent difficulty, but we do not always see eye to eye. But that’s how it works as a representative of the public.


4 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Ruby Hill
on Jul 23, 2018 at 1:25 pm

Grumpy &Kathleen. I appreciate your responses. To further comment, and we can appropriately agree to disagree(!), it's about two things, a line being drawn for personal privacy sake and second, motivations. In terms of personal privacy, we all have boundaries -professional & personal. If a person declines to state or leaves blank, an individual has their own reasons for doing so. There is no 'external right' on the part of anyone else to know -basically, it's none of our business and, correctly, there are employment laws in place to guarantee that right. The second point is public motivations. I'll be the first to acknowledge that there have been many, many issues with past administrations and boards over the last number of years. But, in the case of the board, they committed and ran for office, they give us their time, and they will get decisions right...and sometimes make mistakes. The tone of many of the responses across the PW has been, and is, not terribly nice to read (the joy of anonymity) and relating to PUSD absolutely vindictive. At times, I really have to question how & why fellow Pleasantonians get so revved up. Character assassination isn't pretty. That being the case, at least in my mind, it gets very difficult to have a reasoned give-and-take where arguments are made and alternate points accepted. I think it's fair to say the majority of people who comment are not remotely clear of, nor understanding, the facts surrounding the majority of these issues -they aren't as engaged as you are Kathleen and never will be. Joe....out.


Like this comment
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Jul 23, 2018 at 2:10 pm

Pleasanton Parent is a registered user.

Joe,
Even if you're throwing out the forum population with the exception of Kathleen, she is still highlighting this as an issue...... This is a problem, not on an individual personal basis, but on macro level. And understanding not just this person's reason for leaving, but it as part as a review of the whole is impactful.


7 people like this
Posted by CM
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2018 at 4:04 pm

Joe - You are so correct. The reason is hers to disclose or to make public. She chose to leave the reason for leaving “blank” and people need to respect that. If they have an issue with so many changes at their school they need to take it up with PUSD and not infringe on a persons right to privacy. In this day and age of social media everyone thinks they have a right to know everything and they don’t, The principal worked for the school district and not for any parent. She is not required to provide anyone (including PUSD) with her reason for leaving. Maybe it was the helicopter parents that drove her to resign.


2 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jul 23, 2018 at 11:42 pm

Perhaps keeping this simple....Her decision to "leave it blank" sounds like she was sending a message??? Just a thought, she must have known it would cause discussion?....Simple thought. Peace.


6 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2018 at 11:39 am

Oh my gosh! From the outside, PUSD seems like an awesome place to work. It probably starts out that way, but just reading these message boards about schools, teachers, the entire district... well, it's no wonder people want out. Be respectful.


4 people like this
Posted by HP Teacher
a resident of Harvest Park Middle School
on Jul 26, 2018 at 7:00 pm

Hello. I am a teacher at HP, and I am very wary of commenting publicly, albeit anonymously, on this. That said, I feel the community does deserve to know more about Robin Munsell's reasons for leaving, in order to give principals a better chance of feeling successful and wanting to stick around. The district should hear this, too, if she didn't tell them herself.

Robin told me and others a couple things. One, that the district made it hard to do the job as she wanted to. She was pulled off site about once per week for trainings or meetings, for example. Another example is the district allowing parents to overrule math placement recommendations, which I believe she found frustrating and dismissive of staff expertise.

Second, Robin wants a better work/life balance. She said the job was more all-consuming than she wanted. I'm frustrated by this; I think she should have known the expectations of a principal given her previous work experience.

If there are more reasons, I don't know. At this point, I'm most interested in getting to know our new principal and helping her be successful. Hopefully for a long time.


Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Birdland
on Jul 27, 2018 at 7:42 am

HP Teacher,

and?


Like this comment
Posted by HP Teacher
a resident of Harvest Park Middle School
on Jul 27, 2018 at 8:56 am

resident: and what? Do you have a question I didn't answer? Please elaborate.


5 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jul 27, 2018 at 9:08 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

HP Teacher, I hope the governance team hears you and Ms. Munsell. Thank you for clearing up some of the fog around this unfortunate loss.


3 people like this
Posted by HP Teacher
a resident of Harvest Park Middle School
on Jul 27, 2018 at 9:15 am

Kathleen, you're welcome.

One more personal comment I want to add, which I unfortunately omitted earlier.

I think Robin Munsell was a good leader, and I really wish she had stayed longer. I am/was only disappointed in her by her decision to leave.


3 people like this
Posted by HP parent
a resident of Birdland
on Jul 27, 2018 at 10:47 am

I think the important thing to remember is Munsell was the second choice after the 1st choice quit 3 months into the job. rather then start a new search to find the right fit, they just went down the list and selected the 2nd place finisher in the previous interview round.

I hope the district learned a lesson here. Don't take shortcuts! One thing I think we can all agree on is the vetting/interview process is severely flawed.

I think there is more to her leaving than what HP teacher has stated.



Like this comment
Posted by HP Teacher
a resident of Harvest Park Middle School
on Jul 27, 2018 at 1:54 pm

HP Parent:
I agree that the vetting/interview process for recent principals (esp. Robin Munsell's predecessor) was flawed. I hope it has improved. Our new principal has stated that she was impressed by the process that selected her, for what that's worth.

And if you think there was more to Ms. Munsell's resignation, why don't you say it here? Do you know something or are you speculating?

As I said earlier, my primary hope is that our new principal will be supported by the district, staff and parent community so that she feels like staying long term.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

"Better" Dads and "Re-invigorated" Moms: Happier Couples
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,247 views

Lots of media coverage as Swalwell calls it quits for 2020 presidential bid
By Tim Hunt | 26 comments | 1,167 views

 

Nominations due by Sept. 16

Pleasanton Weekly and DanvilleSanRamon.com are once again putting out a call for nominations and sponsorships for the annual Tri-Valley Heroes awards - our salute to the community members dedicated to bettering the Tri-Valley and the lives of its residents.

Nomination form