Ravenswood City School District Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff's contract is expiring in three months, and opposition is mounting in the community against keeping her in the district.
More than 20 parents, teachers, staff, students and community members marched from St. Francis of Assisi Church on Bay Road to the district office on Thursday afternoon to urge the board against renewing her contract. The board was scheduled to go into a closed session to evaluate Hernandez-Goff's performance.
Tensions have escalated in recent weeks, inflamed in part by budget cuts and the closure of the district's preschool center. Allegations have swirled accusing Hernandez-Goff of financial mismanagement, corruption and retaliation. An online petition calling for her removal has gathered close to 300 signatures.
Protesters carried signs on Thursday with messages in both Spanish and English such as "Stop the corruption," "We want change" and "We want transparency." They criticized the superintendent's handling of an ongoing budget deficit and alleged she's created what many described as a fearful, even punitive culture for employees. Two teachers who entered the district office on Thursday carrying protest signs said to each other that they were concerned about retaliation for speaking out.
Jesusita Rivera, a longtime Costaño Elementary School teacher and graduate of the district, participated in the protest. She questioned Hernandez-Goff's leadership in the financial crisis and the hiring of her son, who is currently employed as a data quality support technician in the district office with a salary of $86,696. She said teachers feel increasingly unsupported and "dispensable," particularly after they took a vote of no confidence in the superintendent last spring, with no impact.
"There's no leadership," Rivera said.
When Hernandez-Goff was hired in 2013, she was charged with turning around a historically underperforming district. She has referred to the time before her arrival as the "dark years" and her tenure as the "new Ravenswood."
But parent Hector Espinoza said that parents are not seeing the results they hoped she would bring to the district.
"The responsibility belongs to one person: the superintendent," he said in Spanish. "She is the one who has to make this change but she hasn't. We're not going to wait."
East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica has made no qualms about publicly calling for Hernandez-Goff's removal, blasting her several weeks ago for a "culture of corruption, intimidation and coverup." He walked with the protesters on Thursday and handed out photocopies of newspaper articles about the teachers' vote of no confidence and recent budget cuts at the school board meeting.
Abrica, himself a former school board member, said that he participated in the march to support parents and staff in their First Amendment right to free speech.
"People are protected, whoever they are, from expressing their opinion without being afraid that they're going to be retaliated against," he said.
On Thursday, Hernandez-Goff defended her record, firing back at what she said are unfounded personal attacks.
"I have accepted the fact that education and being a leader in this community is a contact sport," she told a standing-room only audience at the board meeting. "We all know the strategy and I was warned of it when I started working here: attack, defame, (launch) a whisper campaign until the superintendent or whoever you don't want is run out of town."
She cited a food-distribution program and the installation of washer and dryer machines at schools (which some teachers said are going unused) as examples of her efforts to tackle not only systemic educational issues in Ravenswood but also poverty and hunger. Hernandez-Goff suggested that people who are critical of her "have made it their mission to attempt to destroy these programs in an effort to hurt me."
Several food-distribution staff members and volunteers spoke in support of Hernandez-Goff. Employee Roberto Cuellar told the board he was concerned to see "a whole bunch of gossip coming to you without much truth."
Hernandez-Goff urged the community to focus on the positive rather than the negative.
"At the end of the day we aren't going to be measured by how many attacks we launch against each other, as that is all meaningless and waste of time," she said.
Several speakers pointed to the sudden reassignment of a popular principal this week as further evidence of dysfunction in the district. Hernandez-Goff notified staff and families yesterday that Belle Haven Elementary School Principal Todd Gaviglio was transferred to the district's Curriculum and Instruction Office, effective Tuesday.
"This decision was made after careful consideration of both the school needs at Belle Haven and the demands currently before the C & I Department," Hernandez-Goff wrote in a letter to staff and parents. "Based upon a review of several important factors, I decided that moving Mr. Gaviglio was the best option to meet the district's immediate needs and to support the district's achievement of our goals for our students."
Gaviglio has been credited with making significant strides at Belle Haven on persistent issues that plague the entire district: attendance, suspension rates, test scores, parent engagement and teacher retention. The school had the worst attendance rates when he arrived in 2015; it now has the third best. Daily attendance drives revenue for the locally funded district and is a major focus of the district in addressing its fiscal crisis.
"To remove a dedicated principal who has accomplished all of those things is illogical," said Belle Haven teacher Lauren Majchrowicz. "If he is removed permanently our students, teachers and community will suffer."
She asked the board to reverse his reassignment.
Belle Haven teacher Bronwyn Alexander urged the board to carefully evaluate the superintendent.
"I am worried that five years from now, this district will not exist because of the management at this point," she said.
Since the protest was not agendized, board members did not formally respond to community members' concerns. Board President Ana Maria Pulido said simply that "discussion was held" on the superintendent's evaluation during closed session.
Trustee Marcelino Lopez criticized Abrica's role in the debate, however, asking the city to "work together" with the school district moving forward.
After last year's vote of no confidence, trustee Sharifa Wilson said she was confident in Hernandez-Goff's ability as a leader, while trustee Marielena Gaona-Mendoza called for the superintendent to resign.