The sudden mid-year removal of a principal credited with turning around a long-struggling elementary school in the Ravenswood City School District has triggered a discrimination complaint against Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff, whom the principal alleges is retaliating against him.
Todd Gaviglio, a longtime Ravenswood educator who was appointed principal of Belle Haven Elementary School in 2015, was reassigned to a district office position last week days after filing the complaint.
In a message notifying staff and parents about his removal, Hernandez-Goff said vaguely that Gaviglio was being reassigned to work on "important instructional projects" at the district's curriculum and instruction department, a decision she made "after careful consideration of both the school needs at Belle Haven and the demands" of the department. She appointed Maria Sevilla, who had been filling in for Gaviglio while he was on parental leave, as principal for the remainder of the school year.
Gaviglio — a former school board member who successfully ran on a reform slate in the early 2000s — believes that the superintendent's reasons for his removal are unfounded and retaliatory, a response to what he describes as his whistleblowing.
In a statement provided to the Weekly by the district's public relations firm, Hernandez-Goff said that Gaviglio was moved to the district to help with a "routine" federal program audit. The Federal Program Monitoring is described on the California Department of Education's website as an "overall determination of whether the local educational agency (LEA) is meeting statutory program and fiscal requirements for categorical programs," including proper use of Title I funds. Gaviglio received training in August on the compliance review, which will affect all sites but "focus heavily" on Belle Haven and Costaño Elementary School, Hernandez-Goff said.
"Because of his newly acquired background, and his intimate knowledge of Belle Haven, he was selected for special assignment to support the district on these efforts," she said.
The district did not make Hernandez-Goff available for an interview for this story, despite multiple requests.
Gaviglio said that the superintendent never discussed with him the possibility of changing roles to federal compliance monitoring.
Gaviglio is part of a growing chorus of community members calling on the school board not to renew Hernandez-Goff's contract when it expires in June. In addition to his complaint of discrimination, he's accused Hernandez-Goff of the misuse of funds, nepotism, the divulgence of confidential information and the falsification of compliance during an inspection.
He has filed a separate complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights and is now pursuing legal action to fight "discriminatory persecution" he alleges he and other staff have experienced under Hernandez-Goff.
Gaviglio said he was informed of his removal as Belle Haven principal on Wednesday, March 14, when Hernandez-Goff notified him during a meeting with Gina Sudaria, the district's director of human resources, that he was being reassigned back to a classroom teaching position for the next school year. Just five days later, on Monday, March 19, Gaviglio was again called to the district office, where Sudaria gave him a letter from Hernandez-Goff notifying him of his reassignment instead to the district office.
One reason provided for his removal as school principal was a written reprimand, issued on March 12, for his handling of an unauthorized pull of a fire-alarm at Belle Haven in September.
During the incident investigation, Gaviglio warned about two dozen students that police and fire department personnel could identify the culprit, including by looking for fingerprints, Hernandez-Goff wrote in the reprimand. The vice principal and two classified staff then began a fake "fingerprinting" of the students, the reprimand states.
Gaviglio described the activity as a harmless "bluff," an explanation she strongly condemned.
"You completely failed to exercise appropriate and ethical leadership of other staff members and students in this situation, and you failed to identify and use appropriate behavior management and intervention techniques with the students," she wrote. "At any point in this situation, you could have recognized how wrong-headed your scare tactics and the 'fingerprinting' exercise were, stopped, and regrouped with a strategy consistent with district goals and values."
At the March 14 meeting, Hernandez-Goff also faulted Gaviglio for problems with Belle Haven's compliance with a court-ordered special-education mandate, known as the Ravenswood Self-Improvement Plan (RSIP). Gaviglio contends Belle Haven had a lower number of negative "findings" than other schools and was working with "limited staff" to meet the court-ordered requirements for a high population of special-needs students.
She also accused him of speaking ill about the district and criticized the fact that a parent and student complained that two Belle Haven employees had been transferred, according to notes Gaviglio took and emailed to himself.
But Gaviglio questions the delayed timing of the reprimand. He said that he and Belle Haven's vice principal were assured by Hernandez-Goff at the time of the fire-alarm incident that "everything was OK regarding this incident."
Gaviglio said the reasons the superintendent gave for his reassignment are flimsy at best, "hobbled together, way after the fact, to justify her decision to release me from my position for other actual motives, which are not legal."
Instead, Gaviglio said, Hernandez-Goff discriminates against administrators with babies, including by making "derogatory statements" and engaging in "practices to negatively impact their employment status," he alleged in his complaint.
"This includes bullying, denying promotions, removing people from their current jobs, and making people feel bad about having children," Gaviglio wrote.
Gaviglio, who recently adopted a baby, said Hernandez-Goff called him into her office in February before he was set to take parental leave. She asked if, since he now had a child, he would resign, suggesting that it would help the district with personnel cuts the district was making due to a budget deficit, Gaviglio said.
Gaviglio said he asserted that retaining him wouldn't create an "excess" of school administrators because another principal was set to move to the district office and that school's vice principal could replace her. The superintendent responded that the vice principal "could not be the principal because she had a baby," Gaviglio said in his complaint.
"Leaving the meeting, I felt that she was discriminatory against administrators with babies," he wrote in contemporaneous notes he emailed to himself.
His complaint offers four other examples of administrators with babies against whom he felt Hernandez-Goff had discriminated. One of those administrators, who has since left the district and asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told the Weekly that the superintendent had suggested to her that "you're first a mother and then a principal" and that "you can't do both" jobs. The former administrator said she was notified while she was on maternity leave that she was being reassigned for the next school year.
"Overall, her discriminatory practices have created a hostile workplace where people are afraid of retaliation and bullying," Gaviglio wrote. "Ravenswood employees need an assurance that this discrimination will stop."
Hernandez-Goff's reprimand letter and Gaviglio's counter-complaint this month weren't the first times the two have made accusations against one another. Gaviglio alleges that he emailed Hernandez-Goff about the misuse of Title I funds for student achievement on Oct. 26 and Jan. 24 but that she replied to neither email. As a consequence, he emailed a list of concerns about Hernandez-Goff to San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Anne Brown on March 9, a list that included charges of "corruption and illegal activities." Brown and her office are currently monitoring the district as it navigates a fiscal crisis.
Last year, Hernandez-Goff identified concerns she had about Gaviglio's performance in a detailed memorandum. It cites several incidences as examples. She states that Gaviglio failed to maintain confidentiality by inappropriately sharing a parent's email to the superintendent and Gaviglio with the president of the teachers union, who teaches at Belle Haven. Gaviglio said he forwarded the message after receiving a text message from the union president, who was meeting with Hernandez-Goff, stating that the superintendent could not locate the letter.
The memorandum also criticizes Gaviglio's handling of a problem involving parents and a teacher at Belle Haven, including not conducting a "fair and thorough investigation" and "failing to follow her (Hernandez-Goff's) directives" in the incident.
Gaviglio wrote a response to the superintendent's memorandum at the time he received it but decided against providing it to the district for fear of retaliation.
After receiving the memorandum again this month as a reason for his transfer, he submitted his response to the district to be included in his personnel file.
The March 19 letter reassigning Gaviglio directed him to report to the district office the following morning and to "refrain from any communications with staff, parents and students regarding your change in location as principal."
At last week's board meeting, parents, staff and others spoke in support of Gaviglio and urged the board to reverse the superintendent's decision.
Bronwyn Alexander, a teacher on special assignment at Belle Haven, credited Gaviglio with raising student achievement levels and stemming the formerly high rate of teacher turnover.
The percentage of Belle Haven students meeting state standards in mathematics and English language arts, though still low, has steadily gone up since the 2014-15 school year. Belle Haven also went from having the lowest attendance rate in 2014 to the third-highest in the district this year. Gaviglio started a now-popular "parent university" program to engage parents on topics from homework and the transition to middle school to healthy eating and sleeping habits. About 200 parents attended a session earlier this month.
"To remove a dedicated principal who has accomplished all of those things is illogical," echoed fourth-grade teacher Lauren Macorwitz. "If he is removed permanently our students, teachers and community will suffer."
Alexander said that a group parents plan to protest Gaviglio's removal next week by keeping their children at home until he is reinstated.
In a short meeting with Belle Haven staff last Wednesday, Hernandez-Goff bristled at their questions about the sudden change in leadership, according to a transcription of an audio recording provided by a teacher and corroborated by others who attended the meeting.
"I'm not here to answer questions," she told the teachers. "I'm here to tell you what I'm doing, and that's my prerogative as the superintendent."
After further questions, she told the teachers bluntly: "This is not a democracy. This is your job. And I get to make those decisions."