Gloria Hernandez-Goff, the controversial superintendent of the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, was suddenly placed on paid leave on Wednesday, effective immediately.
Board of Education President Tamara Sobomehin confirmed this shortly after sending out an email to all staff notifying them on Wednesday evening. Sobomehin declined to comment further.
Hernandez-Goff did not respond to requests for comment.
The superintendent, who was hired in 2013 with high hopes for turning around an underperforming school district, has faced mounting pressure in recent years from teachers, staff and parents critical of her leadership. Teachers signed a vote of no confidence and called for her immediate resignation in 2017, citing concerns about lack of communication, transparency and a "hostile and draining" work environment. They were particularly critical of what they said was her failure to involve teachers in the development of the district's first-ever comprehensive middle school, which opened that fall.
Former and current district employees also accused Hernandez-Goff of nepotism, financial mismanagement and creating a hostile work environment.
The school board renewed her two-year contract last spring after weeks of community marches. Belle Haven Elementary School parents kept their children home from school in protest of Hernandez-Goff's decision to transfer their principal mid-year, a reassignment he alleged was retaliation for filing a discrimination complaint against the superintendent. His claim has been agendized several times on the school board's closed session agenda, including as recently as Monday.
The superintendent's supporters, including some trustees, have credited her with improving a long-struggling district, including by opening the comprehensive middle school and bringing more arts and STEM programming to Ravenswood.
Management of the district's finances has also been a flashpoint in recent years. The district grappled with a budget crisis last year, resulting in $5 million in budget cuts, including classified staff layoffs. The board is now again discussing further budget cuts for next year to mitigate declining enrollment and other financial pressures.
Concerns over Hernandez-Goff's leadership and unrest in the community prompted several new challengers to run for two open seats on the school board in November.
An online petition started circulating in January calling on the newly constituted board to terminate Hernandez-Goff. Close to 300 people have signed the petition to date.
Ronda White, president of the Ravenswood Teachers Association, said she did not know what prompted placing Hernandez-Goff on paid leave. The concerns teachers voiced about her leadership in their vote of no confidence two years ago persist, White said.
"The district as a whole is not growing and is not transforming the way that it needs for the community and that's a problem. I'd like to think that the board is finally starting to listen and starting to see that she was not the one to lead us into the future," White added.
Sobomehin said Wednesday that the district's assistant superintendent, Lorena Morales-Ellis, would oversee day-to-day operations in Hernandez-Goff’s absence "and until further notice." But on Thursday, Morales-Ellis told Sobomehin she was declining the offer and could not take on additional responsibilities, according to an email provided to the Weekly.
"As a member of the Superintendent's cabinet, I can speak for all of us when I state that the District's management team, both cabinet and director level, are currently working 12+ hour days and cannot absorb additional responsibilities," Morales-Ellis wrote. She did not return requests for comment. (The board voted Thursday night to appoint Gina Sudaria, the district's director of student services, as acting superintendent.)
When reached Wednesday night, the district's spokesperson, Rolando Bonilla, said he was unaware the superintendent had been placed on leave.
An "employee dismissal/discipline/release" item was on the board's closed session agenda at a budget study session on Monday evening. Sobomehin said the board did not take any reportable action in closed session.
Hernandez-Goff was not present at the study session and has reportedly been out for medical leave.
Another "employee dismissal/discipline/release" item was scheduled during the board's closed session on Feb. 28, at the district headquarters, 2120 Euclid Ave., East Palo Alto, starting at 6:30 p.m.