Teachers and principals in the Sequoia Union High School District have called for Superintendent Mary Streshly to be fired. But the members of the school board, after five closed-session meetings totaling nearly seven hours, have yet to make up their mind.
The only announcement thus far: The school board appears to be calling for outside help.
Almost a month ago, two letters landed on the school board’s desk: On July 31, administrators from five high schools in the district sent a letter calling for Streshly to be fired. On Aug. 3, the teachers union, Sequoia Union District Teachers Association (SDTA), did the same.
“It has become clear that the board made a mistake in hiring someone with no prior experience managing a large and diverse school district like Sequoia Union,” said SDTA president Edith Salvatore in the letter.
In response, a succession of closed-session meetings came. In a regular meeting Aug. 5, a special meeting Aug. 11 and the most recent meeting on Aug. 19, the board privately discussed Streshly, all under the agenda item “superintendent’s evaluation.”
By the end of the Aug. 19 closed-session meeting, board president Allen Weiner emerged with only this to say: The board is taking teachers' and principals' concerns about the superintendent seriously, and it will be starting an “independent information gathering process.”
What exactly will that be? Weiner didn’t say, citing confidentiality in personnel matters.
Without confirming any details about the information gathering process, Weiner said that the district would typically pay for outside consultants from the district's general fund.
Streshly’s contract has come up for renewal, and the board first began discussing the superintendent’s job performance at two closed-session meetings June 24 and July 27. Both the contingent of administrators and SDTA have called for the board to not renew her contract.
Accusations against Streshly
As for Streshly herself, she faces a long list of strong accusations against her short tenure, which began in 2017. Both the high school principals and SDTA have accused Streshly of mishandling the district’s COVID-19 response, and having a history of lackluster leadership before that.
From the principals’ July 31 letter: "Dr. Streshly's inability to make decisions, communicate plans, or articulate a coherent vision has resulted in frustration and exhaustion at all levels of certificated management. These ongoing issues are not new, but have been exacerbated by the pandemic crisis such that our ability to meet the needs of students, families, and staff is jeopardized."
Meanwhile, the SDTA levied a list of 19 grievances against Streshly. In a resolution of no-confidence in Streshly passed by the SDTA’s Representative Council, the union said she has “consistently turned a blind eye to the issues of racial tensions” in the district. They also said she “mishandled the opening and development of the TIDE alternative school,” referring to complaints made about TIDE Academy in April.
After passing the no-confidence resolution at the SDTA's Representative Council, the group said, the resolution received 200 staff signatures in under 24 hours. The final number of signatures was 300, representing roughly 60% of the active membership of the union, the group said.
Twenty-two district administrators signed the letter against Streshly, including Menlo-Atherton High School principal Simone Rick-Kennel and Woodside High School principal Diane Burbank, as well as assistant superintendent Bonnie Hansen.
In defense of Streshly
While Sequoia Union High School District staff have pilloried the embattled superintendent, a collection of recent emails suggests that many parents support her.
After the SDTA released its letter of no confidence critical of Streshly, she responded back directly to SDTA president Edith Salvatore. Streshly then forwarded what she wrote to parents district-wide.
In response, at least 24 supportive emails were written to Streshly from district parents.
“All the parents that I have talked to truly believe in you, and what you stand for! The SDTA is being childish, self-serving and flat wrong in their way of thinking,” wrote Mark Gallelo.
“As a parent of a graduate and a rising senior at Sequoia, and as a school attorney (with F3), I want to let you know that I have always been impressed with what you have accomplished at SUHSD. Your communication with and support of students and parents is exemplary,” wrote Laurie Reynolds.
Paige Winikoff, who chaired the Menlo-Atherton Education Foundation campaign in 2019, said, “You have my full confidence. Thank you for your patient, tireless efforts to coordinate efforts to best serve our district.”
Parent Patrick Wheeler, whose child is a junior at Carlmont High School, praised Streshly's navigation of the rocky COVID-19 landscape. "You have my wholehearted support. I am grateful to you and your entire team for all the hard work that has gone into devising what seems to be a thorough, realistic, well-balanced plan, which includes contingencies to adapt to the situation as it develops," he said.
One final data point: Allison Silvestri, the principal of the recently opened alternative school TIDE Academy, did not sign the administrators' letter against Streshly.
Streshly became Sequoia Union High School District superintendent in July of 2017, signing on with a salary of $240,500 per year.