After dozens of teachers, community members and board trustees from districts around the region spoke out against the possible firing of Superintendent Darnise Williams on Monday, Dec. 12, Sequoia Union High School District board members took no action on Williams' evaluation.
The district called a special meeting for Monday to discuss Williams' evaluation, the second one since August when she received positive feedback.
Community members at the meeting railed against the new school board's decision to reconsider Williams' employment, calling them everything from racist and unethical to immoral and illegal. Some worried whether new board members who campaigned on transparency would keep their promises after not having disclosed information related to recent meetings. It was unclear before Monday's meeting whether the school board intended to fire Williams.
"Why are these your first few actions? This feels as though the new board has decided without taking input from the community to reverse the direction of the previous board," said Abigail Korman, a teacher at Menlo-Atherton High School.
Sequoia District Teachers Association President Edith Salvatore said she was disappointed and believed the district had chosen "secrecy over inclusion over voice."
Former SUHSD board member Alan Sarver, who retired at the Wednesday, Dec. 7, meeting, called into question the "unprecedented multiple special meetings" and accused board President Carrie DuBois of orchestrating recent events, including the possibility of firing Williams. DuBois did not respond to a request for comment on the reason for the closed session meetings and mutterings about Williams' possible firing.
"However, it is deeply disturbing that you have chosen to do this to the detriment of Dr. Williams and the students, staff and reputation of the Sequoia Union High School District," Sarver said.
Sarver's colleague Chris Thomsen, who also retired from the board last week, told the board he was "deeply saddened for the district by your handling of the first meetings of this board and the distrust you are sowing in the community at this point." He said he could "only reasonably conclude as so many others have concluded that it was the aim of the president (DuBois) and the vice president (Rich Ginn) to remove the district superintendent."
He described the way the board has handled this as "reckless," "damaging to the district" and "possibly illegal." He specifically called out the board for hiring new counsel, Eugene Whitlock, a former San Mateo Community College District employee known for being the whistle blower in the corruption case against former Chancellor Ron Galatolo, during closed session.
Thomsen said this was an action that should have been taken in public so that community members had a chance to comment on the hiring. Whitlock was also a diversity consultant for the Las Lomitas Elementary School District after parents called for the district to recruit more diverse teachers to their staff.
Jenny Varghese Bloom, a Ravenswood City School District governing board member, said Williams was hired to continue the work of equity and inclusivity. "My question is, if she's removed, what's going to happen to that work?" Bloom asked.
Monday's special meeting was the second one since Friday, Dec. 9, when Amy Koo and Sathvik Nori were ushered in as SUHSD board members before a closed session meeting.
On Friday, trustees including Koo and Nori met with an attorney for roughly four hours during a closed session at a special meeting. The district revealed the vote count for Friday's hiring of legal counsel (a 4-1 vote) but did not state who voted for or against.
In August, the board extended Williams' contract for another year after positive comments from all board members, except board president Carrie DuBois. At the Aug. 3 board meeting, DuBois prefaced her comments by telling Williams she had received a "very positive evaluation from the board," but ultimately said she was a no-vote on approving the addendum to her extended contract.
"My reason for the no vote is ... I was troubled by this addendum, because I believe it's confusing," DuBois said, adding that she believed the "salary needs to be easy to understand."
Williams joined the district in July 2021 from the Los Angeles Unified School District after signing a $265,000 three-year contract with an annual salary. Williams, who is the district's first Black female superintendent, is the lowest-paid superintendent in the region, Sarver said during the Aug. 3 board meeting.
Williams could not be reached for comment before the Monday night meeting. Trustee Shawneece Stevens declined to comment.
The new board is made up primarily of people of color.
Thomsen noted that as the board elects officers on Wednesday, Dec. 14, it might consider breaking from its ordinary rotation, which would install Ginn as president.
"I would suggest to you that this is not ordinary time for the district and that you may want to consider who best can restore trust in the district when you choose that president," he said.