WSCUHSD aims to hire new principal for Analy/El Mo combo

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, March 18, 2021

The district is considering replacing both principals, El Molino's Matt Dunkle (left) and Analy's Shauna Ferdinandson (right), with a "neutral" third party. Community members are begging them to slow down.

The West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) has yet to determine the new name, mascot and colors of the consolidated high school launching this fall, but the school may have its principal by April 14, according to Director of Human Resources Mia Del Prete at the March 16 special board meeting.

The board took no formal action on the school’s future leadership, but received Del Prete’s presentation on the recruitment timeline for the consolidated west county high school principal involving two interview committees.

Superintendent Toni Beal said much of the district’s savings from consolidating into one school comes from having one principal and Del Prete has encouraged both Analy Principal Shauna Ferdinandson and El Molino Principal Matthew Dunkle to apply.

She added that the district hopes they both apply, “but we wanted the one head administrative position to be something that our whole community chose, which is why we’re reaching out to our whole community to be on this committee.”

In an interview with Sonoma West Times & News earlier that day, Beal said the two principals received notices of potential release before the March 15 layoff notice deadline as certificated staff. Though she did not say so at the special board meeting, Beal said in the interview that as longtime district employees, the two administrators’ rights included the possibility of being reassigned to another district position, like vice principal or given priority in the hiring process for a teacher.

The comprehensive high school merging Analy and El Molino student populations is planned to have three or the equivalent of two and a half assistant principals, Beal said. According to Del Prete, Analy Vice Principal Erin Elliot and El Molino Vice Principal Dani Barese will stay on as vice principals, though the other Analy vice principal resigned.

Del Prete said Tuesday night that she planned to post the principal position on a nationwide educator-hiring website called Edjoin on March 17, in addition to advertising the position in Sonoma County and its neighboring counties. The application period closes on March 31, she said.

“It is a very aggressive timeline and it’s aggressive because we want to make sure that we can hire a principal by the April board meeting so that person can be involved in the planning and transition of the new high school,” she said.

The director said the “paper screening committee” can begin reviewing the principal applications the day the application period closes, meeting April 5 to choose which candidates move on to the first interview round slated for April 8.

The second interview is currently scheduled for that following day on April 9, with the intent to deliver a recommendation to the board of trustees for the April 14 board meeting, punctuating the timeline with a principal selection, Del Prete said.

According to the “2021 West County High School Principal Search Timeline and Committees” document from the meeting agenda, the paper screening committee consists of Beal, Elliot, Barese, four teachers and two classified staff members, half from Analy and half from El Molino.

The first interview committee will be composed of 15 members, including Beal, Barese, Elliot, four teachers, two guidance counselors, two classified staff, two community members and two students, half from Analy and the other from El Molino, the document said.

The second interview committee scheduled to meet April 9 will be made up of Beal, Laguna Principal Allie Greene, Del Prete and two board members, per the document. Board Vice President Jeanne Fernandes said she was interested in participating.

Del Prete said she would be joining up with association heads and site administrators to enlist teachers and classified staff for the paper screening and interview committee, as well as students and community members.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to actually hold those interviews in person. I’m hoping that we might be able to do that, but we’ll have to see what it looks like between now and the next ten days,” she said.

Jeanne Broome, the board’s student representative from El Molino, asked how long a typical principal hiring process would take if a principal resigned well in advance.

“This is really the hiring season right now,” Del Prete said. “So, typically we would open up a position for an administrator that would run anywhere from three to four weeks, so we’re really not that much off of what we would normally post.”

She said the Edjoin application nets a large swath for potential candidates because it opens nationwide and despite the clipped paper-screening timeline, that committee can start screening before the window closes because they’d use an online program to do so, rather than literal paper.

The community input resoundingly called for the board and district to slow down the process and recruit Ferdinandson and Dunkle to lead the consolidated high school as co-principals, at least to smooth the transition.

“I mean, it seems like the same continued rush theme that just leads to failures. I think we already have two great principals,” said Forestville resident Clay Thistle, who disapproved of choosing a principal within weeks and asked about the possibility of co-principals.

Jessalee Mills also agreed with the idea of co-principals, but called for a revote on the consolidation, as she said the board intended to favor Analy from the very beginning.

Another community member, Mary Bracken, said millions of dollars in federal aid and state funding were expected to reach the district and that WSCUHSD should hold out another year to resolve its structural deficit and decide whether to consolidate.

In her interview that morning with Sonoma West Times & News, Beal said that appointing either current principals wouldn’t have honored the district’s intention to unify the Analy and El Molino communities.

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com