Principal's departure stirs Colusa parents
After becoming Colusa High School's principal, students and parents say, Steve Peters quickly gained teenagers' trust, improved the faculty's morale and energized the school's atmosphere. And then, less than three months later, he was gone.
As the Colusa Unified School District board met Tuesday evening to begin the months-long search for a new principal, parents confronted them with emotional, often bitter demands - to board members and Larry Yeghoian, the superintendent - to know why Peters resigned from the high school last week, barely a month into the school year.
The result was a mess of recriminations about the principal's sudden exit and fears that its ugly denouement will make it harder for Colusa to hire any more school leaders of quality.
“What parents and kids thirsted for was strong leadership at the high school,” said Greg Ponciano, whose daughter is a Colusa High senior. “In a couple months, the whole identity of the school seemed to step up. ... My concern is, if this strong person can't work within the system, then no strong person will work within the system - and then what we can expect is more of the same.”
The hour of parents' complaints preceded the school board's closed session, during which members were to start setting up the recruitment process for Colusa High's new leader. The board decided to search for a fill-in for the current year first, then look for a long-term replacement starting in early 2007.
But Peter's Sept. 18 resignation announcement already has rocked the 300-strong student body, leading teens to protest his departure on Friday by dressing in black and quickly turning a planned football rally into a pro-Peters one. The outcry spread to their parents, some of whom accused Yeghoian of driving out the principal over personality clashes instead of policy - a charge the superintendent has denied.
“I'll say this, Larry,” said Gayle Ulshafer, a school parent and president of the parent-teacher-student association. “If you were not here, he would have stayed. You two can't work together; I don't know why.”
Put on their heels by the complaints, Yeghoian and the board insisted they felt the principal's loss just as keenly, adding Yeghoian even tried to convince him to return to no avail.
“This has nothing to do with the working relationship we had,” he said. “I believe this is the right man for the high school 100 percent, and I said that to him. I came here six years ago to buy in and do the best I could as superintendent, and I don't believe I've done less than that.”
Going further than the superintendent, Don Bransford, a board member, attacked Peters for running away from the alleged conflicts with Yeghoian instead of trying to settle them.
“He let the kids down,” said Bransford. “He's telling the kids if you have a problem with a teacher, you have to deal with that teacher - you have to make do. He has a few problems, so he bolts. What does that tell our kids?”
Only one student was present, and her words crystallized the void left in students' hearts with the loss of their school leader.
“This man makes a difference; he really cares,” Brittani Gomez, a sophomore, told the board as tears welled up in her eyes. “You don't realize what this man means. He proves it's not only about going to school, it's about caring for each other and making you succeed in what you're doing.”