Berkeley High School’s now ex-principal, Frank Lynch, wasted no time in hitting the road. In an e-mail sent Monday to Parent Teacher Student Association President Joan Edelstein, Lynch wrote: “Wednesday is my official last day.”
On Tuesday, some officials had assumed he would be around until Nov. 1. Now the question looms of who will run the high school beginning Thursday.
“I didn’t get the impression that the transition to a new administrative model at Berkeley High was going to take place as early as tomorrow,” said Terry Doran, the school board president.
The board and Superintendent Michele Lawrence will discuss the matter at Wednesday’s school board meeting, Doran added.
Lynch accepted the superintendent post in the Del Norte County Unified School District late last week.
Lawrence sent an e-mail to the Berkeley High community Monday to announce his departure and reassure parents. It said Lynch would leave “by Nov. 1.”
“Parents are very upset,” Edelstein said. “They finally after a year got used to having a new principal. There was a lot of questioning when he came whether he was really committed to Berkeley, because he wasn’t moving into Berkeley.”
Lynch lives in Petaluma.
“The professional thing to do would be not to depart until a replacement was identified,” said Bob Epstein, parent of a Berkeley High sophomore and senior, “otherwise he would leave the school at a needless risk.”
“A lot of parents have said to me in e-mails that there has been so much stress and anxiety since the Sept. 11 events, that to add to the disruption only causes even worse anxiety,” Edelstein said. “What they really want is some normalcy and continuity in their kids’ lives, and they need reassurance that this is going to be happening.”
Edelstein also said some parents she had spoken to wondered why the district had kept Lynch’s possible departure under wraps.
“He was really working on establishing a relationship, and parents were finally starting to feel comfortable,” she said. “It came as a big shock, and it seemed that it had been kept as a secret rather than helping to prepare the parents for a potential transition.”
Doran said keeping Lynch’s job search quiet was not unusual. He pointed to former superintendent Jack McLaughlin, who was asked to apply for “many jobs.”
“If every time he was asked to apply for a job, we made that a public announcement, it really would have hurt his ability to be an effective superintendent while he was here,” Doran said. “It didn’t serve any purpose whatsoever.”
In her Monday e-mail, Lawrence stated a desire to move on.
“While we could debate the merits of his leaving just now, and the District’s legal right to retain him, I see only harm in that discussion,” Lawrence wrote.
Outlining the steps she saw the administration taking in response to Lynch’s departure, Lawrence wrote of the need to “examine the entire staffing allocation and current administrative assignments” and possibly add more personnel in spite of budget constraints. She pointed to time-consuming disciplinary burdens as one impediment to retaining teachers and administrators.
Acknowledging the need for more consistency and stability, the superintendent called for better decision-making procedures and asked for parents’ patience.
“I remain steadfast in my commitment to make the school and District one of the best in the nation... It’s just going to take some time,” she wrote.
Lawrence’s e-mail also announced that officials of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges might allow the district some wiggle room in its ongoing struggle to meet accreditation deadlines.
Last spring, WASC gave Berkeley High until next fall to upgrade its performance and accountability or lose its standing.
“I’ve had a long term relationship with WASC so I believe they were willing to entertain alternative solutions to our current dilemma,” she wrote. “We reached agreement on some compromise. While the accreditation will not be canceled or postponed it can be modified and packaged in a way to help us meet a more realistic time line.”