The Los Altos School District may have a problem with bullying. But this time, it’s not related to students.
Almond School Principal Erika Benadom announced her resignation recently, partially because of parent “bullying,” according to two Almond parents who wished to remain anonymous.
One of the parents said a small group of parents who dislike Benadom started holding coffee meetings last year to discuss how to get her fired.
Elizabeth Leach, president of the Los Altos Teachers Association, cautioned district trustees Feb. 12 that inappropriate parent behavior will result in the loss of teachers if officials don’t fix the problem.
Ten days prior to Leach’s warning, Superintendent Jeff Baier sent an email to Almond parents, informing them of Benadom’s resignation, effective June 30.
“A myriad of considerations went into my decision to resign,” Benadom wrote in an email to the Town Crier last week. “One significant factor did involve my inability to be my authentic self in this role as a result of a small faction of disgruntled families and a couple of former Almond teachers.”
Benadom declined to answer further questions on her resignation.
Leach would not comment on whether she connected Benadom’s resignation with the problem she brought to trustees’ attention.
The other anonymous Almond parent told the Town Crier that a majority of the school’s parents like Benadom, but some had criticized her over new school curriculum. Despite her 85-95 percent “satisfied” and “very satisfied” ratings in a June 2017 Almond community survey, Benadom’s critics prompted the district to hire a third-party consultant to address concerns.
The consultant made recommendations to the district without speaking with parents who don’t belong to the small group of detractors, according to both of the unidentified sources.
Baier confirmed that the district hired a consultant to facilitate communication, but he would not disclose details.
“I was saddened when she shared this news, but I respect her decision,” Baier said of Benadom’s resignation.
Despite her decision to leave, Benadom said in her email that she has “no regrets” about her time at Almond, “in spite of some of the hardships.”
“Rather than counting down the remaining days, I’m soaking each one up and treasuring it,” she said. “I am invested in the students, staff and families of this remarkable community until my very last day on the job. I will do all in my capacity to support the new leader in being successful. The students, staff and families of Almond deserve nothing less. It has been an honor to work alongside some brilliant colleagues in LASD.”
One of Benadom’s anonymous supporters said it was “sad to see our children’s educational path dictated by parents instead of education professionals.”
In search of a new principal, district officials held a meeting Feb. 27 to solicit Almond parents’ opinions on the school’s needs and their aspirations.
Baier told the Town Crier that it’s standard procedure to collect information from various constituencies in the process of identifying a new leader, and the district gathers parent input prior to hiring every principal.
Some parents at the meeting praised Benadom’s performance, noting that they like the way she personally welcomes students to school every morning and devotes individual attention to each child.
Parents also praised Almond teachers for listening to every child.
“Kids feel they are heard,” Almond dad Jim Flynn said.
Another parent, Shehzad Merchant, noted that Almond maintains a good balance between academics and personality development.
As for future expectations, some parents requested that the school stop changing the curriculum so frequently. One parent suggested preparing a backup plan when launching a new curriculum in case it doesn’t work.
A few other parents advocated greater student privacy.
“If some kids have a conflict and the principal mediates, I hope the principal won’t post the incident on social media,” said a parent who requested anonymity.
ADDENDUM TO ORIGINAL STORY
Parents who did have issues with Benadom said they had valid reasons for their concerns. One parent said concerns included student bullying that was not adequately addressed, a "negative culture established at the school and the pace at which the curriculum was being implemented at Almond compared to other LASD schools."