Lincoln High, which has been without a permanent principal since last July, will likely enter another school year without a permanent principal in place.

The district has been searching for a replacement since Lincoln’s former principal, John Ross, departed last summer. Shirley Peterson has overseen the school as interim principal for the past year.

Late last week, Peterson sent an email to Lincoln staff and parents that confirmed San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten has decided not to hire a permanent replacement and will extend the search. Peterson, who came out of retirement to lead the school, will retire (again) June 14.

The protracted search amplifies the sense of disruption and disorganization that Lincoln parents have repeatedly vocalized. Members of the school’s parent-teacher organization, headed by parent Cindy Barros, say their voices have been dismissed by Marten and other district leaders.

It’s been years since Lincoln High reopened with a gleaming $129 million campus, and the school is spinning. Leaders come and go, each bringing new reforms. Rows of classrooms sit empty. In that decade, Lincoln has lost four permanent principals.

It’s also highly unusual for a principal search to stretch into a second year. In 2013, when La Jolla High’s former principal resigned abruptly, district officials searched six months before finally appointing its current principal, Chuck Podhorsky.

During that principal search, Marten recognized the disruption and instability schools experience when they don’t have a permanent principal.

“We recognize that consistent, strong, stable leadership is the key to success for our students. I realize the impact of multiple transitions and interim assignments … (and) am confident that the time and thought we are putting into the selection process will have a long-term positive impact, even though it is creating a shorter term challenge,” Marten told the La Jolla Light.

Marten raised expectations for Lincoln at the beginning of this school year.

“There’s one school, in particular, where I think we can really expect great things to happen this year, and that’s Lincoln High School,” she said at a school board meeting.

Over the past year, instability at Lincoln has manifested in various ways. In September, students who had signed up for college classes – offered through a partnership between Lincoln High and San Diego Community College – showed up to their first day only to find empty rooms with no instructors. Many of their classes had been canceled, but students said nobody had relayed the message.

Months later, parents learned that 75 percent of the students who took a remedial college math class – the only course offered that semester – had failed. Peterson later chalked up the problem to miscommunication and a lack of academic support for students.

Peterson’s email this week caps the third failed effort to find a permanent principal. And because parents and Marten have never found common ground on who should lead the school, Lincoln will likely enter the next school year with another temporary leader.

Barros, president of Lincoln’s parent-teacher organization, sent the following email to parents last week, after she received word the district had blanked on its latest principal search. We’re reprinting the email Barros sent, edited lightly for style and clarity.

Good morning,

I’m writing to you all with a heavy and heart. Once again SDUSD has not hired a principal. Here is the rundown: After the fifth announcement, level one interviews were held. Those whom the district felt qualified and who applied to Lincoln were sent to level two, or the Community Panel.

The panel is made up of teachers, staff, students, community members, current sitting principal (in the cluster) and the area superintendent. That panel convened on April 24. The panel selected one candidate to forward to Cindy Marten.

Normal protocol and policy is for Cindy Marten to interview with the candidate and appoint them as the principal. It is not intended or usual for Cindy Marten to disagree with the community panel, unless there are some extenuating circumstances that would cause her to do so. But she used her escape clause and decision making power (influenced by others) to make a very damaging decision.

Fast forward to current events. Several other new test and evaluations were put in place. The candidate, our very own Mr. Soto, passed and surpassed all those test and extra evaluations, only to not be offered the position. So why have the community panel?  It is clear you don’t value our opinion.  Now the principal position is being re-announced for the sixth time!  This is unacceptable, disrespectful and downright malicious for SDUSD to not appoint Mr. Soto as our principal. The only reason given was he was not the best qualified candidate for the position and he is too student centered. Mr. Soto has been at Lincoln for the past five years and is committed to staying at Lincoln, regardless. His true hopes and desires are to make our students great and give them every opportunity to succeed. He is not a businessman or a politician looking to gain bullets in his resume.

I know each and every one of you on this email would agree that being an educator is about the children and, that all have a quality education. SDUSD has made their intentions clear when it comes to Lincoln: “We don’t care about you or your students.”

The malicious intent of Cheryl Hibbeln, Bruce Bivins and Cindy Marten towards the success of Lincoln and their search for a principal is unheard of. This would never happen north of the 8, so that tells you how they feel about us as a community, staff and parents. Not to mention our students, our babies our future leaders and care takers!!!

From Cheryl Hibbeln, who gutted and almost eliminated our middle college program (remember the Lincoln 49? Our kids read at a 2nd grade level) to Bruce Bivins not being transparent in the hiring process nor providing feedback or a way ahead to assist Lincoln in succeeding.  And your very own superintendent who has placed four interim administrators at Lincoln costing $400,000!

This, when you have a well-qualified candidate on campus. Does this make any sense?  I could go on and on about the slanderous comments made, double-sided communication, lack of representation of our student body, total disregard to our staff and community and the gross negligence of our financial situation at Lincoln and by SDUSD as a whole.

Here is a listing of the key players for SDUSD, listed in order of priority;  Cheryl Hibbeln;, Bruce Bivins; and Cindy Marten;  along with our area trustee Sharon Whitehurst Payne;  Some question you may want to ask.

1. What is the HR process for hiring a principal?

  1. What is the reason for not appointing the community’s selection?
  2. Explain the cost of interim staff and why you would continue with that given the current budget crisis.
  3. Explain the role of the executive director of secondary schools and her role in hiring process.
  4. Will be getting another interim? If so, when?  (Dr. Peterson last day is June 14th)
  5. What are the plans for Lincoln’s success?

Barros is asking all Lincoln parents, teachers and stakeholders to support Lincoln students by attending the next district board meeting on Tuesday, May 16 at 5 p.m.

Mario Koran

Mario was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about schools, children and people on the margins of San Diego.

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