Big changes as Petaluma students return to school
It is not only a new school year, but a year of change in Petaluma schools with new principals in both Petaluma City Schools high schools, two new elementary school principals in the Old Adobe School District and a new superintendent for the Waugh School District.
School for all but two of the 19 schools in the Petaluma City School District was back in session on Wednesday. Mary Collins School at Cherry Valley and Penngrove, both on a year-round schedule, have been in school since July 17.
The Old Adboe School District also began Wednesday, while the two-school Waugh District gets started on Aug. 20.
Petaluma City Schools
The wave of change that began with an almost completely new school board last November continued during the summer in the Petaluma City Schools District with three new secondary school principals and a new assistant superintendent of student services.
Petaluma High School graduate Justin Mori returns to take over as principal of the west side school succeeding David Stirrat. He knows local education, moving over from Sonoma Valley High School where he was principal last year.
At Casa Grande High School, succeeding principal Eric Backman is Dan Osterman, who steps into the principal’s office after three years as assistant principal at the east side school.
There are also two new assistant principals at Casa Grande and one at Petaluma.
Christina Lee and Samantha Azofeifa join returning administrator Stephen Owens on the administrative staff at Casa Grande while Erin Dinday, a former teacher at Petaluma High School, returns as assistant principal after two years as an assistant principal of Martinez Junior High School.
Dinday replaces Kelly O’Neil Kriss who is moving over to Petaluma Junior High School to assume the principal position. Prior to coming to Petaluma City Schools, O’Neil Kriss worked at both Paradise Intermediate School and Paradise High School.
There is also a significant change in the district administration with Dr. Liz Chacon replacing Dave Rose who has become superintendent of the Gravestein School District in Sebastopol.
Petaluma City Schools Superintendent Gary Callahan said he is very excited about the new staff members.
“We were looking to really diversify the administration to reflect the student population in gender and ethnicity,” he said. “We have some great new people, and the best part is that they all really want to be here.”
Callahan is also pleased at having both Petaluma and Casa Grande high schools recognized by U.S. News & World Report as among the best secondary schools in the nation.
With new fields, a new swimming pool and other major projects completed, the district is now turning to facilities upgrades as it continues to improve facilities through bond money-financed projects.
Emphasis this year is on what Callahan describes as a “significant roofing project at several schools.”
Petaluma High School will get a new paint job and there will also be improvements to some classrooms at Petaluma High and McKinley and Penngrove elementary schools.
The athletic weight room at Casa Grande has been completely refurbished.
Callahan said the Petaluma City Schools District begins the new school year in overall good shape with a projected slight increase in attendance and in “good” financial health.
He does caution that Petaluma, like all California school districts, continues to struggle with what he called “unanticipated expenses,” primarily continuing increases in pension costs for retired employees.
He added that school district employees will continue to ask area state representatives to advocate to close the “equity gap,” the difference in state funds allocated to some districts, primarily with a large number of low-income students, and the amount allocated to districts like Petaluma with fewer low-income students, but equal needs.
Old Adobe School District
There are some new faces, and some changes in the five elementary-school Old Adobe School District, but Superintendent Craig Conte is also proud of what the district has already accomplished.
There are two new principals in the district, with Dan Noble taking over at LaTercera and Leslee Clark now in charge at Old Adobe. Noble is returning to the school where he once taught, while Clark is a former Petaluma City Schools employee who also worked at the Marin County Office of Education.
Also new is Cyndy Kerr-Friberg who is now the director of Student Services.
Loma Vista Elementary School is in the second year of a three-year effort it hopes will lead to a prestigious International Baccalaureate (IB) certification. Schools completing the IB program are considered among the best in the world. There are fewer than 100 in California.