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Petaluma parents support fired Kenilworth counselor

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A popular Kenilworth Junior High school counselor, backed by enthusiastic supporters, has taken her effort to retain her job to the Petaluma City Schools District Board.

Joanna Paun said she has been informed by Kenilworth Junior High School Principal Bennett Holley that she was being let go, “without cause.” She said the only reason she was given was that she was not, “a good fit.” Holley said he couldn’t comment on the decision, citing state regulations on the privacy of personnel issues.

Paun is in her second official year at Kenilworth after serving a year as an intern. She is still on probationary status.

According to Linda Scheele, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, “After having been probationary for two years, a teacher becomes permanent on the first day of the third school year and then can only be released ‘for cause.’ Ultimately the decision to non-reelect is not final until the board passes a resolution confirming the district’s recommendation.”

Scheele said the decision to recommend that a teacher be what she called, “non-reelected” is always done with the site administrator and the district working in conjunction. “We have multiple conversations about a decision that is very important,” she said.

She said whenever the district decides to non-reelect an employee, that employee is always given the opportunity to resign in lieu of non-reelection. Paun told the school board this week that she was “surprised” to be told she would be let go at the end of the school year.

“Just two months ago, I was given an excellent review by Mr. Holley,” she told the board. “And I was given verbal assurance at that time, that as long as the box was checked that says, ‘Meets District Standard’ that I would be welcomed back to Kenilworth after this school year.

“Additionally, in my prior review, Mr. Holley stated, ‘Ms. Paun does not seem like a first-year counselor. She is confident...been a fantastic addition to the office, and her perspective on school-related issues is extremely valuable to the administration.”

Paun was backed by several supporters, some Kenilworth students or former students, who described her as “honest, passionate, eloquent and professional.”

“She helped me and a lot of my friends through a lot of hard times,” commented one student.

“This is a really major mistake,” said Rev. Emmanuel Akognon, senior pastor of the Village Baptist Church and a long-time friend of Paun. “You don’t work with a person, give them good reviews and tell them they don’t fit.”

“She is loved by her students and the parents,” said Theresa O’Brien. “She can’t go anyplace without a kid or a parent stopping her and talking to her.”

Paun is the only black staff member at Kenilworth, but doesn’t believe that race was a factor in the decision to let her go.

“I don’t think so,” she said. However she did point out the need to have minorities involved in education.

“The school district makeup is 60 percent white and 40 percent minority,” she said. “That 40 percent doesn’t have role models they can look up to.”

Paun said she wants to remain at Kenilworth and can continue to work well with the principal and administration at the school.

“I would love to stay. I love working at Kenilworth. I feel like this is something we can work out,” she said.

In her concluding remarks to the school board, Paun said, “I’ve exceeded all expectations and will continue to do so as Kenilworth’s seventh-grade counselor next year. And, I am confident that Mr. Holley and I can work together again in a manner that is in the best interests of the students at Kenilworth.”