This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.
I have received a copy of a message sent to Woodside Elementary families by former Principal Jenny Cronan about her decision to take an administrative position at Oak Grove Middle School, which is also in Concord. Here is her message:
"Dear Woodside families:
I hope this communication finds all of you well and enjoying the final weeks of summer vacation. This past year has been a transitional and challenging one for the Woodside community. It has also been a revealing one for me, as leading Woodside has helped bring me to my true calling as an instructional leader focusing on common core standards in English language arts. Consequently, I have requested and was granted a transfer to Oak Grove Middle School, in a co-administrator role as program specialist of English language arts. Despite my excitement at this new opportunity, it is somewhat bittersweet as I will be leaving those within the Woodside community who have been steadfast at supporting my efforts throughout the year. I thank all of you who partnered with me during this transitional year. Nevertheless, I leave you in good hands, as Mrs. Ava Sudduth, an accomplished retired principal from Mt. Diablo Unified, will begin the year at Woodside as your interim principal. Please help make Mrs. Sudduth feel as welcome as you have made me here at Woodside. Again, thank you all for the opportunity to be a part of your community, and I wish you all a fruitful school year.
Most sincerely, Jen Cronan"
I called the school to find out more about Sudduth and learned that she sent a letter to teachers detailing her 30-year history in the district. She taught third through sixth grades, then became an administrator in 1989. She worked at Bancroft, Walnut Acres and Wren Avenue elementary schools, before serving as a principal at Bel Air and Sun Terrace elementary schools.
Cronan's decision to transfer to Oak Grove comes on the heels of the arrest of Woodside fifth-grade teacher Joseph Martin, who has been charged with 109 felony counts alleging he molested 13 former students between 2006 and April of this year, when he was arrested.
A lawsuit filed July 8 against the district alleges that administrators ignored complaints against him and that his classroom was an isolated, single portable unit with windows blocked by children's pictures and other items, making it impossible to look inside. In addition, the lawsuit alleges Martin had little outside supervision or accountability.
A claim filed July 31 against the district alleges that Martin was allowed by district officials to return to his classroom to "say goodbye" to his students the day he was placed on administrative leave. The claim alleges he took this opportunity to corner one of his victims and try to dissuade the boy from reporting fondling incidents. This claim contradicts Interim Superintendent John Bernard's statement that "The teacher in question was removed immediately and has not returned to the campus."
The claim names Martin, former Woodside Principal Jennifer Sachs, former Woodside Principal Michele Batesole, Cronan, former Superintendent Steven Lawrence and former General Counsel Greg Rolen as employees who failed to report suspected child abuse to police or Child Protective Services.
Although Sachs is Bernard's daughter, he told me that would not influence the investigation and that the district is participating fully with police. Sachs is now director of categorical programs in the Pittsburg school district.
In a closed session Wednesday, trustees discussed potential litigation based on facts and circumstances in one matter related to a claim filed on behalf of "J. Doe."
Although school starts Aug. 28, the Woodside Elementary website still lists Cronan as principal and Martin as one of two fifth-grade teachers at the school.
How can the district help the Woodside staff, students and community get off to a good start this school year?
Staff writers Malaika Fraley and Matthias Gafni contributed to this report.