OAKLAND -- Montera Middle School Vice Principal Thom Kwiatkowski announced on Aug. 3 that he will not be returning to the hills school. The news comes about a month after the resignation of Russom Mesfun, who had been principal at the school for the past five years.
Kwiatkowski is leaving Montera to become the principal at a middle school in Contra Costa County, while Mesfun is set to serve as a high school principal in Southern California. Under their leadership, Montera was named a Distinguished School in 2011 by the state. Tina Tranzor, an assistant principal at Montera last year, has been named interim principal.
The vice principal's departure "is a huge loss for Montera and the Oakland Unified School District," said Mesfun. "He was a highly respected leader by parents, teachers and kids. He was very, very instrumental in taking Montera to the heights it has achieved."
A native of Rhode Island, Kwiatkowski is a graduate of the Boston Conservatory of Music. He spent the past 20-plus years working in Oakland schools, first as a music teacher at Edna Brewer Middle School. He moved to Montera to become a music instructor in 2000 and was named assistant principal in 2006 under the direction of long-time principal Cheryl Rodby.
Like Mesfun, Kwiatkowski has a hands-on leadership style. The pair spent a great deal of time in the hallways each day in between classes. Kwiatkowski often ate lunch with students and frequently visited
"It's really unfortunate that Mr. K. is leaving," said parent Carole Miller. "I think when any organization has a turnover in leadership, you are looking for the next line of leadership to step up. When you lose two levels of leadership it is destabilizing. You lose continuity."
Montera Middle School is the largest middle school in the Oakland Unified School District, boasting 950 kids in the 2011-2012 school year. The school draws students from around the city, including areas near the San Leandro to Emeryville borders, Kwiatkowski said.
"When there is a shooting in East Oakland, at least one of our kids will be affected. When there is a road work in West Oakland, one of our students will most likely be affected. We are the only school in Oakland of its kind," explained the former Montera vice principal.
"We are very sad to see him go. He had a huge impact on our community," said Debe Rapson, co-president of the school's Parent Teacher Organization.
Two assistant principals trained by Kwiatkowski at Montera have gone on to become principals, says Mesfun. "He is the quintessential team player," said the former Montera principal, who refers to him as a "co-pilot" rather than as an assistant.
"I have worked under four principals, and I've learned something from all of them," said Kwiatkowski. "I've developed my own vision of what I want to see in a school."
"I'm sad about leaving but excited about the new chapter," he added. "I will miss the kids, the staff and the families, but I will have new kids, staff and families. I hope to create the same feeling at the new site that we have here at Montera."