Glen Ellen’s Dunbar School principal to be replaced

Longtime Dunbar Elementary School teacher Brandy Melendy took to the podium during the public-comment period of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District board meeting on March 14 to read a letter signed by 16 staffers at the Glen Ellen primary school.

“We are writing to express our concern and dismay regarding the ouster of our principal, Melanie Blake,” the letter began.

Distressed that Blake was “dismissed” at the end of the school year and not allowed to “retire on her own terms,” Melendy said she stood before the board on behalf of “the majority of the staff at the school.”

In a late February correspondence to all Dunbar families, Blake, 64, announced that she would be “stepping away” and summarized her accomplishments at the school over the past eight years, taking the opportunity to thank her staff and parents as well as the local community for its support.

Melendy first heard the news from Blake at a staff meeting in February. She said that the teachers got together shortly thereafter to write to the school district. The letter describes Blake as having been “an exemplary and dedicated leader of Dunbar Elementary for eight years, inspiring us with her vision, propelling us forward, and making us a better school.”

Dunbar is the oldest elementary school in California. Today, according to Melendy, the “country school’s” population of 235 students is composed of 60 percent English Language learners, and is 72 percent Latino and 18 percent white. Sixty-seven percent of the school’s families qualify for free or reduced lunch.

In the new California School Report Card released on March 15, Dunbar received the lowest scores for academic performance among the district schools.

Meanwhile, a possible change in curriculum has been in the works at Dunbar. Earlier this winter, Blake announced that Dunbar was applying to be only the second elementary school in the county to adopt an International Baccalaureate curriculum, a respected global studies program that includes rigorous assessments.

The news about Blake has given pause to Melendy about the school possibly switching to a new education vision.

“The staff feels a bit bewildered that the district would do this, and is no longer enthusiastic about the IB vision we had built together due to the many changes we face in the near future without our main support person,” said Melendy.

When reached for comment, Sonoma Valley Unified School District Superintendent Louann Carlomagno said, “While the district is obligated to keep any personnel item confidential and is limited in making any comments, I can confirm that Melanie had submitted a letter to the district announcing her retirement at the end of the 2016-17 school year.”

She added: “I would also add that Melanie has been a personal and professional friend and colleague... She is completing her 34th year in teaching and leadership roles all in Sonoma Valley. During that time the district has continued to benefit from her range of experiences and expertise. The support she has from her staff certainly reflects the strong bond within the Dunbar community.”

When reached by phone on Thursday, Blake said that she has no plans to retire from education.

“While I will be stepping aside as principal of Dunbar, I am looking at some other opportunities that would keep me busy,” she said. She added that her last day will be sometime in late June.

Recognizing that the change in leadership at the school is a “done deal,” the Dunbar staff requested in its letter to be part of the hiring process, and that human resources look outside the school district for Blake’ replacement. When asked to clarify the request, Melendy would only say that the staff was not enthusiastic about a solution that involved shuffling around existing district administrators. She described Dunbar as feeling like a forgotten “stepchild.”

Carlomagno confirmed that the Dunbar principal vacancy was posted externally on March 13.

As Melendy left the podium at the March 14 school board meeting, she drew an analogy to Dunbar’s sadness over its 400-year-old “Citation Tree” that recently fell to the ground in a recent rainstorm.

“It just feels symbolic of this situation,” she said.

Contact lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.