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Jason Walsh: A question of faith at Justin-Siena

“For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” – Luke 8:17

Imagine this scenario: A well-liked principal of a private Catholic school is summarily fired two months into the new school year – upon the first day of the reopening of classes following a devastating fire – and the administration offers no explanation but a single entreaty: trust us.

To most people – especially families and kids who attend the school – that’s pretty darn concerning.

Yet that’s what happened two weeks ago at Justin-Siena High School in Napa, when school president Robert Jordan ousted principal John Bordelon in a decision, he wrote to parents, that was “in no way the result of any wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Bordelon.”

In other words: Bordelon had done nothing to warrant dismissal, however the school is still sacking him with the school year in its infancy, at a particularly precarious time for the fire-ravaged community at large.

Added Jordan: “This change was made following due diligence and consultation.”

Typically, staffing changes at a Napa private school wouldn’t be territory the Index-Tribune opinion pages would venture into. But with nearly 90 Sonoma Valley families who have vested some portion of their kids’ futures – not to mention tens of thousands of dollars annually for tuition – in the institution, we feel the puzzling circumstances around the ousting warrant comment.

And, like the more than two-dozen parents of current and recently graduated Justin students who have written the I-T letters of complaint, we feel clarification from the school is due.

Unfortunately, that may not be coming anytime soon from Jordan, as last week he announced he was stepping aside as president, under pressure from tuition-paying parents, effective Nov. 3. In his resignation letter to the school community, Jordan blamed “legal issues and social media” for preventing him from “upholding our excellent communication methods” that the school community has been accustomed to.

In this most can agree: For a sudden and unexplained firing that involves no “wrongdoing,” communication methods have certainly been compromised.

Jordan said he would continue to keep the reasons behind Bordelon’s dismissal confidential in an effort to “uphold the dignity of the human person.”

Not everyone within Justin-Siena’s circle of leadership described the secrecy as dignified. Board of trustee chairwoman Mel Preimesberger cited Bordelon’s ousting as the reason she resigned Oct. 25, saying it “collided with (her) beliefs in due process and transparency.”

The school was as expeditious in hiring Bordelon’s replacement as it was in firing him, as the school’s new principal, Christopher Brady, recently the Chaplain of Athletics at St. Mary’s College, was named Oct. 26.

It’s been quite a whirlwind this month at Justin-Siena High School. And consternation from parents and students is understandable.

Few would debate that communications from school leadership thus far beg credulity.

If there has been no wrongdoing on anyone’s part, why are “legal issues” preventing transparency? If replacing Mr. Bordelon was simply a matter of job performance or a budgetary maneuver, wouldn’t this move have been made at the end of last spring – not a few weeks into a new school year? Did something happen over the course of the two-week school break?

The questions abound.

But unlike a public school district, Justin-Siena leadership isn’t answerable for major personnel decisions to the general public or a voting electorate. And, no, not to the local media either. But it is accountable to its school community who –with both their hearts and with their wallets – place their faith in the institution that their children’s teen school years will be guided with a certain degree of stability, integrity and trust. For many families currently at Justin, that faith has been shaken.

And it will likely take more accountability from school leadership than has been shown thus far to reaffirm that faith.

In an Oct. 26 letter to the school community, new Principal Brady acknowledged some families were “struggling” with the recent changes, but reprimanded those who had engaged in “harassing behavior” toward school administrators.

“You are free to choose other educational options for your child if you are unable to support Justin-Siena’s leadership decision,” reminded Brady.

Unfortunately for some students and families, such ultimatums may not be the kind of reaffirmation they were hoping for.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.