Walkout — Healdsburg Junior High School students walked out of their classes on Monday, May 13 in protest of math teacher Greg Costa’s administrative leave. Before being placed on leave, Costa had taken a retirement incentive package from the district.

It was a busy year for the Healdsburg Unified School District.

Kindergarten classes were merged, students made progress in various benchmark tests, the district tackled inequality in schools with an equity task force and students made their voices heard when Healdsburg Junior High School teacher Greg Costa was placed on a controversial paid administrative leave in April.

This is the year in Healdsburg school activity:

2019 started out on a positive note when two Healdsburg High School students Gissel Gomez and Janet Rodriguez, launched a clothing and toy drive for children in Tijuana.

The toy drive was part of their senior civic project, but the toy distribution process got postponed when U.S. authorities closed the busiest port of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border on Nov. 25 after members of a Central American caravan, many seeking asylum, tried to cross the border and were met with tear gas and border patrol barricades. The two were still able to make a monetary donation to the City of Angels orphanage in Tijuana.

In February the district gained ground on understanding and hearing concerns on the equity problem in the district. Community members voiced their equity concerns at the Healdsburg Unified School District special town hall meeting Feb. 5, a meeting that was organized by the Healdsburg Equity Task Force and the Oakland-based National Equity Task Force. Several parents, teachers and staff opined that the district, specifically elementary schools in the district, are struggling with consequences of the Accelerated English learning program (AE) and with accessible school program information for Latinx families. 

Also in February, the district recieved a top Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation. The WASC review cited several areas of strength: a rigorous academic program with various course options, a clear and concise mission statement and student learning outcomes (SLO), opportunities for teachers to collaborate and develop their work, multiple method for tracking student benchmarks and progress and a positive school environment.

In April the district announced that Healdsburg High School will receive a brand-new gym complete with new locker rooms. The new gym is intended to replace Frost projects broke ground during the summer months.

May saw an unexpected turn in student expression when Healdsburg Junior High School students walked out of their classrooms on May 13 at 10 a.m. in a planned protest demanding the return of 30-year veteran math teacher, Greg Costa, who had been on paid administrative leave since April 29. According to a letter to the HJH community from the Healdsburg Unified School District Board of Trustees to the community, three teachers, including Costa, took the district offered payment as an incentive to retire. Costa had accepted the retirement incentive, yet his leave still seemed troubling to the HJH community. According to Michael Villa, a parent to a seventh grade student at HJH, one of the alleged incidents that may have led to Costa’s administrative leave was when he made a statement in class about retirement. 

In a May 15 Healdsburg Tribune article Healdsburg Unified School District Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel said, “I can’t say anything regarding Mr. Costa being on leave besides the fact that he is, because it is a confidential personnel matter. I approached several of the leaders today of the protest and asked them if they were interested in talking with me after school sometime so I can hear their specific concerns and be able to address what I could and I have met with some of the parents and explained to them that there are a lot of different factors going on and unfortunately I can’t give the whole story.” Vanden Heuvel added however, that Costa has been a revered coach and teacher for 31 years.

On May 15, the Healdsburg Area Teachers Association (HATA), California Teachers Association (CTA)/National Education Association filed an unfair practice charge against the Healdsburg Unified School District with the State of California Public Employment Relations Board in relation to the Greg Costa incident.

Also in May, Healdsburg Elementary School saw the installation of its new principal, Jeffrey Franey. Franey is the former assistant principal at an Oakland school. Franey started his career in education in Oakland as a lead elementary school science teacher at Hoover Elementary School with the Oakland Unified School District.

While school was out for summer the district kept busy. On June 12, the superintendent brought a draft Equity Task Force Action Plan to the board of trustees at a school board meeting. Perhaps the biggest step in the action draft plan is creating one kindergarten program, resulting in the charter only having grades one to five. At a later school board meeting trustees voted to merge the kindergarten classes and they also approved the task force plan. In a June 19 Tribune article Vanden Heuvel said of the change, “Very clearly from the community the task force heard that they wanted one elementary school.”

When the 2019-20 school year kicked off in the fall, enrollment figures showed a stable kindergarten and K-5 enrollment. In a Sept. 25 Tribune article, the district’s Director of Business Services, Steve Barekman said, “Overall we are 28 students up than what we anticipated in K-5 at Healdsburg Elementary School and that is 25 more than the school year last year... Huge jump in kindergarten.”

October brought fire and public safety power shutoffs (PSPS). Earlier in October, the district was preparing school protocols for the event of a PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) in Healdsburg. In a letter to district families Healdsburg Unified School District Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel said in the event of a planned power shutoff class will be canceled. If a power outage occurs mid-day then school may continue on a case-by-case basis. Later that month during the Kincade Fire, district schools were closed for days due to the evacuation of the city and the lack of power. Healdsburg Unified School District resumed class Nov. 6 and Healdsburg Elementary School welcomed back students and families before the bell rang at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. Rudy, an emotional support dog with Paws for Love, visited with HES students later that morning.

November ended on a positive note when the district’s Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Erin Fender, presented the board of trustees with the 2019 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) results. Areas of success include: seeing a five-year growth in nearly all areas, seeing major gains at the elementary level, seeing growth for Hispanic students in math and ELA, seeing math in the district ranked 14 among 102 similar California school districts and having 81 fewer students score a level 1 (low) in math in 2019 than in 2015.

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