Amy Jones-Kerr

New principal — Former Roseland School District Superintendent Amy Jones-Kerr was selected by the Healdsburg Unified School District for the Healdsburg High School principal position. Current principal Bill Halliday is set to retire on June 30.

On Wednesday, April 21, the Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) announced that Amy Jones-Kerr — former Roseland School District superintendent — would be joining Healdsburg High School as the school’s new principal.

Bill Halliday, the current principal of Healdsburg High School, will be stepping away from his role and into retirement effective June 30.

News of the district’s selection of Jones-Kerr came as a bit of a surprise to some residents as allegations of racism, inequity, favoritism and other forms of discrimination occurring within the Roseland School District were raised by students and families while Kerr was the superintendent of the district.

Kerr resigned from the district in November 2020 when she gave her formal resignation notice during a Nov. 18, 2020, Roseland school board meeting.

Her resignation came about a month after the allegations were raised by Roseland School District alumni and families at an October 2020 school board meeting. Kerr said the allegations were not the reason for her departure.

Kerr was the founding assistant principal of award-winning Roseland University Prep, which opened in 2004, and later became the Roseland School District superintendent in 2014.

Kerr said she is excited to be working students again in her new role. “I think one of my greatest jobs that I’ve had was being a principal and so I am just so excited to be back working with students again. Beyond excited, it’s really what drives me,” she said.

She said she was drawn to the role by the bevy of career technical (CTE) programs that Healdsburg High School offers and the collaborative community feel of the school and district.

“There were a lot of high school openings all around and I was really drawn (to Healdsburg) by all of the different programs, the CTE programs, the junior internship program and I’m just really excited by all of that and just how wonderful the community works together, I love that,” Kerr said.

HUSD Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel introduced Kerr during the April 21 HUSD school board meeting and said that Jones-Kerr comes with a plethora of experience and is well versed in working with diverse communities.

“One big thing we were looking for was someone who had done equity work and was bilingual and could communicate with our community here and serve all students and there were very few candidates that we felt checked all of those boxes,” Vanden Heuvel said in an interview with The Tribune. “Bilingual was especially a must for our Spanish-speaking parents and we want to be a school where parents are comfortable and can access everything and having a principal that can speak their language helps immensely.”   

Jones-Kerr will be starting on July 1.

“Slowly here and there I’ll participate in some of the faculty meetings or things going on just to get everybody use to seeing me, but my plan is to put together some optional department or office personal and different groups and cohorts of people that I can meet with just to simply get to know each other,” Kerr said.

Following the announcement of her appointment, two Healdsburg residents spoke up about their concerns with her appointment during the public comment section of the Wednesday school board meeting.

“It is with great concern that I speak on the closed session item of the appointment of the new principal for Healdsburg High School. It was brought to our attention from concerned members of our community and the community of Roseland regarding the Roseland superintendent who, we have now learned, has been appointed to the (principal) position,” said Lizbeth Perez, a Healdsburg resident and Corazon employee. “From The Press Democrat we learned that she resigned a month after Roseland students and parents publicly addressed racism allegations at the school district. There are continued meetings and investigations concerning these allegations and although we may not be completely aware of the full scope and the facts, I have personally heard from Roseland parents regarding the lack of response and action that came by this former superintendent as well as other concerns. I came here with the intention to ask you to postpone the appointment for this position to allow for a proper, full investigation.”      

Perez said to know that this decision was made “in the middle of all of this” is deeply concerning.

Perez said as a parent, a Corazon Healdsburg employee and as a member of the Healdsburg District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC), the equity work within the district must continue.

“To me as a parent, as a DELAC member and as an employee of Corazon Healdsburg, we have to provide equity and support for this district and we want to move forward with this effort,” Perez said.

Vanden Heuvel said he could not “address concerns specifically, but I can say that Ms. Jones-Kerr was thoroughly vetted and came highly recommended. She has a skill set and passion that fits very well with the values of our district in terms of equity and student achievement.”

Kerr said she understands the concerns but reiterated that her departure from Roseland was completely independent of the discrimination and inequity concerns.

“In terms of the couple of parents (who voiced concerns), I understand. I’m coming from Roseland and my departure is completely independent of what is going on there right now, and I’m not there so I’m not involved … none of this was ever (brought) to my attention in my entirety of me being there, nor my staff.

“It was actually quite a surprise to everybody,” she continued. “But, if I know the Roseland staff they are 100% determined to figure out what’s going on and what’s not working … I invite anybody to talk to people who know me and I’m excited to hear that some of the Healdsburg staff has actually reached out to some of my staff who I worked with in Roseland and I think that is awesome, they really want to know and learn about me and who I am and I think that’s really great.”

A Healdsburg resident who identified herself as Stephanie Flores also expressed concerns regarding the district’s Healdsburg High School principal choice.

“An investigation is underway regarding allegations of racism and inequity towards students in the Roseland district, which occurred under the leadership of Ms. Amy Jones-Kerr. I am concerned that the numerous allegations of what happened under her leadership in Roseland will happen in the Healdsburg district. The decision to hire her during the investigation appears rushed and this could impede the progress and efforts of community leaders to ensure racial equity within the district and the community. Ms. Amy Jones-Kerr and the district needs to provide the community with transparency regarding the decision to hire her,” she said.

“I take great pride in being a good person and an honest person with integrity and I lead with my heart,” Jones-Kerr said. “I worked at Roseland for 24 years, I chose to work in Roseland to make a difference within the underserved population and in my heart I know that I did a really good job and treated everyone equally and I leave there knowing and am proud of my accomplishments and what I did for the community.”          

The HUSD school board held a special closed session meeting on April 21 prior to the regular board meeting to make the Healdsburg High School principal appointment according to the meeting agenda.

“We had a lot of qualifications that we wanted to find in a principal candidate and we did a statewide search, and she by far was the candidate that checked those boxes,” Vanden Heuvel said.

According to Vanden Heuvel, the recruitment for the high school principal position included a statewide search and a series of comprehensive interviews.

Vanden Heuvel added that they went through three different rounds of interviews with large panels every time of over a dozen people. The panels were made up of parents, teachers, administrators, classified staff and students.

“We did two rounds with a batch of candidates that in the end we didn’t end up choosing anybody from. We had Ms. Jones-Kerr apply and we brought her in for a number of additional rounds (of interviews) … we just feel incredibly lucky to land Ms. Jones-Kerr,” Vanden Heuvel said.

He said there were a couple dozen candidates in the candidate pool.  

During the April 21 regular school board meeting, Jones-Kerr said she was excited to be joining the Healdsburg district. She did not address the Roseland School District concerns in her comments.

“I am beyond honored and proud to be the next principal for Healdsburg High School and I am 150% committed to collaborating and working with the entire Healdsburg community to ensure that we hold the highest expectations for all students and that students are learning with passion and complete equity,” Jones-Kerr said.

Vanden Heuvel said the school board will recognize outgoing principal Halliday for his work at an upcoming board meeting.

“He’s been beloved by all and has done a fantastic job serving our kids,” Vanden Heuvel said.

Sidebar: Growing, healing and learning from HUSD’s own inequality concerns:

In years past the HUSD has faced its own racism and inequality concerns, many of which stemmed from the defunct Healdsburg Charter School.

The allegations stated that Latinx and lower-income students were being funneled to Healdsburg Elementary School (HES), while white or affluent students were being funneled into Healdsburg Charter School.

There were also concerns that the Accelerated English (AE) program at HES for English learners created forced separation between student populations and robbed students of other elective opportunities. Parents and families were concerned that this created a “separate and unequal” system for elementary students in the district, which students then had to carry with them through high school.

The district embarked on a listening campaign with town halls, stakeholder interviews and workshops led by the National Equity Taskforce and later voted to close the charter school. Most recently the district partnered with the Acosta Educational Partnership — an organization that provides guidance on implementing an ethnic studies program for K-12 and professional development on unconscious bias and equity — to conduct a series of unconscious bias trainings, anti-racism trainings and to work on creating an ethnic studies curriculum.

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