School Principal Out After Rocky Year

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Berkeley High School's principal will be reassigned to a district job, after a tumultuous year marred by student walkouts and arson fires, school district officials said Wednesday.

A district spokesperson also said as many as 29 students will not receive their diplomas after allegations that they paid to have their grades changed.

Principal Theresa Saunders will take a job as the district's music adviser and will assist in a study of minority students' "achievement gap," she said.

"I am grateful to the district for the new opportunity, and I look forward to finishing my doctorate and enjoying life from a different perspective," Saunders said.

Prior to her two years in Berkeley, she spent six years as an administrator at schools in Glendale and Antioch.

"I honestly want to do something different with my life," she said. "I've been at this for a long time, and I need a change of pace."

Saunders said she will perform duties as principal throughout the summer and assist the new appointee.

Superintendent Jack McLaughlin said active recruitment for the position began yesterday, and he plans to assemble a selection committee today.

"We're going to run as fast as we can to ensure Berkeley High will have a smooth year with a principal from the start of the year," he said.

The 29 students barred from graduating were found to have had their grades changed from failing to passing and did not meet graduation requirements, McLaughlin said.

"We now have to call those families and look at what we can do to make these students pass," McLaughlin said.

He said they would probably have to repeat the classes they failed. Thirty-eight other students also had their grades changed but will graduate because they had satisfactorily completed graduation requirements prior to the tampering, he said.

The school registrar discovered the grade changes several weeks ago when she compared old transcripts to new copies. Diplomas were withheld from students until all the transcripts were verified.

District spokesperson Karen Sarlo said diplomas are available at the high school for graduating students and that one student may be expelled for changing the grades.

No disciplinary action by the district will be taken against the students who had their grades changed but still graduated.

"They are gone - what are you going to do?" she said. "All this information has been transferred over to the Berkeley Police Department."

Darrel Taylor, who has served as superintendent at three schools in the state, was hired Wednesday to lead the school's transition team and assemble a selection committee. He has worked at the school since May to help the school recover from April's arson fire.

"He will be meeting with parents and teacher leaders, helping to get the school reopened," Sarlo said.

Mary Ann Balles was selected to be the school's vice principal, Sarlo said. The current vice principal will be gone on medical leave for most of the year.

"The district is committed to continuing the good reputation that the school has had for many years," she said. "It's going to take a lot of energy. The whole community has to decide (whether we) are going to make Berkeley High a wonderful place to be or say it's someone else's job."

Joan Starr, who has a son entering Berkeley High in the fall, said the continuing scandals and administrative changes contribute to a "crisis of confidence."

"We've just gotten through one of the most difficult years (at Berkeley High)," Starr said to the Berkeley Board of Education Wednesday. "With a new principal, this is a recipe for chaos."

She said that, although she is a strong supporter of public education, Saunders' departure shook her confidence. She said she might consider private schooling.


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