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April 18, 2013
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Change at the top: Superintendent, two principals leaving Pleasant Ridge school district

Times are changing for Pleasant Ridge School District, as two administrators resigned and another was released in the same week.

Britta Skavdahl, superintendent of Pleasant Ridge, resigned from the district and was hired Thursday night to serve as superintendent for the Stanislaus Union School District in Modesto; Shar Johns, principal of Cottage Hill School, resigned to fill the position of county associate superintendent of education services as Stan Miller retires; and Mark Rodriguez, principal of Alta Sierra School, was released and will be replaced by Gregg Motarjeme, who is currently vice principal of Magnolia Intermediate.

Skavdahl said her decision to move to Stanislaus, where she grew up, was motivated by the proximity to her mother.

“There’s just an increasing need for family to be near and supportive,” said Skavdahl, who added that she is the only family close enough to be able to care for her mother. “I’ve had to do some soul searching, and then this particular opportunity came up.”

Skavdahl was hired by Pleasant Ridge School District nearly five years ago and immediately faced declining enrollment, a challenging budget situation — including the failure to pass Measure K, a 2012 parcel tax that would have generated funds for the district — and the closure of Pleasant Ridge School in 2010.

“I walked into the district and was faced with challenges, having to close a school, and we’ve survived all that; and I’m excited about this new challenge,” Skavdahl said.

Part of her excitement is the demographic in Stanislaus, a district Skavdahl said she loves, where she can utilize her knack for closing the achievement gap.

“It’s getting back into something I feel is my wheelhouse, and I feel I can bring an added value to them, so I went ahead with excitement,” Skavdahl said. “On the other hand, there’s sadness, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks trying to reconcile the two.”

Skavdahl’s salary will increase from $111,150 at Pleasant Ridge to $150,000 at Stanislaus, something she said was an added bonus.

“I didn’t know what they were paying when I applied,” Skavdahl said. “I never would have guessed that right now. It’s a happy number.”

Several members of the Pleasant Ridge community regret to see Skavdahl leave, as she was put in a difficult situation, they said.

“I’m sorry to see her go she was an asset to the district, and I’m sorry to see her go,” said Scott Hopper, Pleasant Ridge board member. “But I think it’s a great compliment to an employer when other people want your employees because that means you’ve hired the right people.”

In addition to needing a new superintendent, Pleasant Ridge will also face a change in the administration of two of its schools, as Alta Sierra’s principal, Rodriguez, was released, with Magnolia’s Montarejeme planned to fill the position.

“We went through a whole process this fall, and the No. 1 choice overall was an administrative realignment of sorts, primarily focusing on Magnolia and Cottage Hill and the district office as a single unit, so we’re exploring that,” Skavdahl said.

The decision was made because of budget cuts, Skavdahl said, though the position for Alta Sierra principal remains intact, while the consolidation of some administration is being considered.

“It’s a need to reduce our administrative staffing levels,” Skavdahl said, adding that a mix of administration and instructional continuity led to the decision.

“Both those factors look into examining administrative staffing levels and needs in terms of administrative expertise to design a path forward that will be stable,” she said.

The district may consolidate schools and require one principal and two assistant principals, said Gene Morgan, principal at Magnolia.

“It’s in the discussion stages at this point, but I think a lot is in reaction to budget situations,” Morgan said. “It’s just unfortunate the way education is now, and the state not providing the funding levels. It’s a tough environment.”

Leslie Wallace, Alta Sierra School teacher of 25 years, said she heard positive things about Motarjeme and thinks he will be a positive addition to the school.

“I think he is a good match for Alta Sierra, and I see good coming out of it,” she said.

The district has also received the resignation of Johns, the Cottage Hill principal, as she has accepted a position with the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office, an anticipated yet regrettable event, Skavdahl said.

“I’m envious, and part of my job is to build capacity in our employees, and unfortunately they may fly out of the nest, but I’m excited for her,” Skavdahl said.

Johns said she is excited to advance her career and was offered the position this week.

“I am very excited,” Johns said. “It’s a great career move for me and an opportunity to learn more and expand my career.”

The search for a new superintendent will be the responsibility of the school board, Skavdahl said, though the board is expected to look at new candidates.

“I think they hope to have someone identified by the end of May, early June,” Skavdahl said. “That’s pretty fast, but it’s doable.”

Some parents were surprised and sad to see the loss of Principal Rodriguez from Alta Sierra School.

“I know families were very upset to learn that he would not be there, especially when they had just recently had him as a principal,” said Sonia Delgadillo, parent of a current and former student at Magnolia Intermediate. “He has been such a wonderful person, family and contributor down here, so I’m extremely surprised.”

Delgadillo also expressed concern she said she shares with many parents who are confused about the future of the district.

“It’s frustrating because this district has been very consistent for many years, and I think we’re all just a little confused about the shakeup,” Delgadillo said. “We’re all just waiting for answer about what’s really going to happen at Cottage Hill and what’s going to happen with the superintendent. I think we’re just up in the air and waiting.”

Pleasant Ridge board president Lauretta Muzio could not be reached for comment, though board member Hopper said the district will survive the changes.

“Everything is going to be OK, and this gives us an opportunity to move forward with a clean slate,” Hopper said. “We shall continue to strive to the best school we can be.”

The challenging budget situation is something the Pleasant Ridge community will have to adjust to, he said.

“If we’re asking for students, parents, teachers to make sacrifices, we have to also ask administration to make sacrifices as well,” Hopper said. “This is a shared problem with a shared solution that doesn’t single any one group because we are all in the community together.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.

“I’ve had to do some soul searching, and then this particular opportunity came up.”

— Britta Skavdahl,
on her move to Stanislaus Union School District


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The Union Updated Apr 20, 2013 03:22AM Published Apr 25, 2013 08:52AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.