When the Lagunitas School District was seeking a new superintendent this year, Ashley Fullerton participated in a hiring workshop with a middle school social studies teacher named Yosha Bourgea. She hadn’t spent much time with him before, but the first-year teacher expressed a happy enthusiasm for the district, according to Ms. Fullerton. He seemed dedicated to his students, whom he said genuinely loved to learn—a trait not to be taken for granted among pre-teens. Ms. Fullerton, whose son said Mr. Bourgea was his favorite teacher, felt grateful that he was at the school.
Two days later, Mr. Bourgea submitted a letter of resignation.
He says he did so because the district administration told him there was a possibility that the board would not renew his contract, although two trustees said his contract renewal was never formally discussed with the board. Principal Laura Shain said it could not comment on the matter.
Mr. Bourgea emphasizes that he submitted his resignation voluntarily. “I was under no pressure to resign,” he told the Light. “But it’s very true is that at no point have I wanted to leave the school. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.”
Many parents in a district that prides itself on parental involvement are upset, saying they were blindsided by Mr. Bourgea’s resignation. For some, the experience might not be a new one; a few years ago, the board declined to renew the contract of a beloved second-year teacher in the elementary school’s Waldorf program, Bill Kobabe.
And due to the retirement of longtime teacher Sally Hutchinson, the district will need to fill two of its four middle-school positions for the coming school year.
State education code provides that districts have no legal obligation to explain decisions to not renew contracts for non-tenured teachers. (Teachers automatically become tenured during their third year of full-time teaching in a district.)
But one parent, Kim Moon Howe, has started a petition on change.org asking the district to reconsider its acceptance of Mr. Bourgea’s resignation. The petition has garnered 46 signatures so far. (There are about 80 students in the middle school.)
The board is scheduled to meet on Tuesday in a closed-door session to discuss the issue.
For his part, Mr. Bourgea called the administration’s choice to tell him that the board might not renew his contract—thereby giving him the opportunity to resign instead—“a goodwill gesture.”
“The administration is absolutely within its rights to not re-elect me or let me go for whatever reason they choose,” he said. But, he added, he does not know why his contract was in question, and said a recent evaluation was complimentary and lacked any criticism.
Ms. Shain told the Light in an email that personnel decisions are complicated. “Evaluations and parent satisfaction can have an impact on non-reelect decisions for probationary employees, but there are also other important considerations,” she said.
She said she could not respond to a list of questions, but said the opaque process, while frustrating to parents, benefits both teachers and the administration. “[P]ersonnel decisions have to remain confidential,” she said. “This protects employees and the school district. I understand this is frustrating to the public.”
Since principals generally make recommendations to the board regarding contract renewals before the renewal is voted on, it is possible that Ms. Shain had decided to recommend that the board not renew Mr. Bourgea’s contract, and so warned him.
Denise Santa-Cruz Bohman, a trustee, defended Ms. Shain’s actions. “Our principal is excellent. I’ve been through six administrators since I’ve been on the board, and she’s really good. Her job is to find teachers perfect for our district,” she said.
Mr. Bourgea grew up in Sebastopol and lives in Santa Rosa. Formerly a journalist, he obtained his teaching credentials after working as an aide to special-needs students at a high school in Sonoma County. When a student with Down syndrome was able to write all the months of the year after just four months of tutoring, he decided on his path. “He just lit up like a jack-o-lantern and I felt so great being with him in this moment. I went, O.K., this is what I want to do,’” Mr. Bourgea said.
He has been teaching for 10 years, and applied for the job at Lagunitas after growing weary of a four-hour round-trip commute to another school.
This week, Mr. Bourgea said he is considering asking the board to rescind his resignation, given the outpouring of community support.
Parents who signed the petition asking for the district to reconsider the resignation praise Mr. Bourgea’s teaching and recount their children’s experiences in his class.
“Molly LOVES his class so much that she tries to get a front row seat in it. He is excited to be with the kids, to teach them and every parent I have ever spoken to has been really impressed with his level of teaching,” wrote Liora Soladay of Woodacre.
Another parent, Dylan Maxson, said he was impressed with the teacher’s use of an online program called Edmodo. Among other things, the class posts notes taken during their day’s lessons, so parents can log in and see what their kids learned. “It looked like a great class to me,” he said.
Ms. Howe, the parent of a middle schooler, believes there should be more parental input in the contract renewals of non-tenured teachers. Parents volunteer their time and offer resources to help the school remain strong, so to lose a teacher that many loved—without a reason offered—just feels wrong, she said.
Ms. Fullerton said the resignation has sparked concerns not just about this specific case but also about future contract decisions. She has a child in the elementary Montessori program, which will have a new teacher next school year. At a program meeting that followed Mr. Bourgea’s resignation, parents discussed the fact that there is no real board policy for parental input on contract renewals for first-year teachers.
“It’s starting to become a concern now because it seemed very sudden. He was a teacher that was really, really well-liked by a large majority of parents and kids. It just felt like it was a loved teacher turned away. What does that mean down the road for the next well-loved teacher, and how does that affect a program?” she said. More input, she continued, won’t mean that everyone is 100 percent happy or guarantee any particular result. “But at least I would know that I have been heard and I was a part of the