Novato woman named Bo-Stin principal

06/07/2018

There’s nothing but enthusiasm for the new hire for the principal position at the Bolinas-Stinson Union School District. On Tuesday night, the board of trustees unanimously approved the first pick recommended by the district’s hiring committee—a group of administrators, board members, parents, one community member and an eighth-grade student that jumped into high gear following the resignation of Principal Jason Richardson in April.  

Lifelong Novato resident Michelle Stephens, who has spent the last 23 years in the Novato Unified School District, has already accepted the job offer. 

With master’s degrees in educational leadership and technology in addition to her administrative service credential, Ms. Stephens spent the first 19 years of her career as a classroom teacher for lower grades. In the past three years, she has been working as an elementary curriculum and instruction coordinator, an administrative role that includes filling in for principals across the Novato district‘s schools. 

Out of 13 applications the district received during a tight hiring window, Superintendent John Carroll said she “was the far-and-away first choice.” 

Another hire, for a seventh- and eighth-grade combined classroom teacher, is also nearly complete, pending acceptance from the top applicant. 

The hiring process for these positions has not been without bumps in the road, however. Frustration with the administration has been mounting this school year over complaints about its lax discipline policy and strained communication with students, parents and board members. Controversy sparked last month after the unions that represent the district’s classified and certificated staff teamed up to demand the board agree to a more transparent hiring process that would minimize Mr. Carroll’s unilateral authority. 

In response to the unions’ concerns, the board adopted a number of changes to the hiring protocol for the principal, including that a representative from each union participate in Mr. Carroll’s initial screening of applicants and have the authority to veto his decision to reject an applicant from further consideration. 

Mr. Carroll said that working with the union representatives had worked out well, though there had been a host of problems with selecting the participants for the hiring committee. The board plans to review its protocol for selecting parents, community members and the student for future hiring committees at its next meeting to address these concerns. 

With the freshest eyes on the scene, Ms. Stephens said she is excited to enjoy the natural beauty of Bolinas with her new students. She also hopes to get to know the area—she’s an avid hiker and a beekeeper—and make connections “by learning from the community.” 

“The most important aspect for me is relationship building,” she said. “I’m so excited to get to know the students, parent community and the board—it’s when that wonderful triangulation is tightly connected that we can best support the kids and their learning.”