In a decision that appears to have caught some by surprise, Stevenson PACT's principal, Tyler Graff, announced last week that he would be stepping down for the opportunity to head an alternative school in San Francisco.
Graff, who has led PACT for the last three years, said the decision to resign was not something that he had been planning for. He said he recently met with administrators with San Francisco Unified School District and they offered him a leadership position with the Claire Lilienthal alternative school.
"I didn't formally apply for any positions, it kind of fell in my lap and it was a good fit for me," Graff said.
At the June 11 school board meeting, board president Chris Chiang suggested that dysfunction on the school board and bullying from board member Steve Nelson pushed out high-quality school administrators, including Graff. Graff did not indicate to the Voice that Nelson's actions affected his decision to leave.
Graff said he was lucky to be hired by former Superintendent Craig Goldman and the district's hiring panel right out of graduate school, and that he was fortunate to be given a shot leading the PACT program. He said he has learned "a ton" from the administrators in the district, and that he believes Stevenson PACT has accomplished quite a bit in just three years.
Since Graff took over as principal, the school has been forging ahead on project-based learning initiatives at all grade levels, where students tackle a complicated question like "How do I design and market a product with given constraints?" or do in-depth exploration on how a local school board election works.
Stevenson PACT recently began participating in Project Cornerstone, which teaches interpersonal skills to students, including how to be a good friend and how to stand up for one another when they need help.
PACT Foundation Chair Bridget Cash said Graff brought talented staff to the school and championed professional development, and also maintained a good relationship with the students on campus.
"He is someone the students looked forward to seeing each day," Cash said.
Graff said the school recently put together a five-year plan developed by teachers, parents and school staff laying out how to best improve project-based learning, social-emotional learning and encouraging socio-economic diversity at the school.
Initiatives to improve socio-economic diversity, for example, include school staff meeting with the English Language Advisory Committee to identify the needs of students from low-income families and how to best address them.
"It's important we have a long-term vision and that we're making steps towards that five-year plan," Graff said.
One of the things the school has been working hard on, Graff said, is getting out the message about how parent volunteering and donations work at Stevenson PACT. He said there is misinformation floating around that parents are required to volunteer a certain number of hours and required to donate money.
The reality is, he said, that the school doesn't track donations and that the school is only looking for parents to volunteer in whatever capacity they can to partner up with teachers and school staff.
"We get tons of time from some parents, while others are working two jobs to get by and we'll take what they give us," Graff said. "There's not accountability or requirement here, it's really about a philosophy."
The school's English Language Advisory Committee has been working closely with the school over the last two years talking about hard issues, Graff said, like how the school can attract and enroll more Latino families and families where English is a second language, and part of that means a shift in its message to make sure it accurately conveys what the school is about.
Graff said Claire Lilienthal is a parent-partnership school that runs from kindergarten to eighth grade, with a lot of similarities to Stevenson PACT. The school has a Korean Immersion program and an outdoor science education program, according to the school's website.
Graff said the school is also much closer to where he lives in the city, and that it would drastically cut down on the two to three hours he spends commuting to and from Mountain View every day.
More important than the commute, Graff said, is that he would be working in the diverse city of San Francisco, where he said he will be able to work on equity-related issues through the alternative school. He said Stevenson has been working on something similar with its five-year plan and that it's great the school is taking the issue head-on, but he said San Francisco has a very different type of diversity.
"Equity is really important to me, so moving my job to SF Unified will give a chance to work on some equity issues," Graff said.