Dunbar principal leaving at end of school year
Long-time principal of Dunbar Elementary School Melanie Blake will not return for the next school year. Why exactly that is the case is somewhat of a mystery.
Blake, who has been leading Dunbar since 2009, and been with the Sonoma Valley Unified School District since 1983, alerted parents in a recent letter that she would not be coming back, which came as a surprise to the Dunbar community.
In a recent interview, Blake didn’t expand on the reasons for her departure, but said, “I want to thank everyone for their kind support of Dunbar and for me as the educational leader of the school community. I am proud of the work we have done together and I wish only the best for the school community as they move forward.”
The sense from many of Dunbar’s teachers and classified staff, though, was that Blake was pushed out for some unspecified reason, a sentiment that was expressed at a recent Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) Board of Trustees meeting, as well as from a letter submitted by 16 Dunbar instructors and staff.
Limited information on the change was forthcoming from SVUSD officials.
SVUSD Superintendent Louann Carlomango stated in an email that, “While the district is obligated to keep any personnel item confidential and is limited in making any comments, I can confirm that Melanie had submitted a letter to the district announcing her retirement at the end of the 2016-17 school year. I would also add that Melanie has been a personal and professional friend and colleague throughout her tenure in Sonoma Valley. She is completing her 34th year in teaching and leadership roles all in Sonoma Valley. During that time the district has continued to benefit from her range of experiences and expertise. The support she has from her staff certainly reflects the strong bond within the Dunbar community.”
At the March 14 SVUSD board meeting, Brandy Melendy, who has taught at Dunbar for 11 years, read a statement saying that Blake had been, “asked to step away,” and that staff was “bewildered” about the situation.
“Melanie recognizes the amazing staff we have,” said Melendy, “and perhaps gives a little ‘push back,’ with Dunbar’s students and families at heart. She’s definitely been an advocate…and has actively sought new ways to make Dunbar unique and inviting to Sonoma’s families.”
In the letter submitted by faculty and staff, Blake was praised as an “exemplary and dedicated leader,” and a “visionary.” Blake got kudos for bringing in innovative academic and enrichment programs, as well working to continue Dunbar traditions such as the annual melodrama production, which celebrates its 25th year this May.
Blake had been leading an effort for Dunbar to look into becoming a International Baccalaureate School, a specialized, rigorous academic program. Where that process stands now is unclear.
Dunbar has been buffeted by the winds of major demographic changes over the last 10 years due to the steep decrease in families with children living full-time in Glen Ellen.
The attendance boundaries of Dunbar have been pushed all the way down into the Springs area. Seventy percent of the student body is Hispanic, compared to 35 percent in the 2005-06 school year, according to the state’s Department of Education enrollment statistics.
Close to 64 percent of the 229 students in the 2015-16 school year were classified as English Language Learners. About 70 percent of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch.
SVUSD has begun a search for a new principal, with the hopes of hiring someone before the end of the school year. SVUSD staff recently met with teachers and parents to discuss the process and receive input.
Dunbar is one of five elementary schools (not including charter schools) in SVUSD, and is located at the farthest western edge of SVUSD boundaries.