Joe Ryan Dominguez is San Rafael High School’s New Principal

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Dario Lavrisha, Contributor

On April 25th, San Rafael City Schools announced San Rafael High School’s new principal,
Joe Ryan Dominguez. He has been a principal at Lowell High School in the San Francisco Unified School District since August 2021. This will be the third person in the principal role for San Rafael in the past three years.

At a meeting with SRHS parents prior to hiring the new principal, the Latino community voiced concerns about the departure of Principal Peck and Assistant Principal Shannon. Both leaders had connected well with the community and made the effort to help and understand new immigrant families. However, it had already been determined by the school board that Principal Peck was taking the principal role at Coleman Elementary as he was well qualified for the position. In addition, Assistant Principal Casey Shannan will be transferred to Terra Linda to meet the district’s ideal gender balance in their leadership, thus leaving another hole in the San Rafael High’s front office.

The continuous change in leadership at San Rafael High is not unique as Terra Linda has also had significant turnover in the past three years. There have been three new assistant principals during that time period. The constant shift in administration has left teachers, staff, and parents stressed and unhappy.

San Rafael’s Assistant Principal Armando Oseguera expressed his opinion about how the leadership changes contributed to the many stressors the faculty and staff experienced over the last year. The challenges included fights at lunch and rampant trash dumped by students everyday, plus an increase in mental health crises and students’ failing grades brought on by remote schooling and the pandemic, all of which contributed to unprecedented stress for him and teachers at the school. Oseguera explains, “The unexpected change with Mr. Dennis leaving, and students returning from Covid presented challenges I wasn’t ready for. And while it was a great learning opportunity, and still is, I would say that if I had the chance of going through the difficulties again this year, I would definitely avoid this.”

Some teachers like Kevin McSorley, a Mathematics teacher at SRHS, spoke on what he views to be a challenge about the new administration. “I think the thing that will be challenging is maybe just the unknown about the new principal. A lot of teachers don’t know about him and students don’t know him.” He recalls that Mr. Dennis had familiarity with San Rafael High and knew what the school needed and how it ran. To McSorely, that had made the switch easier on everyone.

Another big point of change is the newly created role of Dean of Students and McSorley correctly points out that with the head counselor moving to the Dean’s role, it is “going to leave the counseling department fairly new.”

Katherine Porter, a Special Education teacher at SRHS, had a similar view to McSorley. “New leadership means that we [teachers] have to gear up for the next passion project.” This is common for each new leader as values and focus shifts. However, this creates work for teachers, she explains, that “stretches us so thin that we can’t do the basics” and distracts from the root of why they are there. She hopes that leadership will minimize the amount of trainings and meetings on new priorities that “make [teachers] less effective.” She wants to work together to “dig deep into those few important things” that really benefit the students.

Stress and burnout among teachers from the high demands during the pandemic is not unique to SRHS and models the problems that span across the country. The unprecedented demands combined with the continual leadership changes has added a greater burden. Hopefully the new administration at SRHS will recognize this and move in a positive direction that allows the excellent faculty and staff to do what they do best.