OAKLAND -- In a move that has astonished the local community, twin co-principals Reginald and Ronald Richardson are leaving Claremont Middle School.
The move comes just when the school's reputation was on the rebound, a condition largely attributed to the Richardsons' two years of leadership. Parents at the school are also upset they were not told by the Richardsons that they were considering moving.
"It was a total shock," said Elizabeth Gessel, Claremont PTA chair.
The sudden move sees the identical twins, who have become somewhat local celebrities, moving to be co-principals of a high school in San Leandro as soon as they finish out the year at Claremont.
The news first hit Rockridge when the San Leandro school district issued a news release the morning of May 7, celebrating the new hiring. The information came as a complete surprise to most Claremont parents.
"The news kind of spread like wildfire," Gessel said.
Troy Flint, OUSD spokesman, said the district only learned of the move when the San Leandro school board approved the hiring on the night of May 6, after which the Richardsons spoke with OUSD leadership. Flint added that sudden moves like this are not uncommon in education.
Jody London, the school board's District 1 member, said she called San Leandro to find out why they'd gone ahead with the announcement without conferring with Oakland and was told they felt they had a duty to tell their own community as soon as possible.
"I still think they could have held back on the press release for 24 hours," she said.
But London, who is also a Claremont parent, hastened to add that she is confident new excellent leadership will be found.
"While this is unexpected, it's not a crisis," she said.
As the news spread, the issue soon addressed by the parent-teacher association in an email where the group was quick to take the position that, while the departure was an "unwelcome surprise," the school was more than its two star principals.
"They're not Claremont," Gessel said.
At a meeting held Monday at Claremont, Sondra Aguilera, OUSD executive officer for the area, Mark Triplett, OUSD director of instruction for middle schools, and acting Superintendent Dr. Gary Yee discussed the process for selecting a new principal in front of a packed room of approximately 65 parents.
Because of the short notice of the Richardsons' departure, the school community will not get the same kind of influence and engagement in selecting a new principal, usually a yearlong process. Instead, Aguilera will choose one from a pool of approved applicants.
The person must then be approved by Yee and the school board.
"We do have a pool of candidates that we feel are qualified," Flint said in an interview earlier.
At the meeting parents were broken up into groups and asked to come up with five to eight characteristics of a good principal, input that Aguilera said she would take into account in selecting a candidate. However, that will be all most parents can hope to influence the selection -- something many parents in the audience were not happy to hear.
"I think there is a sense we're being pushed out," Gessel said.
Some of the main points raised by parents in the meeting including finding a principal that can navigate bureaucracy and get help, rather than hindrance, from the district.
Also on the list were maintaining the kind of presence on the yard and school grounds that the Richardsons, famous for their hugs and impromptu basketball games, had.
The Richardsons arrived at the school for the 2012-2013 school year to helm a school that had gone through four temporary principals in the previous year.
They brought to the school a strong positive message about listening and empathy that, matched with their indefatigable energy, soon made waves in the local community.
Although they were not originally the community's first choice, according to Flint, they eventually became extremely popular -- which only made the lack of communication more startling, parents said.
"They cultivated a very strong emotional relationship with the community," Gessel said.
The Richardsons were also known for attending numerous "get to know Claremont" meetings in order to boost attendance from Rockridge residents, many of whom send their children to private middle schools.
Their galvanizing effect and the fact that they are identical twins gave them plenty of local press, and even some national attention.
They were the subjects of a Bay Area article that was picked up by multiple outlets and they were heard across the country when the NPR public radio show, "This American Life" did a spot on the brothers in January.
The Richardsons' family has a history in education. Their mother was a teacher and their grandmother was a principal in Oakland.
The twins are graduates of San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley who went through a lengthy process to get the Claremont job.
At Monday's meeting, Aguilera said she hoped to introduce the new candidate to the school community by the end of the year, after which a new process to find an assistant principal could begin.
In the meantime, Flint said they were aware that there was a lot of anxiety and discomfort over the transition that OUSD needed to address.
"We're confident we'll be able to do that," he said.