EMERYVILLE -- School board members told confused Emeryville parents last week that the superintendent is on leave and the board has brought back a former administrator to guide the tiny, two-school district over the coming months.
The superintendent, Debbra Lindo, announced in late October that she would be retiring, but not until June 30 -- allowing eight months for the Emery Unified School District to search for her replacement.
That schedule suddenly changed after elected school board members held an unusual series of closed-session meetings that began on the Saturday morning before Christmas and continued through Thursday night last week. School officials have refused to explain why Lindo is gone, citing the confidentiality of personnel discussions, but announced that John Quinn, who led the district a decade ago, has been hired as an "administrative adviser" until a new superintendent is selected.
The secrecy surrounding Lindo's departure has angered some parents who demanded more information at a public meeting last week.
"We had a superintendent on Monday. We don't have one tonight," said Marie Henry, a parent at Anna Yates Elementary School who spoke out at a Wednesday board meeting, according to video posted online by the Emeryville Property Owners Association.
"We as parents and community members deserve some sort of an explanation," Henry said.
Lindo could not be reached for comment. A vague statement published on the district's website Thursday said that "in the interest of a smooth transition ... the board is exploring options that impact the timing of Superintendent Lindo's retirement."
She took the helm of the troubled district in 2011, just as it was emerging from a decadelong state takeover. School board members stood behind her in 2012 after the Emeryville teachers' union voted "no confidence" in her leadership in a resolution blaming her for low morale and harmful cutbacks.
A longtime educator, Lindo was the chief executive for four years of an Oakland-based nonprofit group, College Track. She has also been a teacher, principal and a high-level administrator in Palo Alto and Oakland.
Lindo made about $180,000 in gross salary as Emeryville's superintendent last year, and the cost for the district to employ her was nearly $221,000, according to annual salary data the school district released Friday.
Beginning on Dec. 21 and continuing on Dec. 23, 27 and 30 and Jan. 3 and 9, the school board held special closed-session meetings, most of which included an agenda item to "discuss employee discipline/dismissal/release," according to a calendar on the district's website. Also discussed was the appointment of someone who could provide interim services as a "coach/mentor/consultant/adviser" to the board.
Quinn, whose interim role begins immediately, was a state-appointed leader of the Emery school district in 2003 and 2004 while the district was trying to steer itself out of bankruptcy. The district fell under the state's financial control when it was granted a $1.3 million emergency loan in 2001. It returned to local control in 2011 and is now in the middle of a major construction project to build the Emeryville Center of Community Life, an education complex along San Pablo Avenue that will encompass the entire K-12 school district.
For now, with their old school being bulldozed, Emeryville high school students are taking classes in Oakland's former Santa Fe Elementary School building, just a block or so from the Emeryville-Oakland border.