MODESTO — Elliott Alternative Education Center's principal was placed on paid administrative leave in an abrupt dismissal Monday. A parent at the school Tuesday described business-suit-clad adults carrying out computers and files, and the classrooms as being eerily silent.
Modesto City Schools officials said they could not comment on the dismissal of Julie Beebe. Craig Ryd- quist, associate superintendent of human resources, said Tuesday that retired administrator Rodney Owen will serve as interim principal. Owen's 32 years with the district included nine years as Elliott principal.
Parent Lanell Warner, who has two boys at the school, said when she went into the office Tuesday, there were few of the usual employees she sees. "It looked like a raid. People were carrying out equipment," she said. "It's crazy over there right now."
She said the campus atmosphere was "very, very quiet, very confused nothing like it usually is."
Beebe, already notified she would be leaving June 30, said she was unexpectedly relieved of duty shortly after a 4 p.m. meeting about her midyear evaluation Monday. Beebe said that immediately after a terse evaluation by her supervisor, Alternative and Vocational Education Director Mike Henderson, Rydquist told her she was being put on leave and asked for her keys.
The men followed her as she got a cardboard box and collected personal items, then escorted her to her car. The district remotely took over her computer, cut off access to employee email, and prohibited contact with teachers and students, Beebe said.
The district released this statement: "As this is a personnel issue, we cannot comment on the specific circumstances leading to the decision to place Ms. Beebe on paid administrative leave. However, there are no allegations related to criminal activity or impropriety with a student," Rydquist said by email.
Reputation for dissent
Beebe said she is known for being outspoken, battling district priorities she believes ignore the needs of Elliott students and challenging longtime district practices she says are incorrect. "I have a reputation for doing things my way," she said.
Beebe said she feels her rapid dismissal stemmed from an email she wrote to Henderson on Friday protesting negative public comments she heard were made by district officials about fired administrators. Beebe is one of at least six administrators given notice that their jobs would end June 30. Most, including Beebe, have been offered a return to teaching posts in the district.
In the email, Beebe calls the administrators' behavior harassment, says it creates a hostile work environment and hurts her chances of future gainful employment.
The school celebrated a 56-point rise in its state testing score this fall, while the majority of the district's schools lost points. Elliott expulsions reached a high of 55 in 2010-11, by state records. There have been no expulsions this school year, she said, and attendance, while still low, has improved.
The Elliott campus and its independent-study programs are serving nearly 800 students this year. Tension broke out there last week between groups of mostly Latino and black teens. Threats spread via social media caused concern at other campuses. The district confirmed that it had increased security at high school campuses Friday.
Warner, who is black, called the initial incident Tuesday a riot that injured many black students. Her son was treated at a hospital for a possible concussion and facial fractures before he was released.
She said Beebe joined campus supervisors in trying to get students back to class. "She took a few bumps and bruises herself," Warner said.
Beebe said it began as a fight in the park and spread onto campus, something that hadn't happened in the two years she'd been principal.
Seeking end to tension
"We were considered neutral," she said. Beebe brought in community leaders Friday to talk with students and families to defuse the situation. She and other Elliott administrators volunteered at athletic events at Davis High and Modesto High that night to help spot any troublemakers.
Warner said Beebe normally keeps trouble at bay.
"They're her kids," Warner said. "When there's something going on at school we all go to her, parents and kids alike."
An alternative education student herself, Warner said she attended Elliott back when it was called Pioneer. But its reputation had gotten so bad, she said, she avoided even driving by it.
"When I found out my son was being sent there, I started crying," she said. But he went from straight F's at his old high school to straight C's in one year at Elliott, showing her his most recent report card with pride.
"It's more of a school and not a punishment anymore," Warner said.