Published May 11, 2023
BY EMMA BROWN
As Carmel Unified School District works to rebuild in the absence of both superintendent Ted Knight and a high school principal, other key employees have begun to leave the district.
In the midst of Knight’s absence, CUSD chief of communications Jessica Hull resigned from her position at the district after nearly two years, informing CUSD staff in an April 21 email that she would be taking another job. The correspondence came after Hull received word that news of her departure had been leaked to local news organizations.
Furthermore, Colin Matheson, one of two curriculum, assessment and instruction coordinators for the district, will return to the classroom as a sixth and eighth grade science teacher at Carmel Middle School after 15 years at the district office. Matheson began working at CUSD as a biology teacher before becoming an education technology coach for the district. During his tenure, the Stanford University graduate revolutionized the layout of CUSD curricula through his facilitation of technology in the classroom.
“I’m excited to get to nerd out,” Matheson says about his return to the classroom. “I’m excited about just being able to explore the natural world and excite students about things like, ‘Where does wind come from?’ I’m hoping that if I do a good job, they’ll love science and then they’ll want to put in the work to take the harder classes in high school.”
Changes in staffing are not endemic to the district office, but have also reached other sites. On April 19, the board of education approved a request for retirement by Carmel River Elementary School principal Jay Marden, who has served in the district for 27 years, beginning as a teacher before eventually moving to his current position 20 years ago. As the River principal, Marden focused on instilling an appreciation for the environment in all students, as well as introducing social-emotional learning to the school.
“I just need some downtime right now,” Marden says. “It’s been very hard lately. It’s difficult to go through so many changes in such a short period of time.”
In recent months, tensions between Marden and the district arose after Knight and the principal made conflicting statements about Marden’s knowledge of sexual harassment allegations regarding a custodian to local news organizations. A recent public records request revealed an email that Marden sent to the board of education, Knight and CUSD chief of human resources Craig Chavez, in which the administrator details his frustrations with Knight’s comment and the behavior of district staff.
As Marden prepares for retirement, CUSD is already in the midst of a search to fill another principal position at Carmel High School. Following the board’s vote to approve the posting of the principal position at the March 31 special board meeting, the district hired the Hazard, Young & Attea Associates to mediate the hiring process. As candidates apply, the firm has begun to collect information from the community about traits that students and parents would like to see in their next principal through a survey emailed to community members, on-campus listening sessions and Zoom forums.
Based on the data collected, the firm will create a leadership profile, or a collection of characteristics that the public would like to see, which will be used to evaluate the applicants, according to Chavez. After reviewing all of the candidates, HYA will recommend a small group of applicants to the district, which will invite them to participate in an interview with school stakeholders, a group that will be composed of CHS teachers, faculty, classified staff and at least one student. While the district-level interviews allow community members to engage in the hiring process, all questions asked during the interviews will be developed by HYA.
As this hiring process would typically begin in February, the late start in March may eliminate candidates who otherwise would have applied for the position. The chosen candidate will be announced at the May 19 board of education meeting.
As the district searches for a new administrator at CHS, it also is working to adjust to Knight’s absence. The superintendent was placed on administrative leave by the school board March 31, pending an external investigation into personnel matters.
“The board is informed this is best personnel practice for preserving the integrity of any pending investigation,” said board president Sara Hinds in an electronic statement to The Sandpiper.
Because of the confidential nature of personnel matters, Hinds declined to make any further comment about the specifics of what Bob Henry, a representative of School & College Legal Services, would be investigating.
In the interim, Sharon Ofek, who was previously the district’s deputy superintendent, will be the acting CUSD superintendent until Knight returns from his leave or a new superintendent is named. Ofek declined to comment on the timeline of Knight’s leave, but will be conducting “Board of Education meeting preparation, communication with Board of Education members, meeting with district staff and responding to parent inquiries” for the duration of his absence.