Published Feb. 2, 2023
BY EMMA BROWN
Nearly one month after Carmel High School principal Jon Lyons was placed on a leave of absence, Carmel Unified School District has hired interim principal Joe Rudnicki out of retirement.
In a Dec. 16 email from CUSD Superintendent Ted Knight, Lyons’ leave was announced to the CUSD community. While no decisions regarding Lyons’s employment at CHS have been announced, he will remain absent from campus for an undetermined period of time.
“Coming back from break, there was a realization that Mr. Lyons’ leave is not going to be over any time soon,” says Knight. “And therefore, we need someone at the helm.”
Hiring an Interim
After reaching out to local administrators through the Association of California School Administrators, the district hired Rudnicki, the former superintendent of the Coalinga-Huron Unified and Sunnyvale School Districts, to fulfill day-to-day principal duties.
Because staffing and the master schedule for the 2023-24 school year would typically be addressed by the CHS principal during February, a small group of district office officials, in addition to assistant principals Debbi Puente and Craig Tuana, will be handling CHS’ long-term plans. Teacher evaluations, which were meant to be conducted by Lyons at the beginning of the second semester, will be conducted by Puente and Tuana, rather than Rudnicki.
If Lyons is unable to return to campus for the next school year, the process to fill the position will need to begin in March at the latest.
“Let’s say by March a decision is made and we have to find a new principal: You can still find a new, good principal in March,” Knight says. “It’s probably just harder. Obviously, if we need a new principal for next year, we want to get that open as soon as possible.”
If CHS does need to hire a permanent replacement for the principal position, CUSD intends to hold student and community meetings to gather input on what qualities people are looking for in a principal.
In light of Lyons’ absence, students express feeling unsettled, primarily because of the lack of information about the cause of the principal’s leave. Knight has noted that CUSD is unable to comment on the cause for Lyons’ absence, and Lyons was unable to be reached for comment.
“The administration seems a bit chaotic,” says CHS senior Peyton Kelly. “They seem as if things are all together in a sense, but like a piece of the puzzle is missing. We need a principal. Daily student life is carrying on, but it is sort of this elephant in the room, especially when thinking about events and other things on a larger scale.”
Because Lyons’ role was different from that of a classroom teacher, student life remains, for the most part, undisturbed by the turmoil within the administration. Despite that, speculation about the nature of his leave is a frequent topic of conversation among students.
“Mr. Lyons is kind of like an item of curiosity,” explains senior Jack Norman, president of the CHS Associated Student Body. “There’s more speculation and rumors rather than any clear negative impacts on the student body.”
Some teachers also express frustration with the change in leadership, noting that the recent amount of turnover within CUSD has been difficult for staff and students.
“It just feels like we’ve had a lot of change,” says CHS French teacher Suzanne Marden. “Since Mr. Lyons has been here, we’ve had three different superintendents. Being part of an organization that has had as much change as we have had in the last six or seven years is exhausting.”
Though questions are still circulating, some students are hopeful that Rudnicki’s presence will help to ease CHS into a transition back to normal.
“I definitely think that having an interim principal has put some ease in students’ minds,” says CHS junior Caroline Byrne. “It just feels good to know that someone is here to look over our school.”
Because of confidentiality requirements surrounding personnel issues, CUSD has declined to comment on whether an investigation into Lyons is pending, or if he will return to campus this year. During Lyons’ hiatus, Rudnicki will continue fulfilling his duties for the next several months.