Published Sept. 6, 2023
BY SHAYLA DUTTA
It would be an unusual event for any school to welcome all new administrative staff in one year, and Carmel High School is no exception. While they may be new to CHS, principal Libby Duethman and assistant principals Ernesto Pacleb and Laurel Gast are confident they have the education, experience and camaraderie to step in and hit the ground running despite the many challenges currently facing CUSD.
Among the many staffing changes last year, former principal Jon Lyons was put on leave in December 2022 and dismissed from his position in February following allegations of mishandling complaints of misconduct. At the end of the 2022-23 school year, former assistant principal Craig Tuana requested reassignment to teaching in special education within CHS and former assistant principal Debbi Puente resigned. (Lyons is now principal of South Medford High School in Oregon, and Puente is principal of Branciforte Middle School in Santa Cruz County School District.) Duethman’s hiring was announced in May.
While CHS’ administrative team works to learn the ropes, they are aided by the unusual advantage of having worked together in similar capacities before, as all three worked in Salinas Union High School District prior to transferring to CUSD. Not only have all three of them previously worked at Salinas High School together, but Pacleb and Duethman worked together for a total of six and a half years not including their current positions.
“Trust is a big thing,” Duethman explains. “We don’t have to learn about each other and figure out how we work well together. We already know. And it makes it easier to get started with the new job because we can focus on getting to know the students and staff.”
According to Pacleb, their previous experience also revealed the fact that they have complementary strengths, a knowledge which has helped them divide up responsibilities in this new position. Some of these strengths, like Gast’s ability to work with counselors and Pacleb’s expertise in overseeing the mathematics department, stem from their past experiences in school or as teachers.
Duethman herself was born in Salinas, and after attending Notre Dame High School and the University of Montana for a political science degree, found herself in the semiconductor business.
“I was a project planner,” Duethman says, “and I guess I must have been pretty good at it, because soon they asked me to do all the training across North America. And every time I was doing that I thought, ‘You should be a teacher.’”
The principal then pursued her teaching credential from San Jose State, masters in education from St. Mary’s in Minnesota and her administrative credential from Hamline University in St. Paul. After teaching in Minnesota for 23 years, the long ‘o’ sound hasn’t yet faded from her speech.
The common factors between the three abound: Both Gast and Pacleb also attended San Jose State. Pacleb got his administrative credential and masters degree, while Gast got her masters in educational counseling. Both Gast and Duethman also attended Notre Dame High School in Salinas and pursued alternate professional careers before each deciding they wanted to teach.
“I, on the other hand, was a professional college student, meaning I went to school forever in college and I was enjoying it,” Pacleb explains regarding his own journey to the classroom. “When I was 25 or 26, I received my third degree. And my mom calls me and she says, ‘Hey, I’m really proud of you getting all these degrees, but do you want to get a job?’”
Pacleb thought that was a fair point, so he turned his mathematics degrees into a mathematics teaching job at Alisal High School and taught math at every level over the course of a decade. For the past eight years he’s been at Salinas High School, where Duethman served as principal for the past six.
“I went to Davis, honestly, to be a lawyer,” Gast says. “But when I was applying for law school, I realized, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ There was this moment of ‘Oh goodness, now what am I going to do?’”
As it turns out, Gast had greatly enjoyed caring for and tutoring children throughout her college years and fell in love with education once she began taking classes for it.
Now that these educators’ journeys have converged once again at CHS, what might the future hold? One common goal among the three is implementing long-lasting, clear and transparent systems.
“Whether it’s robotics or dance or cheer or football, we want that to continue for generations to come, regardless of the personnel who are here,” says Gast, who worked in North Monterey County School District for 26 years. While she expresses appreciation for the role she was able to take on in that community, she also notes concern when she left given that so many systems and so much information resided in her head alone. Thus, one of her goals is to ensure that programs at CHS can outlast specific staffing changes.
Duethman, especially given some of the recent events in CUSD, emphasizes transparency.
“I recognize that there have been times in the recent past where there have been problems that may or may not have been solved and the outcome wasn’t known. And I’m not trying to speculate about that,” Duethman says. “but I think there’s a need for some systems, so that if you come to me and you say, ‘I need some help with this,’ I can tell you exactly how that process is going to go.”
For Pacleb, building relationships and creating a safe space for every student is the driving force behind his work.
“When I come in, I want students to feel welcomed,” Pacleb says. “I don’t want them to be impacted by so many of the things that are going on, whether it’s in their lives or here. I want them to be able to have that trust and know that they can come here and really enjoy their time here.”
All three administrators also express enthusiasm about the size of CUSD and CHS. When Gast worked at a school with 600 students, she prided herself on knowing, at the very least, the name of every single one of them. While Duethman and Pacleb expect a learning curve transitioning from a larger district, both are excited to build closer connections with a more interconnected community.
“There’s a potential that by the time a student graduates from Carmel High School that I’m going to know them,” Duethman says. “One of the things that’s so appealing about being at a smaller school is that you have that ability.”
What about beyond the classroom?
Pacleb’s foremost focus is his family: He has two young boys he adores. He’s kept up soccer as a hobby from his days playing on the California State University, Monterey Bay, team when he was in college.
Gast is all about animals and Harry Potter. She’s a voracious reader, loves fantasy and can always be counted upon to be housing foster kittens with her husband. They live on a two-acre property which is also home to a dog and cows.
As Duethman’s kids have moved out, she has time to devote to other hobbies such as volunteering at the John Steinbeck house in Salinas. She also enjoys shopping, particularly for specifically themed home decor, such as the ‘70s theme in her guest bedroom.
The three administrators have arrived at CHS optimistically and want students to know that they are here to listen to and support students in any way possible.
Duethman emphasizes, “It’s really important to me that students know that they can contact us.”