HomeDistrictPrincipals’ first semester at CHS receives positive response

Principals’ first semester at CHS receives positive response

Published March 7, 2024

BY SHAYLA DUTTA

Over the past six months, Carmel High School students may have received a chipper “Good morning!” from CHS assistant principal Ernesto Pacleb on their way into school or exchanged a “hello” with principal Libby Duethman during break. Although CHS’ new administrators have made a point of getting to know the staff and student body on campus, rest assured their first semester has consisted of much more than simply socializing.

The administrators have also been taking notes on current issues such as parking, course credit recovery and campus safety, while implementing smaller changes and making a positive impression on staff and the community.

“The biggest thing is that there’s a sense of calm,” CHS English teacher Hans Schmidt explains. “It’s tangible. It’s palpable. Last year, there was tremendous turmoil without leadership.”

Assistant principal Laurel Gast (left) often converses with staff, such as substitute teacher Luma Adamo, as she makes her usual walk during break. (photo by SHAYLA DUTTA)

Following removals, reassignments and resignations the prior school year, the 2023-24 school year welcomed all new administration at Carmel High. Over the last seven months, CHS principal Libby Duethman and assistant principals Laurel Gast and Ernesto Pacleb, who all transferred over from Salinas Union High School District, have built confidence with the staff through their leadership approach and accessibility.

“The word that comes to mind is ‘responsive,’” CHS math teacher Juan Gomez says. “As soon as I bring an issue to them, they respond.”

Teachers across all departments express a similar sentiment. CHS activities director and Leadership teacher Aubrey Powers notes that this administration has continued providing strong support for her position, in which she is responsible for planning and coordinating major school events such as the Homecoming Parade and school dances, while other teachers have said they receive immediate support for the requests they put forward.

“For the first semester, we talked to lots of people, listened, observed and experienced how things are organized,” Duethman explains of their leadership approach. “Now, the second semester has been more about ‘What do we want to do to enhance or improve or bring it to the next level?’”

The approach Duethman describes has been independently observed by several CHS teachers. According to Gomez, it’s one he’s seen a lot of success with in previous leadership.

“In the places that I’ve seen change, this administration has asked the question ‘How is it done now?’” the math teacher explains, “and then followed by the question ‘Is that way the most effective way we could?’”

But what changes have Duethman, Pacleb and Gast made? And what changes are on the horizon?

In addition to updating the school’s dress code and bathroom norms, students are now being notified of tardies and detentions much more consistently and in accordance with the student handbook.

Principal Libby Duethman and assistant principals Gast and Pacleb (from left) meet often to exchange updates and brainstorm improvements around CHS. (photo by SHAYLA DUTTA)

According to Duethman, CHS’ Student Handbook is an upcoming area of focus. The principal explains that some areas that weren’t being enforced are simply outdated, and either need to be revised or removed entirely.

“Another area we’ve talked a lot about having credit recovery during the school year,” Duethman says, “If you get a ‘D’ in a class, but you want to go to a four year at some point, you have to remediate that, right? We’re trying to create some space during the school year so people can do that.”

Campus safety and supervision is another area of focus. The administrators, who often spend breaks, lunches and before and after school around campus to greet students, have noticed a period of time after school where a large number of students are present without any supervision, either waiting for a sports practice or to be picked up by parents.

The principal explains that this phenomenon is of particular concern due to the nature of CHS’ open campus. While some schools have concentrated access points, the CHS campus can be entered or exited from virtually anywhere, creating an additional risk for students who are both unsupervised and unprotected.

“Parking is both a short- and long-term concern,” adds Pacleb, citing an issue raised both by students and campus supervisors. 

During break, assistant principal Ernesto Pacleb stands outside the library to chat with both students and staff. (photo by SHAYLA DUTTA)

Duethman explains that while she has nothing against re-instituting the grade-level hierarchy for parking in which seniors are given priority for spots in the upper parking lot, it’s an inefficient allocation of campus supervisor time to enforce that rule.

Another change was the implementation of the Principal’s Advisory Council, a group of students that has met with Duethman to express student concerns and brainstorm solutions twice so far. The two main issues the council have focused on so far both relate to food: trash around campus and food waste from mealtimes.

“I love the Principal’s Advisory Council,” says CHS Health teacher Leigh Cambra. “I have wanted that to happen for years. It’s really important that our students have a voice and are honestly listened to.”

Many teachers agree that, irrespective of the changes being implemented, the stability in the face of a tumultuous period in Carmel Unified School District is refreshing. 

“All three of the new administrators have been in much more complex school environments,” Schmidt says, “and my sense is that there’s just nothing new under the sun for them.”

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