HHS Welcomes New Principal Ms. Jones-Kerr Amid Controversy

Elise Thompson

JUN. 3, 2021

On Wednesday April 21st, it was publicly announced that that Amy Jones-Kerr, the former Roseland School District superintendent, would be stepping up to take the position as the next HHS principal.

Earlier in the year, it was announced with great sadness that Healdsburg High School (HHS) Principal Bill Halliday, will be stepping into retirement at the end of the 2020-2021 school year. This transition will be officially made on June 30th. As the school year quickly draws to a close, many students and community members have been wondering who will take his place? This question was answered recently, on Wednesday April 21st, when it was publicly announced that that Amy Jones-Kerr, the former Roseland School District superintendent, would be stepping up to take the position as the next HHS principal.

Ms. Jones-Kerr’s deep background in education seemed to be what set her apart from other candidates during the hiring process. “We were looking for someone with high school experience who had ideally been a principal. In particular we wanted someone with dynamic leadership, someone who has high expectations for students and for staff, but also fully supports them to make them be able to realize those expectations,” said superintendent Chris Vanden Heuval. Growing up locally in Santa Rosa, Jones-Kerr attended Slater Middle School, and then proceeded to attend Montgomery High School and finally Sonoma State University. Education has always been a driving force throughout her life. “I always wanted to be a teacher, I just always knew that's what I wanted to do. And once I have a plan, I move forward and just do it,” she said. After being the first of her family to graduate college, Ms. Jones-Kerr knew teaching was what she wanted to pursue as a career path. She got her first teaching position during college at Shepherd Elementary School, and following this proceeded to volunteer and work at a variety of different schools throughout the county.

Most recently, Ms. Jones-Kerr was employed at Roseland School District, which is located in Santa Rosa. In 2004 she was the founding assistant principal at Roseland University Prep. “Roseland University Prep is a nationally recognized high school that has tremendous success sending students that come from Latino homes and students from impoverished backgrounds to college. It has the highest success rate in Sonoma county, and one of the highest in the state. In fact it has been recognized on the national level for that success. And so Roseland has a very unique and supportive culture for its students,” said Mr. Vanden Heuval. In 2014, she was named superintendent of the entirety of the school district, which encompasses six different schools. Ms. Jones-Kerr resigned from the district on November 18, 2020, when she gave her formal resignation notice during a school board meeting.

After a statewide search to fill Mr. Halliday’s position was conducted, Ms. Jones-Kerr’s educational background was not the only thing that set her apart from other candidates. “Given our population in the school, we really wanted to find someone who was bilingual and or bicultural- someone who had engaged in a lot of work around equity in the past and who is experienced in working with traditionally underrepresented student groups. Ms. Jones-Kerr had success in doing that,” said Mr. Vanden Heuval. Knowing that she wanted to pursue teaching as a career, growing up Ms. Jones-Kerr made sure to do everything possible to be able to communicate with all students and families, this meant learning another language. “I would save up my money when I was in high school and in college and during my summers, I would travel for around five weeks. I would go to places like Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico where I would live with host families. I would live with them, go on excursions, and I would go to language school during the day,” she recounted.

However, news of Jones-Kerr’s hiring has not appeased all students and community members, many of which worry about allegations of racism and bias made at her last district before she left. The allegations from alumni and families surfaced at a school board meeting around the time of her resignation. Some students at Healdsburg High School now have expressed their concern about these allegations and the lack of information provided about them. A petition for a larger and more thorough investigation was recently sent out among students, and received an overwhelming amount of signatures. “Some of the students have kind of lost a little bit of faith and trust in the school board and the school system for hiring this woman. Especially since they haven't done a good job clearing out the racist allegations against her," said junior Molly Miller. Another HHS student, Vivianna Gutierrez, agreed with her as well. "And for the students of Healdsburg to already be scared when she's not even in the district yet… It's really sad and kind of disappointing that the board would put somebody like that in our school and would put our students and parents in that type of environment," she said.

Other students, such as Luci Hagen, a sophomore at HHS, are still unsure of what to think about the whole situation. “My main concern is that with all that has been going on, she's not going to be able to perform to the best of her abilities because she doesn't have full support from students and staff,” said Hagen. Most students at HHS are still yet to even meet or talk to Mrs. Jones-Kerr. Hagen, however, was one of few students selected to serve on a panel to help interview candidates for next year’s vice principal. During these zoom interviews, she was able to talk to Ms. Jones-Kerr. “She was very nice to me, and I hadn't even met her before. She respected me, and my opinion was valued in that interview,” expressed Hagen.

“We just want to make sure that we don't have a principal coming to our school that's racist.” expressed senior Izabel Soto. Many students hope for a more thorough investigation on the allegations at Roseland, as well as more information and specifics available to the general public.

“To even think of the fact of me being racist is so far beyond what I can even imagine because I chose to work at Roseland. I chose to work with a community that needs a lot of support and I immersed myself in there. It was very important to me. It’s really the furthest thing from who I am as a person, and anyone who knows me would see that. I just hope that you will very quickly learn and see who I am,” said Ms. Jones-Kerr in response to these recent claims.

“I would hope people would look for the truth in this situation, not just the rumors that are out there. She's awesome and she's going to do a fantastic job,” said Mr. Vanden Heuval. What this all means for the future is still to be determined. As of now however, Ms. Jones-Kerr will be welcomed into office on June 30th.