After a rocky start to the semester, Cedar Ridge High School has a new interim principal.
Mitchell Stensland, the 14-year principal of Chatham Central High School, will come out of retirement to take the role of interim principal. Meanwhile, the former principal of Cedar Ridge, Intisar Hamidullah, was transferred to Gravelly Hill Middle School to serve as assistant principal.
Randy Bridges, interim superintendent for Orange County Schools, said the change in leadership was necessary.
“I believed different leadership was needed to continue moving the school forward,” Bridges said in email.
He noted parental concerns played a role in his decision to change the administration. Parents were outraged last month after students received error-filled schedules at the start of the school year, and some blamed the former principal’s mishandling of the school’s master schedule for the problems.
With the interim principal in place, some parents have expressed cautious optimism for the school’s future.
“I'm glad that there's change, and I'm hopeful that it'll be for the better,” parent Lisa Dumain said.
Dumain said she believes Stensland will be open to input from Cedar Ridge parents and faculty as he settles into his new position.
Cedar Ridge parents took to Facebook to air their grievances with the former administration. In one group, some said their students’ scheduling issues were still not resolved two weeks into the school year and questioned whether schedules would be correct for the second semester. Bridges said the county is working to keep that from happening.
“We have examined what occurred, and how we don't allow them to occur in the future,” Bridges said. “We are currently closely examining student schedules for second semester to ensure we don't have this issue again.”
Hamidullah also faced criticism alongside Cedar Ridge school resource officers earlier this year when parents accused them of failing to report multiple school shooting threats that were found written on a bathroom stall.
“We trained our staff to understand the protocols and procedures around safety, but it is clear that our expectations were not met this time,” former Superintendent Todd Wirt said in a joint statement from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and OCS obtained by INDY. “We rely on our school principal to take the lead and protect our children, and without a doubt we must do better.”
In the same statement, Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said they take pride in their training and safety protocols.
“This failure on our part is unconscionable,” he said.
After both the school shooting threats and scheduling problems, some parents called for Hamidullah's removal.
“The parents had just had enough. Kids were going to school on the first day of school with wrong schedules and just sitting in the auditorium, no classes to go to and that sort of thing,” said parent Dorothy O’Neill. “Since complaining since last May when the school shooting threats were covered up, finally just a couple of days ago, she was moved to a middle school in the district.”
O’Neill said teachers asked parents to voice concerns with Cedar Ridge’s administration to the school board. Dumain said before the leadership change at Cedar Ridge, the school board assured parents there would an investigation into the problems at the school.
Regardless of the changes to the administration, some parents said their faith in the school has been shaken. Parent Monica Vaughan said she believes Cedar Ridge has systemic problems that won’t be solved by Hamidullah’s exit, and she plans to move her son to a charter school.
“Initially, it was making sure that my children were in a safe school, that they would be able to not be stressed about the threats that go dismissed," Vaughan said. "Then it turned into the fact that they cannot keep a schedule on time for the children and that they're continuing to change schedules.”
Bridges said the county has already begun the search process for a new full-time principal at Cedar Ridge and said input from community members will play a role in the selection committee’s decision.
“Cedar Ridge has an outstanding faculty/staff which has demonstrated that they keep children first,” Bridges said in the email. “I know they, along with the administrative team, will continue to do so.”
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