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August 8, 2022

Healdsburg Year in Review: Schools

Every year, SoCoNews compiles a list of the year’s most noteworthy events, happenings and newsmakers and writes a comprehensive timeline that looks back at the year.
This is the 2021 year in review. We broke down our narrative timelines into eight various themes: Events, schools, people, COVID-19, business, drought, local government and crime/police.


As the new year arrived, the prospect of returning to in-person school seemed to be on rocky ground. In late January Healdsburg Unified School District (HUSD) Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel said it was still unknown when schools could reopen.
“The question of the year is when will HUSD reopen and I will say right now we still do not know. We’re currently set to reopen on Feb. 15 and I’m here to say that’s not going to happen … The best-case scenario (for reopening) I think would mostly likely be March or April for elementary and later for secondary,” Vanden Heuvel said during a Jan. 20 HUSD school board meeting.
Also in January, then-Healdsburg High School Principal Bill Halliday introduced a proposal to alter some of the graduation requirements for the class of 2021 for Healdsburg High School and Marce Becerra Academy students in light of COVID-19 and the difficulties of distance learning.
“We believe it is essential of us to provide these students an opportunity, who are in jeopardy of not graduating, to earn their diploma and we’re very much committed to striking that balance between our high standards as a district and also being rational and realistic about the challenges that our students have faced and how some students aren’t going to fully overcome those challenges,” Halliday said.
In February, the HUSD set a tentative opening date of April 1 for in-person hybrid learning for grades TK-5. The tentative reopening date for secondary schools was April 5. The target date was contingent upon the county staying at or below a case rate of 25 per 100,000 people per day.
On March 29, Alexander Valley School welcomed its students back to campus for the first time since the start of the COVID pandemic. About a week later, Healdsburg elementary students returned to campus on April 1. High school and junior high students returned to the classroom on April 5.
On April 29, the West Side Union School District Board of Trustees announced that they reached an agreement to hire former Credo High School Assistant Director Rima Meechan for the West Side principal and superintendent position. Meechan was chosen after former West Side Superintendent/Principal Kris Menlove announced her departure and plans to move closer to family.
Members of the Healdsburg High School class of 2021 were honored on April 28 for the annual scholarship awards night. Seventy-five graduating seniors received between $250 and $19,000 in scholarships.
As the month of May wrapped up, the HUSD announced plans for an independent investigation into concerns received from Roseland School District alumni regarding alleged cases of racism, inequity, favoritism and other forms of discrimination that took place in the Roseland district while HUSD new hire Amy Jones-Kerr worked there as superintendent. Jones-Kerr had been selected as Healdsburg High School principal after Bill Halliday’s retirement.
The district’s launch into an investigation came on the heels of a petition — which received well over 2,500 signatures — that called for a transparent investigation into Jones-Kerr and the reconsideration of her position in the district following the allegations.
In June, the HUSD school board of trustees unanimously approved a board and district equity policy and an anti-racism policy. The board also approved a new district mission, vision and values statement that embraces a vision for equality.
HUSD had been working closely with the Acosta Educational Partnership on the development of policy over the course of several school board workshops and reviews of sample district policies.
In that same month, the district approved a 7.5% salary increase for all district staff effective July 1, 2021, despite deficit spending projections for 2021-22 and the following two years.
On Aug. 18, HUSD trustees held a closed session meeting to discuss the third-party investigation into Jones-Kerr. The independent investigation found nothing to substantiate concerns regarding Jones-Kerr’s leadership as former Roseland School District superintendent when the district was receiving allegations of racism, inequity and favoritism. School board trustee Mike Potmesil said during an August school board meeting that it’s important to note that the investigation included tracking down commenters on social media who commented with personal experience.
Aug. 18 was also the first day of the 2021-22 school year for HUSD students. At the end of August, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services and the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) issued three local recommendations to Sonoma County schools to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 on school sites.
As cases popped up in schools, SCOE and Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase recommended outdoor masking in schools, weekly surveillance testing for students and unvaccinated and vaccinated school workers and continued weekly surveillance testing for athletes, coaches and referees.
In September it was decided that the Healdsburg High School Hounds football team would be staying at Rec Park. Earlier that month the district announced that the Hounds would start playing football at their home turf at the high school for the 2022 season. Yet, school officials determined in looking at turf project documents that the environmental impact report (EIR) for the project does not allow seating for more than 250 spectators. The EIR and approval also stated that football would stay at Rec Park.
As October rolled around, several Sonoma County schools had to review school rules, expectations and social media decorum with students following a new social media trend on TikTok that encourages students to partake in various challenges that inspire vandalism and other inappropriate behavior.
The trend, often known as “the devious licks challenge,” encourages students to participate in a new challenge each month.
Toward the end of October the district announced that they would be receiving $1,697,674 in funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III fund. Funding plans included providing additional staff and support services such as social-emotional curriculum. ESSER funds are part of the American Rescue Plan Act and as such, were required to be adopted as an expenditure plan by the trustees no later than Oct. 29, 2021.
In November, the district announced its plans to pursue the implementation of a district-wide ethnic studies program as well as a required one-semester ethnic studies course for all freshman students starting as soon as next year.