Principal Stacey Wyatt, pictured here in late 2019, has resigned as Longfellow principal after two years on the job. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Longfellow Middle School Principal Stacey Wyatt has resigned, after two years on the job and during a pivotal moment for the school.

Wyatt and Superintendent Brent Stephens announced the resignation to families at the school in a pair of emails Thursday evening. The letters say Wyatt will finish off the school year at Longfellow, and Paco Furlan, the popular former principal of Rosa Parks Elementary, will take the job in 2020-21.

Wyatt did not directly address the reasons behind her resignation in the email but was somewhat cryptic.

“I consider myself a transformational leader, in that consideration, I understand that transformation is a process that doesn’t move quickly if you desire it to be intentional, authentic and complete,” she wrote. “For many reasons, I no longer believe my pace, practice and beliefs align with the path that Longfellow is on. This work is work of partnership and cannot ever stand in truth if it is forced, no matter who is doing the forcing…Do I continue to push an agenda I find important when it may not be the right fit for the right time? Sadly, I must say no, I cannot.”

Wyatt declined to be interviewed about her resignation.

Stephens asked families to join him in thanking Wyatt “for her service to Longfellow and Berkeley Unified, and in wishing her the very best in the next steps of her career. Stacey is a dynamic charismatic leader; I look forward to supporting her with this transition, and thank her in advance for her work to help us finish the year on a positive note.”

Stephens told Berkeleyside on Friday morning that he “respects” Wyatt’s decision.

Asked why he thought she resigned, he said, “I’m very supportive of Stacey. I think she’s a very talented and unique individual. It’s important that leaders match the aspirations of their community.”

Most of Wyatt’s letter focuses on why she enthusiastically took the job in 2018 after working in Oakland Unified: the rare diversity at Longfellow, the experienced teachers and dedicated staff, the parent engagement and the kids. Wyatt’s students adore her, and many people view the principal as a key figure in the school’s unusually tight-knit community.

“In my two short years with you, I have experienced some of my highest levels of hope for public education,” she wrote.

But Wyatt came to Berkeley during a rocky moment for Longfellow and did not always see eye to eye with district administrators. Berkeleyside explored some of these tensions in a recent story.

Longfellow is the only Berkeley middle school that anyone in the district can choose to attend, but in recent years enrollment has plummeted and the school serves a population with much higher needs than King or Willard does. There are major academic disparities between Longfellow and the other schools, and a vocal group of advocates has continually pressured the district to pour more resources into Longfellow.

A black woman holding a walkie talkie chats stands in a circle on a school courtyard with several black and Latino boys about 12 years old
Principal Stacey Wyatt has a strong relationship with her students. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

District leaders are considering completely overhauling the middle school assignment policy, taking away the “choice” option for Longfellow and redistributing students throughout the district, in large part to eliminate the disparities. For some, this reassignment is an obvious and ethical integration strategy, and for others it’s a threat to Longfellow’s beloved and diverse community.

“It is a beautiful sight to see our students in friendship and struggle, learning together,” Wyatt said in her letter. “I will never stop believing that going through this struggle, strife and growth together is the key to equity and erasure of racism. I see Longfellow as a place where the seeds of social justice could be planted.”

Earlier this year, Wyatt and Stephens said they were on “the same page” about how to approach the questions around Longfellow’s future and the hiring of a consultant to gather community input. But Wyatt has expressed skepticism about middle school reassignment, publicly and privately asking the district for more time and space to work on enacting her vision of a thriving Longfellow.

Wyatt tendered her resignation the same day that Stephens presented a timeline for the community engagement process and final decision on middle school reassignment to the Berkeley School Board.

During her two years on the job, Wyatt had her fans and her skeptics. Some Longfellow families and staff have described the principal as disorganized and not as communicative as she should be. Others say she was thrust into an impossible position and opinionated community, and given only one vice principal. Still others see her as the engaged and strong leader Longfellow needs.

“Ms. Wyatt has been an incredible principal to work under,” said teacher Adam Bairzin earlier this year. “After getting here I sort of had that epiphany: this is what teaching can be like. There’s a saying that you can’t be both an evaluator and a coach, and yet Ms. Wyatt is the only person I’ve met who manages to walk that line.”

Stephens said he appointed Furlan to serve as principal next year because of the community’s desire for “stability and experience.” Furlan was Rosa Park’s principal from 2010-19, and has deep experience with the district’s Spanish-English two-way immersion program, a key feature at Longfellow.

Wyatt said she will miss Longfellow, and especially “my babies, the kiddos, the adults in training.”

“I wish the entire Longfellow community the best of luck and success in every effort it takes after my departure,” she wrote. “I will close out this year strong and with as many of our initiatives laid out as much as possible so that Paco Furlan can do so with ease.”

This story was updated shortly after publication with additional remarks by Brent Stephens.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...