Harding Principal Vanesha Davis Resigns

Friday, June 6, 2014
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“I told myself I’m not crying today,” outgoing Harding University Partnership school principal Vanesha Davis told parents and children at yesterday’s Top Scholars award ceremony. “I just want to thank everybody for the support I’ve received the last few years,” she said as the eyes of parents misted up across the school’s auditorium.

If parents weren’t crying for Davis — or the awards their children were receiving for academic performance, integrity, attendance, improvement, and communication — they may have been crying for the fact that next fall, their school will have its fourth principal in three years. The timing is especially difficult because California schools will be transitioning to the new Common Core State Standards while Harding is still in the early stages of teaching the inquiry-based International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Davis’s predecessor was removed after only a few months on the job when he was involved in an incident that led to the involvement of law enforcement (although no charges were ever filed), but parents and teachers questioned his competence from day one. It seemed that this horrible episode may have undone the seven years of incremental progress at the school under the helm of Sally Kingston, a visionary if divisive leader who implemented several new programs. Not all of them stuck, but a partnership with UCSB Gevirtz Graduate School of Education and the IB curriculum are enduring.

Davis had been an assistant principal in the district for only two weeks when she was asked to take over Harding on an interim basis before winning the job outright. “She’s better than anything we ever expected, and I’m so sick that Santa Barbara is going to lose her,” said Ellen Bialis, a former Harding parent and longtime donor to the Gevirtz School and Harding.

A native of Watts, Davis was conspicuously the one of the only minority elementary school principal in a district that is roughly two-thirds minority. A Spanish major at UC Irvine before earning her education credentials, she honed her fluency in the language with a year abroad in Argentina. Before coming to Santa Barbara, she worked in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Davis told The Santa Barbara Independent that she is returning to L.A. to be with her family. She owns a home in Los Angeles and reportedly returned there most weekends. Still, some are wondering why she would resign her position without another job lined up.

“It was her decision,” said Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Emilio Handall. “We would love to retain her. It was quite a shock to the district that she would resign her position,” he said. Handall added that the district would take her back if she changed her mind.

Molly Presser, who taught at Harding for 23 years and was recruited by Davis to volunteer this year, praised Davis for her hands-on style. A Harding employee who did not want her name to appear in print described Davis as “very peaceful, even-keeled with a nice, calm demeanor.”

Sal Güereña, the executive director of Padres Unidos, a nonprofit that advocates for equity in education, said that Latino parents at Harding admired Davis. “I really liked Vanesha, too,” he wrote in an email. “She seemed to be an excellent principal.”

Jane Close Conoley, the dean of the Gevirtz School (who is leaving to become president of Cal State University Long Beach), said, “We’ve been delighted with the partnership with Vanesha Davis. We feel like we continue to do good things for the kids there. We felt like she was a very strong principal, and we hate to see her go.”

Davis is still committed to overseeing a summer enrichment program at UCSB for Harding students.

This story was amended on June 9, 2014 to reflect that Davis is not the only minority elementary school principal.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

At what percentage does the minority become the majority-apparently not at "roughly two thirds."I suppose maintaining minority status is crucial to continue receiving benefits which are paid for by the new minority which enabled the old minority to become the new majority.

garfish (anonymous profile)
June 6, 2014 at 8:08 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Be patient. Whites will be the majority population until 2020.

ahem (anonymous profile)
June 6, 2014 at 10:51 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sometimes you need a two thirds majority of politicians to pass a law--for whatever that's worth.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 6, 2014 at 11:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

A big issue is so much turnover at the top at Harding Univ. Partnership School (over 600 students). Maybe they've lost the Univ. Partnership tag as Conoley departs for a better job at UC Irvine... but four leaders in three years is very tough on teachers and staff, and ultimately does not help students learn. The Common Core is so rife with problems - note how it's hammered from the left and also from the right ["Commie Core"} - that administering it at Harding seems nearly impossible under the required time frame.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 6:46 a.m. (Suggest removal)

sorry, a better job at CSULB, not Irvine.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 6:48 a.m. (Suggest removal)

UCSB is still committed to the partnership. Conoley's own husband, Connie Conoley, will remain in Santa Barbara and continue to run Harding's Family Strength Center with his doctoral students in Counseling, Clinical & School Psychology.

brandon (Brandon Fastman)
June 7, 2014 at 8:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

good news about the continuation of links to UCSB; at the same time the dizzying turnover at the top is sad. It all began when Sally Kingston [] also suddenly quit, moved on to Carpinteria School District.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 9:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

My son went to Harding for 2 years, my daughter for only a few months. As Caucasian kids they were a minority, BIGTIME. The school is about 97% Hispanic and the level of learning is very low. There is a lot of gang type behavior from the kids and my boy was constantly picked on but it was our school district and we wanted him to go to school close to home so we kept him there. Transferred our daughter out because she was more of a serious academic and wasn't being challenged at all, plus she was picked on way too much by the girls for her being white. The teachers allowed it, Ms. Kingston allowed it and though I complained regularly about my kids being treated badly due to the color of their skin, nothing was done because white kids aren't "minorities", although at Harding they ARE. Also, it seems to be a school full of new teachers with little to no experience, a place to cut their teeth while hoping for a better teaching environment to move onto. There are a lot of potentially great things about the school but so much is lacking. To improve things it has to start with an experienced Principal who will find a way to lure more white families into letting their kids attend (there are plenty of white families in the neighborhood but they refuse to let their kids go there due to really low test scores) and then once they are there to treat those families with dignity! Experienced teachers would be good too. Need to lure them somehow also and then keep them there by treating them well and paying them what they are worth.

santabarbarasand (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 10:13 a.m. (Suggest removal)

If you want to know what 21st century racism in California looks and feels like, send your white kid(s) to Harding.

The Hispanics parents and kids are unbelievably intolerant, racist, bigoted and discriminatory against any other ethnicity besides their own - but especially white kids and parents.

Meanwhile, Unicorns jump over rainbows in the minds of lib-dems in SB who celebrate "diversity" and the wonderment of illegal immigrant parents and their children living and working illegally in Santa Barbara while they drain funding away from tax-paying citizens and legal residents.

It's obviously a wonderful thing that should be celebrated.

realitycheck88 (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 11:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)


The term "minority" has always meant victim of the white majority. Whites can become a minority in numbers but they will always be treated as privileged victimizers who deserve punishment for building and maintaining white societies.

dewdly (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 12:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I walk by Harding often, and have been on campus, and I can say realitycheck88 [aka Willy88] is totally wrong in his characterizations. I don't see that "the Hispanics parents and kids are unbelievably intolerant" there, although there certainly must be some of that. While it's true Harding has extremely low test scores, test scores are very poor measurements -- and the tests are in English, of course. Reality's sarcasm masks his fear of "the other" -- dude, go visit the school, it won't fit your racist mould at all.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 12:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Are the Hispanic kids/parents at Harding more intolerant than those at Franklin? If not, why would that be? It looks like a pleasant neighborhood school, Harding, while Franklin looks more urban. ...Exterior impressions, only, of course, from walking by both of them at various times.

The tests are in English in all the schools, aren't they? And so they should be, imo, except at the dual language Adelante.

Hopefully, there'll be an in depth look at Hispanic/majority ethnicity intolerance for whites in the same way there most certainly would be if there white/majority ethnicity intolerance for HIspanics.

at_large (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 4:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I remember this article when I saw it in the News-Press. Before I post it, I want to make it clear that I do not necessarily support all the ideas of the website on which it is posted. Also, after the article ends, there is some foul language in one of the comments. My point of posting this is to point out the intolerance is offensive, and it isn't only white people who practice it and that in this case, the liberal white parent is none other than Hannah-Beth Jackson's stepdaughter.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 5:23 p.m. (Suggest removal)

DrDan: you sound exactly like a white Southern segregation apologist from the 1950s, whitewashing, obfuscating and minimizing these first hand reports of problems.

I've had the kids of family members and friends have these experiences in their Harding classrooms, playgrounds and cafeteria. There is no way in the world that your frequent adult walks by the campus could possibly educate you on what it's like to be a white kid on the inside.

You're and apologist for racism when it's against whites and for that you ought to be ashamed of your double standard... Or maybe it's just part of the lib-dem standard in general.

realitycheck88 (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 5:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

realitycheck; biting, poignant, and dead on.

nomoresanity (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 6:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

yes, BC, I read the article and in fact know the exPTA President, although why her being "stepdaughter" of a politician matters is unclear. She did state ""I've met some very lovely people, but we have nothing in common." And when you write, BC, "My point of posting this is to point out the intolerance is offensive, and it isn't only white people who practice it" -- of course I agree, nothing in this.
Realitycheck88 is biting, not poignant, but no biting back here since I know I don't "exactly like a white Southern segregation apologist from the 1950s"... but nice try. When you scrawl "You're and apologist for racism..." just consider your statement.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
June 7, 2014 at 8:31 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Oh there go all of you with your antiphonal chitter-chatter chitter-chatter cogitating and arguing and fighting over things hitherto unresolved. Meanwhile, Im goint to watch a hockey game on t.v. and eat fettuccine alfredo, with broccoli.

Billclausen, Dr.Dan, realitycheck88 (assuming thats your real name) and the guy with the green text. (Which does no good if your color blind)

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
June 8, 2014 at 3:52 a.m. (Suggest removal)

At least Dan "knows" that he is not a racist. And anyone making statements that are counter to his views in this case are racist. Proof positive; case closed.
You have dazzled us with logic Dan.
DDan really does sound like a traditional bigot defending the status quo, in this case it is the tyranny of the under performing majority that refuses to take responsibility for their own successes and failures.

nomoresanity (anonymous profile)
June 8, 2014 at 6:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

dwedly, that's your opinion about minority... the minority is what is lesser and at Harding, white kids are the minority and if they have red hair, which my son does, then they are mercilessly picked on. I didn't know the extent of it until my son was done at that school and he told me all the names that the kids had for him and called him, in front of teachers, on a daily basis. I complained about my son being the victim of racial slurs to the Principal and she didn't even address it because he was white. It's not acceptable. My son was dumb enough to make a joke in front of another student once that had to do with skin color, and he didn't make it in a mean way was just repeating a joke that he had heard from a fellow student, that happened to be hispanic, and my son was suspended from school for making a racial joke. Hopefully whoever they get into the school next will be watching of the caucasian kids at the school and make sure that they are NOT being bullied by the MAJORITY at Harding. Until the school has more diversity, it will be a low scoring school with a bad neighborhood reputation and white families will have their kids go to Monroe, Adams and whatever other schools they can get them into.

santabarbarasand (anonymous profile)
June 8, 2014 at 10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Let me tell a seemingly unrelated story--but one that ties in to this.

I noticed the other day when we had the elections that the voting signs outside the polling places were in English and Spanish. The English part looked OK but the translation into Spanish was absolutely horrible. Misspellings, words that don't even exist, and so forth. I spoke to a very nice and attentive person at the elections office about this a few days later, who told me they paid a translation service to make these signs and that these signs had been used for years. She did say, she would get to the bottom of it.

About 15 years ago when attending a Santa Barbara School Board meeting regarding bilingual education, the interpreter hired to speak to the parents in the audience and translate what they said when they spoke (not one of them attempted to speak in English) was making frequent mistakes.

I find it remarkable how, in light of these things, people wonder why low test scores are part in parcel of the demographic changes happening. I find it more amazing that in a county with so much affluence, competent translators are not being hired and how such mistakes go unnoticed for so long until someone speaks up. I wonder if courtroom translators are also this incompetent?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
June 8, 2014 at 6:17 p.m. (Suggest removal)

agree with you santabarbarasand: "Until the school has more diversity, it will be a low scoring school "

DavyBrown (anonymous profile)
June 8, 2014 at 6:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I've noticed the same thing with signage in public places. Additionally , my kids at one time attended a school where most people were Spanish speaking (by and large, we all got along fine), but the school's news bulletins and such were frequently-bi-illiterate.
Unfortunately, being able to speak or communicate in one's native language (including English) doesn't mean that one can also write it clearly and effectively.
A visitor from South America once told me that most (Spanish language) signs she saw in local buses, banks etc. were really in what it sometimes referred to as "Spanglish."
Basic editing/ proofreading skills as well as general grammatical knowledge are on the decline everywhere and seemingly no longer taught in many schools regardless of the language of instruction.

zappa (anonymous profile)
June 8, 2014 at 8:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I told myself I’m not crying today,” outgoing Harding University Partnership school principal Vanesha Davis told parents and children at yesterday’s Top Scholars award ceremony. "

dolphinpod14 (anonymous profile)
June 8, 2014 at 9:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

She is NOT the only 'minority' principal in the district. Where would you come up w that?

tammy (anonymous profile)
June 9, 2014 at 2:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Tammy, that's not what I wrote. Although, I did amend the article because I didn't consider the non-traditional schools when I made that statement about *elementary* principals.

brandon (Brandon Fastman)
June 9, 2014 at 4:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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