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SF’s newest public school loses second principal in as many years

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A statue of former San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr. sits in the hallway, illuminated by modern lights at Willie L. Brown Jr. Middle School in San Francisco, Calif. Saturday, June 18, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco’s newest public school has lost its second principal since its rocky opening just two years ago in the Bayview, school district officials confirmed this week.

Principal Bill Kappenhagen is leaving Willie Brown Middle School after less than two full school years on the job. He replaced the school’s first principal, Demetrius Hobson, two months into the inaugural 2015-16 school year after Hobson resigned.

San Francisco spent millions on the much-anticipated middle school focused on science, technology, engineering and math and mostly serving black and Latino students in The City’s southeast. But the school immediately began to turn over teachers like other schools in the neighborhood, and now two principals.

“I’m very disappointed that we’re seeing another leadership change at Willie Brown,” said Supervisor Sandra Fewer, a former school board member. “These students actually deserve stability in leadership and also the teachers deserve to have stability in leadership.”

Charleston Brown will replace Kappenhagen next school year. Brown served as the assistant principal at Willie Brown MS in recent months and previously led an embattled for-profit charter called San Francisco Flex Academy.

Kappenhagen, a seasoned leader with a strong reputation among educators, is taking a year off from the San Francisco Unified School District for undisclosed reasons after closing out the school year in May, according to district spokesperson Gentle Blythe.

“On the surface, I don’t think that’s a good thing,” said Dan Harrington, the former head of the school’s Parent-Teacher-Student Association. “I’m surprised. Very surprised. I know that the district was really counting on him, thinking, ‘We need an ace in the hole, and he’s our ace in the hole.’”

Brown said in a letter to the school community earlier this month that he is ready to “build upon the great work that Principal Kappenhagen has started.”

“I am eager to develop and sustain strong relationships with the Bayview/Hunters Point community… to provide Willie Brown students with a meaningful middle school experience,” Brown wrote.

Assistant Superintendent Enikia Ford Morthel said the leadership change is positive for the school because Brown has a connection to the community and is “someone who doesn’t just have the skill but the true desire to be there.”

“I coined this [leadership] team the dream team because Mr. Brown has been there for a good chunk of the year,” Ford Morthel said. “There’s been some turnover but there’s a core group of teachers and staff who have been there since the beginning.”

Board of Education President Shamann Walton, whose youngest stepson is a student at Willie Brown, said he has faith that Brown will lead the school successfully because he’s “already been at the school.”

“I think that with all the turnover and the changes that have happened over the last couple years, this is going to be a good fit,” Walton said. “He’s spent time in the school, our students are encouraged by his leadership… He’s excited about the job and excited about the role, which means a lot.”

PTSA President Taniesha Williams, the parent of a seventh grader, also supports Brown because “he’s built a really good relationship with the youth” in recent months.

“It was a good year,” Williams said, adding that the school now has an honor roll and the students went on “wonderful” field trips. “It’s a really good school educationally, I really recommend it.”

Ford Morthel said Willie Brown MS reduced teacher turnover this school year like other schools in the Bayview.

Heading into its third year, most of the teacher vacancies are for the new eighth grade class, according to Walton. The school started with just a sixth grade class in the 2015-16 school year and is growing with the cohort of students.

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