By Linh Tat
UNION CITY — James Logan High School, one of California's largest campuses, will be led next year by a woman known to implement "small learning communities" that provide more personal school experiences for students.
Amy McNamara-Furtado, current principal of San Leandro High, will take over at Logan beginning July 1. The administrator beat out 51 other applicants for the position, which will be vacated at the end of this month by retiring Principal Judy Billingsley.
McNamara-Furtado said she was drawn to Logan because, like San Leandro High, it has a diverse student population. The idea of leading the state's 19th largest high school also appealed to her, she said.
"Four thousand students is a big challenge, but one I think I'm ready for. It seemed the next logical step for me," said McNamara-Furtado, who was hired as an assistant principal for San Leandro High in 2001 and became its top administrator five years ago.
She taught social studies and English at American High in Fremont from 1996 to 2001. Before that, she was a high school teacher in New Mexico and spent two years in Thailand as a participant in Harvard University's WorldTeach program.
Jonathan Sherr, chairman of the social studies department at San Leandro High and president of the teachers union, praised his outgoing principal for her efforts to close the achievement gap. During her tenure as principal, the school started several "small learning communities," including an arts and media academy and a social justice academy.
"She's very well liked here, both by the staff as well as the kids. She's got an open-door policy in her office. ... She sees the students whenever she needs to. She's really made this a welcoming place for the community, the parents," Sherr said.
New Haven community members involved in the selection process also noted her work in forming a parent equity group in San Leandro that brought diversity to the school's parent leadership.
Despite praise from individuals familiar with her work, McNamara-Furtado's latest appointment was not without controversy.
The New Haven school board on Tuesday approved her appointment, along with a number of other recommended personnel actions, in a 3-2 vote.
Because all personnel actions were voted upon in one motion, it's unclear whether Trustee Michelle Matthews' "no" vote was in reference to McNamara-Furtado. Matthews would not comment on her vote after the meeting.
Trustee Gwen Estes said she cast a dissenting vote because she objected to the appointments process. A panel of district parents, employees and administrators recommended candidates to the superintendent, who forwarded a final name to the school board. But trustees never had an opportunity to review the finalist's resume or to interview her before being asked to approve her appointment, Estes said.
"It was just a name on a piece of paper," Estes said. "I don't have anything positive or negative to say (about McNamara-Furtado). With all the issues Logan faces, I really wanted to know what this person brings to the table."
Trustee Kevin Harper said while the board appoints the superintendent, other district hires are decided by the superintendent. New employees are presented as part of a list of staff-recommended personnel actions, which generally are approved by governing boards as a matter of formality without discussion.
"It's true that in some districts, some boards and some superintendents work so there's more or less sharing of information, but it's absolutely well-defined that that's the superintendent's role (to decide whom to hire)," Harper said. "If the board wanted to play an active role, I'm sure the superintendent would be happy to share information with us. "... We hired her for her expertise to make those kinds of decisions — hiring the right people for positions."
McNamara-Furtado, who did not attend the board meeting, said her goal for the 2009-10 year is to familiarize herself with the Logan community.
"I imagine next year will be a lot of listening and watching to support the work that's already under way. And then, as I really get to know the staff, work closely to implement the five-year plan for Logan," she said.
A native of Albuquerque, N.M., McNamara-Furtado graduated from the University of New Mexico and received her master's degree from Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay). She lives in San Leandro.