At Thursday’s meeting of the Cabrillo Unified School District Board of Trustees, parents, family members, educators and members of Farallone View Elementary School’s Latino community packed the room to voice their support for the school’s principal, César Gaytán.
During the portion of the meeting designated for public comments, Guillermo Vázquez stepped up to the podium to speak on behalf of the Moonridge apartment community, as well as the district’s English Learner Advisory Committee. Representatives from Ayudando Latinos a Soñar, a nonprofit supporting Latino cultural enrichment, and members of the Half Moon Bay Latino Advisory Council were also at the May 21 meeting.
“We are here tonight to enthusiastically champion Mr. César Gaytán, because he exemplifies excellence as an educator,” said Vázquez. “(He) is a purposeful principal whose passion for community brings about his unifying leadership. He enriches his school climate by fostering common ground among the community.
“We feel empowered to continue supporting our children’s education, with Mr. Gaytán’s guidance, at Farallone View,” Vázquez added.
The supportive comments came in the wake of some criticism of Gaytán, who has been at the helm over a period that has led some to question the safety of the school’s students. Late last year a school custodian was arrested on charges of lewd conduct with minors. More recently, at least one parent came forward with concerns about the safety of his child on the playground.
Several more supporters followed Vàzquez, offering their own perspectives on Gaytán’s leadership. Farallone View parent Rosalya Méndez emphasized the importance of having a role model who is empathetic toward other cultures.
“I have been hearing a lot of racially motivated comments that are directed towards Latinos,” said Méndez. “We at Farallone View have a Latino principal. And, regretfully, I have heard some derogatory, racially motivated messages directed toward him.
“I wonder what would (they) achieve if they were able to (remove) the principal,” she added. “What would change about the school?”
Half Moon Bay resident Marta Gardner, who co-directs a volunteer reading program for students living at Moonridge, said that Gaytán prioritizes the relationships he develops with his students.
“I feel César Gaytán is living out the research that we know on resilience,” said Gardner. “Which is that students at risk are going to be turned around most by mentors, role models and relationships. That is what Mr. Gaytán lives and breathes.”
Throughout the meeting, Gaytán himself served as translator for the Spanish speakers in attendance.
“I’m very grateful for the heartfelt appreciation of the support Mr. Gaytán works so hard to provide all of the students at Farallone View,” said Cabrillo Board President Sophia Layne in an email to the Review. “Our job as a board is to listen to all of our community’s voices, including those on behalf of students most vulnerable historically and in the current political environment.”
Layne also touched on the turmoil that the school has experienced in the past year, including an incident last December when a Farallone View custodian was arrested on charges of lewd conduct with minors.
“It’s natural for a school community to experience tension for some time after a major incident as we had early last winter,” she said. “I truly believe all are aligned around doing what is best for our students, and that with continued listening and working together, we will grow even stronger for those experiences.”
Some in the school community have been vocal about their concerns regarding Gaytán’s leadership and approach to discipline. Farallone View parent Jason Stark suggested Gaytán was negligent in handling an incident in which his daughter was pushed off a play structure at recess, resulting in a broken arm that required surgery.
“From my and many (other) parents’ point of view, we don’t feel that this is a safe environment,” he said.
Gaytán said the display of solidarity he received at last week’s meeting came as a complete surprise. He said he received a call from the district office before the meeting notifying him that he was needed right away.
“I was very embarrassed; I’m not the type of person to attract attention to myself,” continued Gaytán. “But what was beautiful about it is that (someone from Moonridge) told me the next day, ‘Mr. Gaytán, the reason we were there is (to deliver) a heartfelt message. And it wasn’t written by a single person. Every line, every message that was conveyed came out of the mouth of (many) people and community members wanting to express gratitude for the good things that have happened at this school.’”
“It really got to my heart,” he added.