Pinole community rallies behind principal set for reassignment

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Pinole Valley High School principal Kibby Kleiman will be replaced next school year.

Credit: Spartan Ink / Pinole Valley High student newspaper

The news that a beloved high school principal in West Contra Costa Unified School District won’t be returning next school year has led the community to rally behind him in hopes school district officials will reconsider his reassignment.

Students are holding a rally at Pinole Valley High School on Wednesday morning in support of their principal, Kibby Kleiman. In the last week, hundreds of people have shown support for the longtime principal. Over the weekend, someone even wrote “Kibby” in white letters on the hill that borders the school.  

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Someone wrote “Kibby” on the hill that neighbors Pinole Valley High School following the news that the principal, Kibby Kleiman, will be replaced next school year.
Credit: Courtesy of Erion Nick

“Kibby has always supported me and is always willing to work with students, no matter what we’re going through,” said Austin Snyder, vice president of Project Student Advocacy, a student club that organized the rally. “I feel like Kibby would do it for us.”

The rally follows in the wake of the March 6 school board meeting where hundreds of students, staff and community members — including the mayor of the East Bay city of Pinole — showed up to support Kleiman and share stories about why he was so special to the school and community. About 400 people attended in person and via Zoom, according to West Contra Costa Unified School District officials. More than 100 spoke during the meeting’s public comment period, many of whom were asking the board to keep Kleiman as principal. 

“The comments made by students and parents and the whole community should outweigh any concern that the superintendent and the board would have that led to this action,” Mayor Maureen Toms said during the board meeting’s public comment period. “He is beloved in the community and has worked hard to build the trust and relationships between the school district and the city.”

That trust, which hasn’t always existed, could be “eroded” if Kleiman is removed, Toms said. She and her two children all graduated from Pinole Valley High.  

Why replace him? WCCUSD officials declined to answer questions about why Kleiman is being replaced, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters.

During the meeting, the board voted during closed session to let go of one elementary and one secondary principal. No other details were provided. 

“We understand that the recent personnel matter regarding the release and non-re-election of the two principals is a sensitive issue for our community,” WCCUSD spokesperson Raechelle Forrest said in an email. “The Board is aware of the frustrations of students, staff, and community members, and they are taking this matter very seriously.”

Kleiman declined to comment. 

Camila Garcia Gomez, a ninth grader at Pinole Valley High, said she lost respect for the school board because it is supposed to represent the community. 

“So many people came out and spoke for Kibby, and they still ignored that,” Garcia Gomez said. “I wish the school board would understand or give a valid reason, but they won’t speak on it.”

The district hasn’t communicated to parents why Kleiman is being replaced, said Josie Garay, Garcia Gomez’s mom. She said parents are upset and don’t feel heard. Unlike Kleiman, other principals her two children have had “weren’t that involved in school or invested in the kids at schools.”

“When there’s an issue, he’s always listening to the kids,” Garay added.

Kleiman has devoted his career in education to Pinole Valley High. He was a teacher there for nearly 20 years, an assistant principal for about five years, and has been the principal for the last decade. People described him as the kind of principal who knows every student’s name, drives two hours to cheer on the football team, never misses a PTSA meeting, checks in with students, and is a problem solver. 

One parent said it would be “detrimental” for students if Kleiman was no longer principal. An alumnus said he was “irreplaceable.” A district staffer of 35 years said he was in the “pantheon of greatness.” 

Tiffany McCoy said that after hearing the news, her son said he doesn’t want to return to Pinole Valley High if Kleiman isn’t there. Kleiman took the time to get to know her son and make sure he was comfortable around him.

“He said, ‘Mom I can go to him for anything,’” McCoy said. “Not any other principal or administrator has done that. That’s why he’s had such a huge impact on my son.”

A petition was started last week in support of keeping Kleiman as principal and has more than 1,000 signatures. 

Project Student Advocacy is an example of why students feel heard by Kleiman, Erion Nick, president of the student club, said. The club meets every other week, and students can come to talk about their concerns. Nick and Snyder, vice president, relay those concerns to Kleiman and work together to find solutions. 

“Kibby is nothing but supportive to students and gives his undying support to any program, clubs, or just events in general — that’s probably why there’s such a huge outcry,” Nick said. “They are trying to get rid of someone who really cares about the school and staff.”

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