Friday, March 23 , 2018, 12:51 am | Mostly Cloudy 54º


Despite Public Show of Support, San Marcos High Principal Ed Behrens Demoted

Santa Barbara Unified school board offers no explanation for move against longtime educator

Prior to a decision to demote him Tuesday night, San Marcos High School Principal Ed Behrens told the school board: ‘Nothing I have done warrants my removal.’ Click to view larger
Prior to a decision to demote him Tuesday night, San Marcos High School Principal Ed Behrens told the school board: ‘Nothing I have done warrants my removal.’ (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

San Marcos High School Principal Ed Behrens has been removed from his post and offered a teaching position with a dramatic pay cut, or resignation, at the end of the school year.

Although a boistrous crowed turned out at a special meeting Tuesday night to support Behrens, the Santa Barbara Unified School District board of trustees voted 4-1, with Laura Capps opposed, in a closed-session to demote Behrens from his position as principal of the campus near Goleta on June 30.

The crowd broke out into loud boos, with a person shouting “shame on you” toward the district’s governing board.

The board deliberated for nearly three hours in closed-session and didn’t announce the reason for its decision to attendees waiting inside the Marjorie Luke Theater at Santa Barbara Junior High School.

The move comes shortly after January’s social media threat investigation at San Marcos.

The messages reportedly involved a group of male students who made chat room posts that listed female students and vulgar and derogatory descriptions of them, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department said.

More than 50 students, parents, SMHS staff and alumni took to the podium, voicing their support for Behrens and expressing distress that the board was planning to dismiss a well-liked principal.

No one spoke in support of demoting Behrens.

“The reason why San Marcos is fantastic is because of Mr. Ed Behrens,” said Jamie DeVries, who has taught social studies at San Marcos for 19 years. “I wish I could take you back six or eight years ago to San Marcos and see the changes.”

At one point, the crowd sporting red attire broke out in an impromptu chant of “We love Ed,” while waving handmade signs showing an image of the principal, who has worked at in the district since 1991 and at San Marcos as assistant principal and principal for more than 20 years.

A supporter during public comment delivered an online petition signed by nearly 2,400 people to save Behrens’ job. 

Supporters dressed in red and carrying signs with his likeness showed up Tuesday night at the Santa Barbara Unified school board meeting to urge that Ed Behrens not be demoted as principal of San Marcos High School. Click to view larger
Supporters dressed in red and carrying signs with his likeness showed up Tuesday night at the Santa Barbara Unified school board meeting to urge that Ed Behrens not be demoted as principal of San Marcos High School. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Behrens spoke before the board of trustees decision, saying he embodies the values and priorities of the district’s mission.

He pleaded for the governing board to recognize his efforts and consider staff and student accomplishments under his direction.

“Please don’t throw away what I have achieved,” Behrens told the five-member board and Superintendent Cary Matsuoka. “Nothing I have done warrants my removal.”

He spoke about increasing school safety, calling on the district for his approach to funding additional security cameras at San Marcos before the social media threat investigation in January. Graffiti messages threatening violence was discovered last week on campus. 

“I have effectively handled several threat incidents without a district program in place,” Behrens said. “Before the online incident, my initiative was to add more security cameras at San Marcos. I approached the district…there were no funds, so I approached the Royal Pride Foundation and PTSA, and they budgeted.”

Behrens said the Royal Pride Foundation raised more than $3 million for San Marcos programs and facilities while he was principal.

He directed his attention to specific board members, recalling past work experience, such as conversations in 2011 with trustee Kate Parker about bringing programs to the high-schoolers. 

He noted working with Capps’ mother, former Congresswoman Lois Capps, a former nurse, in 2001 to help create the school’s Health Careers Academy.

Behrens said Santa Barbara was facing a “nursing shortage” before the course that provides a foundation for students planning their education in the health and medical fields.

“Because of the health academy…that I helped co-create…we have a lot more nurses at Santa Barbara City College, and more certified nursing assistants,” he said.

He noted his co-creation of the Program for Effective Access to College, which provides coordinated inter-school services to assist college readiness for first-generation, college-bound Latinos living on Santa Barbara’s Westside.

The program began with the San Marcos graduating class of 2015 matriculating from La Cumbre Junior High and is replicated throughout the district.

“It was with my passion to aid underrepresented students,” Behrens said. 

Support from the audience seemed encouraging throughout his speech.

When the PowerPoint presentation Behrens put together failed to load, an audience member yelled: “Keep rolling man, we got your back.”

He also delivered a few sentences in Spanish. 

Behrens said he is active with the school’s Future Leaders of America program, and “proud” of the school’s Entrepreneurship Academy and culinary program.

He spoke on the subject of improving enrollment 18 percent since 2012 – from 1,858 to 2,192 — and boosting the graduation rate from 90 percent in 2013 to 94 percent in 2016.

The number students classified as "English learners" decreased from 20.3 percent of all students in 2012 to 12.7 percent, he said, and the school holds 22 CIF academic championships.

“My passion and vision was to create the best high school possible,” Behrens said. “My goal was to build upon the previous successes and create a variety of award-winning programs and academics. We expanded the student experience and continue to innovate.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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