La Patera Elementary School in Goleta
Three teachers at La Patera Elementary School in Goleta have been notified that they will be involuntarily transferred, prompting several parents to criticize the decision before the school board. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Nine parents blasted the Goleta Union School District on Wednesday night for involuntarily transferring three teachers — without giving a specific explanation.

One parent called the move “cunning” and out of line. The three La Patera Elementary School teachers — Abby Sykes, Shari Farrington and Tara Svensson — have a combined 55 years of teaching experience.

“I am honestly ashamed of the Goleta Union School District,” parent Lesley Miller said. “Where is the leadership?”

Miller said it doesn’t make sense that “a superintendent who is leaving gets to decide that they are being transferred.”

Superintendent Donna Lewis is retiring at the end of the school year. Miller asked the school board why Lewis gets to make those decisions and whether parents were consulted.

“I want to know if you are sending these incredible teachers to high-performing schools and assigning us teachers with little experience or teachers that have never worked with an underserved community,” Miller said. “To be very clear, we want these specific teachers to stay, but if you don’t change your mind and replace them with teachers of less caliber, I don’t think this is going to be the last you hear from any of us.”

Lewis did not address the change publicly, but she told Noozhawk earlier in the day that teachers are employed by the district, not a specific school.

“School districts sometimes need to make changes and adjustments to the grade level or school site that a teacher is assigned to in order to best serve students at the site and across the district,” Lewis said. “The changes and plans we have for La Patera, including the selection of the new principal, are being made with the needs of the students at the heart of the matter. La Patera is being positioned to be better than ever.”

Lewis said the teacher union has been kept informed of the changes and that the teachers will be transferred to Ellwood, Kellogg and Hollister elementary schools.

The parents spoke on behalf of the teachers on the same day that Lewis announced the hiring of a new principal, Brigitte Haley, who is currently the district’s teacher on special assignment differentiation specialist (formerly known as the Gifted Education Support Program).

“I am truly excited to join the dedicated La Patera staff and community,” Haley said at the meeting. “I couldn’t be more excited right now.”

Lewis said Principal Celeste Darga is returning to the classroom. The announcement of the new principal, however, did not tamp down the objections raised by parents.

Lewis sent a letter to La Patera parents on Monday that said the district is shifting staff to other sites.

“The decision to transfer employees was not made lightly, nor is it a reflection in any way of job performance of the individuals,” Lewis wrote. “As superintendent, I must balance needs across the entire district, and that is what I have done in this case. As with any personnel matter, I cannot address the circumstance of specific employees. We deeply appreciate the service of these employees and wish them well in their transition to their new site placements.”

“I was so incredibly disappointed to hear that three of our longtime, beloved teachers at La Patera are being involuntarily moved to other school sites,” parent Chelsea Mumm said.

Mumm noted that the new principal will be the third in recent years, after a year of distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a return to in-person school that looks different than before.

“It would be a huge blow to the La Patera community to lose just one of these teachers, but to lose three longtime educators feels devastating,” Mumm said.

Parent Bethany Bodenhamer said she was speaking to advocate for La Patera’s socio-economically disadvantaged population.

Goleta school board

A screenshot shows Goleta school board members as they hear concerns Wednesday night about a decision to transfer three La Patera teachers.

“The district’s decision to abruptly and involuntarily transfer long-term educators Abby Sykes, Tara Svensson and Shari Farrington — teachers proven capable and willing to consistently invest in the needs of our vulnerable at-promise population and their families — is a direct disadvantage and harm to our students who need good teachers the most,” Bodenhamer said.

She added that she recently sat in on a principal input meeting with administrators as they sought parent feedback regarding what they needed and wanted in the next principal. The message was that students and parents needed consistency, a teacher champion, and someone who was truly going to value and practice equity in all of the decisions made.

“It is therefore completely disheartening and alarming that the district would make such a cunning employment move at the exact same time a new leader is being chosen,” Bodenhamer said.

The teachers did not speak at Wednesday’s meeting, but they sent an email to parents earlier in the week after they were told about the transfers. It was signed by all three teachers.

“We want the families at La Patera to know that we were blindsided,” the letter stated. “We are all heartbroken, sad and in shock. We are dedicated and invested teachers at La Patera and do not believe we deserve this kind of treatment from the district. We feel this is harsh and unfair and will negatively impact the students and families in the community.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at