Community of Saint Mark Petition To Reinstate Principal Mary Ann McQueen

Community of Saint Mark Petition To Reinstate Principal Mary Ann McQueen

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Community of Saint Mark started this petition to Most Reverend José Gómez and

Most Reverend Archbishop JOSÉ H. GOMEZ 

Bishop EDWARD WILLIAM CLARK

Deacon SCOTT PALMER:

We are writing to you as concerned members of the Saint Mark parish community in Venice, California.  You’ll find a large number of signatories at the end of this letter, but be assured there are many more.  

We are still reeling from the events that have unfolded over the last few months, beginning when Father Paul Spellman announced that he would not be renewing Principal Mary Ann McQueen’s contract for the 2019/2020 school year.  It is not an exaggeration to say that people are distraught, anxious, frustrated, and angry over this. These feelings have not dissipated.  There was a PAC (Parent Action Committee) meeting this week at the school, and people were crying because they feel helpless and betrayed. Tensions and emotions are still running extremely high.  Going on 3 months, we still have absolutely no idea why Fr. Paul decided not to renew our principal’s contract (although there are plenty of nasty rumors swirling around - just an unfortunate symptom of zero transparency).  By every conceivable measure, she is a great administrator.  She is competent, fair, tough, focused, and aspires to excellence (which is a stipulation of canon law).  She is loving, accessible and an exemplar of professionalism.  While there are a small minority who have experienced frustration in their dealings with her, that is to be expected with any successful leader, no matter what kind of industry or community.  From our observations, she has transformed this school in her short tenure.  Families send their children to public and private schools all over Los Angeles, yet none of them rave about their school community like we do.  Some have even left their schools to come attend Saint Mark. That is a testament to the leadership of Mary Ann McQueen.

We cannot understand why the pastor of a school on an amazing trajectory - truly a school with an amazing comeback story - on track to become an incredible vibrant parish community - would let an amazing leader go.  It defies logic.  It defies reason.  She has attracted many, many families from the local neighborhood, who are now all questioning whether they want to stay at a school where there is seemingly no concern for the children - the ones who will fill the pews of Saint Mark Church one day.  It has come to our attention that several members of the parish leadership have made it clear that they aren’t interested in working with us.  There have even been implications that there is no concern for the success of the school or the school families at all.

Why is this happening?  It feels like someone came in and pulled the rug out from under us.  Do you know how hard it is to find a school community where you feel absolutely confident in the fact that your principal has the needs, well-being, safety and security of all of the children as her main priorities?  It is rare to experience a school like this- as a student or as a parent.  Principal McQueen knows the name of every child on that campus - she even knows the names of their siblings who don’t attend and their parents and even some grandparents.  She’s a unicorn among school administrators. This feels like a terrible injustice and we desperately need answers.  We want someone to explain to us why this decision is good for this community.  We know there is a committee interviewing new candidates but we all believe we already have the best person for the job.  Running a school is a real challenge for anyone - why is it a good idea to bring someone in who will need to learn on the job, when there is a perfectly skilled and qualified principal already in place?  We want someone to explain to us why this is for the best.  Is it because there are some disgruntled employees?  Have we discerned their motives?  Is it because there are some parishioners who don’t like how Venice has gentrified and the school and new parishioners now more closely reflect the new demographics of the neighborhood?  Is Principal McQueen being blamed for this?  In the midst of the sexual abuse scandals, in the midst of the horrendous crisis the church is suffering - and by extension, each of her members -  we need someone to explain to us why a pastor has total authority to make a decision that negatively impacts hundreds of children and their families, without having to explain why.  He’s leaving. Why can’t she stay?  Who made that decision?  Was it solely Fr. Paul?  Do you realize how petty and mean spirited that looks, in light of the fact that he is leaving? It smacks of clericalism and secrecy.  Is everyone just supposed to accept the pastor’s word that he made the right decision?  Why is he leaving?  Something stinks at Saint Mark parish and we need to find the source of it.  We know that there is misinformation coming from the parish leadership and we’d like to point out some of the lies and mischaracterizations that we believe were the impetus for her removal.  Some of these include:

  • Mary Ann McQueen has been accused of ruling with an iron fist, terrifying the teachers, and incomprehensibly, even racism.  However, faculty retention is high, so these claims seem unfounded. We’ve spoken with almost the entire staff and they dispute all of these allegations.  The truth is that when Principal McQueen came to Saint Mark, she wanted to make sure every faculty member had advanced degrees in education and the proper credentials for the betterment of the children’s education.  This is a requirement according to canon law - that Catholic schools aspire to excellence.  
  • There were also rumors that Principal McQueen has coldly refused financial aid in the past.  However, not all families wish to provide their financials, which is a requirement of the FACTS tuition program the school uses.
  • Parish leadership claims the school is operating financially in the red, thereby causing a drain on the parish resources.  This is patently untrue. Through tricky accounting on the part of the parish leadership, distributed as a misleading balance sheet in the church bulletin, it was implied that the school is operating at a loss, when in fact the school is operating at a surplus and is in fact operating as a ministry for the church: providing new chairs in the parish hall, new surfacing and striping of the main church parking lot, and others.  
  • Principal McQueen is accused of wanting to turn the school into an “elite, private oasis,” and immediately began a “beautification” project to attract wealthy, non-Catholic families, thereby pushing out a large minority contingent.  There is no evidence of this, whatsoever, and there has never been an effort by anyone, certainly not Principal McQueen, to push anyone out.  Again, this is a reflection of the new neighborhood demographics in Venice that comes with gentrification.  Shouldn’t the school be competitive with other private schools in the area?  Don’t the children of Saint Mark Parish deserve the best education and the best facilities we can give them?  The reason behind this effort was to bring the school into accordance with Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudauto Si.  
  • Some parishioners accused Principal McQueen, in the press, of initiating a petition and protests in 2018 when it was announced that she would not be reinstated by Father Paul Spellman.  However, the 2018 petition and this petition have been fully and wholly launched by the undersigned of each petition without her knowledge. Her reinstatement is subject to her acceptance.  

We can confirm that you are losing hearts and souls over this.  Please reconsider and send someone to talk to us and to answer our questions.  Please reinstate Principal Mary Ann McQueen as principal at Saint Mark School - it is vital to the continued success of our community.  Right now, she is the glue that is holding all of us together.  Below is a short list of achievements under her leadership:

  • Awarded “Best Private School” by the local press in both 2017 and 2018 - Best of the Westside (Out of 15 Catholic Schools and 20 Independent private schools).
  • Enrollment was at 185 students when Principal McQueen started on July 1, 2013, and has increased to 303 students in 2018/19.  This is remarkable when you consider that Catholic parochial schools are closing across our country.
  • Financial Aid awarded to families has increased from $30,000 in 2013 to $168,000 in 2018/19.  These students would not be able to attend Catholic school without financial aid.  Some are fully funded, which includes tuition, uniforms, lunches, school retreats and field trips.
  • Principal McQueen reaches out to students who are challenged and helps set them on a path to success.  By making them her personal mission, she has expanded the definition of a Saint Mark student and has helped provide a Catholic education to some who may otherwise not have had this opportunity.
  • As of the 2018/19 school year, the majority of the student body is Catholic.
  • Current TK class and incoming TK class are made up of mostly Catholic families - many have joined the church because of their entrance into school.
  • Principal McQueen implemented the two teacher per classroom model: Two fully-accredited, full-time teachers for each classroom at every grade level (most teachers have one or two Master degrees).  This was implemented to increase the children’s educational experience, allow the school to grow enrollment by becoming more competitive with other private schools, and to meet canon law guidelines requiring academic excellence is central to the mission of all Catholic schools.
  • In 2017 and 2018 all 8th graders were admitted to their first choice High School.  The majority chose Catholic high schools. All students who applied to Loyola High School were accepted.  Scholarships for academic and other achievements were awarded to many students.
  • Launched the Mindfulness program to help kids cope with anger, stress and sadness.
  • Principal McQueen was nominated in her Deanery to serve as Deanery Chair, proving her colleagues and peers think highly of her.  She had to drop out because of the events that took place last year.
  • Principal McQueen has served on an accreditation team for multiple years.  Saint Mark School supports the growth of other schools by participating in this accreditation process by sending excellent teachers who are true professionals and expert educators.
  • Principal McQueen invokes the Catholic spirit in all, and encourages volunteerism at school, church and in the global community.  Students feed the homeless every Monday evening and create full meals monthly for SPY (A Safe Place For Youth).

We are at a loss as to why we are looking for a new principal, and we the community of Saint Mark respectfully request the following:

  1. A meeting between parent representatives and ADLA to discuss transparency and proper parish governance
  2. ADLA to take concrete steps to heal the Saint Mark Community by bridging the gap between the parishioners and parents
  3. The immediate reinstatement of Principal Mary Ann McQueen

Yours in Faith,

The undersigned Community of Saint Mark

0 have signed. Let’s get to 1,500!
At 1,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!