- Jason Staker
Capistrano Unified Superintendent Removed by Board of Trustees
On December 21, during a special closed meeting, the Capistrano Unified (CUSD) school board decided in a 4-3 vote to terminate the contract of nine-year Superintendent Kirsten Vital-Brulte.
She lasted longer than others who previously occupied the role and, for the most part, seems to be held favorably by the community. Throughout her career, she proved to be an effective leader in the school district. Rebounding from COVID-19, Vital-Brulte received controversial feedback in her manner of dealing with the district's response to the pandemic in her effort to bring students back in-person.
As of the publication of this article, the only official comment on the termination by the board is from President Krista Castellanos: “It is important to mention that the action taken was not for cause. We are grateful for her leadership and wish her the best in her future endeavors.”
Given that the decision was made directly following the election of new school board trustees, some members of the community believe it is purely political. The board has communicated that the decision was not politically motivated.
“We are a diverse board – some are very conservative, some are very liberal, some are in between,” said Trustee Gila Jones.
In the future, Trustees indicate they hope to encounter a candidate who can work with the diversity of the Board and community.
Trustee Amy Hanacek recognizes that “It is fairly unique in K-12 [schools] to have a Superintendent serve as long as Kirsten Vital-Brulte has, and I appreciate her service to Capistrano Unified School District.”
Despite persistent questioning, the Board seems eager to move forward from the decision and to ensure the position is occupied without delay.
Effective January 1, 2023, Deputy Superintendent Clark Hampton assumed the role of Interim Superintendent as CUSD began to look for the District's next superintendent.
With her termination, Vital-Brulte will receive a severance provision, as stated in her contract, of around $550,000.
Public sentiment is quite consistent, with it becoming clear that much of the community is against the nature of the decision.
A CUSD graduate who declined to be named, questions the decision: “Is there a legitimate reason, good reason, to fire superintendent Vital-Brulte? Has she done anything wrong? I don't see anything wrong that she's done… Is this fair doing this in the dark of night, the week before Christmas, when you hope nobody's watching?”
The Board is making an effort for a smooth transition of power, and it is doubtful that there will be any noticeable changes within the scope of Tesoro.
Castellanos assures, “This will not affect the extraordinary work of our teachers, classified staff, and administrators who provide an excellent instructional program every day.”