ITHACA, N.Y.—Cayuga Heights Elementary School principal Lisa Sahasrabudhe is leaving the school, taking a job in the Ithaca City School District’s central office centered on diversity and equity.
The move was characterized as a “promotion” in Sahasrabudhe’s letter to the Cayuga Heights community sent Wednesday night. Sahasrabudhe’s official new title will be the district’s new Equity and Diversity Officer.
Sahasrabudhe said a new principal would be starting at the school in July, a transition she would support. The Equity and Diversity Officer role will be in the district’s central office, she said.
Cayuga Heights Elementary School (CHES) has been at the focus of scrutiny lately, as teachers have left the school in high numbers over the last three academic years—coinciding with the start of Sahasrabudhe’s tenure, when she was appointed principal after spending decades teaching in the district.
“It is with bittersweet emotions that I write to share news that I have been offered and have accepted a promotion to serve as the Ithaca City School District’s Equity and Diversity Officer,” Sahasrabudhe wrote in a letter obtained by The Ithaca Voice. “I am saddened to leave the Cayuga Heights Elementary School community, and particularly the deep and meaningful relationships I have built with students. I am also thrilled to be able to serve our wider school community in this new capacity.”
Parents from the school had begun to vocalize their concerns over teacher turnover at CHES. That’s a problem everywhere in the district, but was acutely rampant during the first two years of Sahasrabudhe’s time as principal at CHES and seemed poised to continue, with departures and transfer requests mounting as the school year closes. As of late March, parents and the Ithaca Teachers Association estimated that over 90 percent of the teachers who had been at CHES when Sahasrabudhe started had left, compared to an average of about 18 percent at other schools in the district during the same timeframe.
At a PTA meeting last month, Sahasrabudhe asked the assembled parents for some grace while she handled the situation, but also acknowledged that her relationship with some teachers had turned “adversarial” and that she wasn’t sure why teachers were leaving in such numbers, because they weren’t telling her.
Other parents had shown up to the Ithaca City School District Board of Education meeting to call attention to the ongoing “exodus” of teachers, as it was described. Their concerns largely went unanswered, though board members said they are aware of the issue. In response to the above Ithaca Voice article about the situation, two teachers from CHES, Devin Bokaer and Christine Barley, wrote a letter documenting how much they enjoy working at the school, its curriculum and Sahasrabudhe’s leadership, calling the latter “courageous and visionary.”
It is unclear whether or not the role of Equity and Diversity Officer existed before this announcement or if it is a newly created position. It is not yet listed on the district’s central leadership page, though Mary Grover holds the title of Inclusion Officer, which would seem similar. The job title is not listed in the school’s directory currently.
The district did not respond to a request for comment from The Ithaca Voice.
Sahasrabudhe does have an extensive background in diversity education, as she has also served as the Teacher on Special Assignment for Culturally Responsive Practices for the district, the first person to hold that role, and also held the position of Instructional Coach for Equity, Inclusion and Innovation at Fall Creek Elementary School as well as the district’s Equity Mentor.
In her letter, Sahasrabudhe went on to say that she was proud of the work she and her team had done at the school, emphasizing that she worked to center students “who have traditionally been marginalized.” She thanked the teachers and students who helped her accomplish that, and said that she hoped to implement those experiences and strategies on the district overall to provide a more welcoming learning experience.
“Taking these experiences to the district level will allow more children, educators, families, and our wider Ithaca community to experience the significant, positive impacts of the curricular and pedagogical shifts we have been embarking upon here at Cayuga Heights,” Sahasrabudhe wrote.