Parents accuse Fremont principal of bullying

Photo courtesy of FUSD

Photo courtesy of FUSD

Mathew Weber,

Life is anything but normal for the parents, faculty, staff and students of John G. Mattos Elementary School in Fremont. Their leader, Principal Liza Muzaffery, is under scrutiny for what many in the district have come forward publicly to describe as “toxic” behavior.

“Leadership by example has been replaced by a culture of intimidation, belittling, and bullying, often witnessed by parents as she barks behind a closed door, or demeans our custodian via radio,” said parent Andrea Wedewer at a Dec. 9 Fremont Unified School District board meeting, describing the toxic environment at the school.

At the board meeting, Wedewer spoke as part of a group of more than 100 teachers, staff and parents who signed a petition that asked the district to evaluate and address the behavior of Muzaffery. Speakers at the meeting said the principal retaliated against parents who disagreed with her, that she belittled employees and created a malicious atmosphere. The speakers expressed anger, frustration and sadness about Muzzafferey’s leadership since she was hired in 2013.

Muzaffery was not present at the meeting and did not respond to The Pioneer prior to publication.

At the Dec. 9 meeting, one parent said she was, “disturbed and frustrated with the behaviors and actions of Ms. Muzzafery,” who allegedly approached the parent at her home in regards to a school-related incident. “I had to ask Ms. Muzzafery to leave my property twice. After leaving she sent a custodial staff member over to our home to tell me to come meet with her,” parent Erin Fisher said.

On Jan. 13 a letter was sent home to the Mattos school community in response to the outcry of parent concerns about Muzzaffery. FUSD Superintendent James Morris wrote, “It is evident there is a wide and diverse range of views within the Mattos community about school climate and culture, leadership and ways to improve the school.”             

The letter went on to say that FUSD has contracted with the Services that Encourage Effective Dialogue and Solution Community Resolution Center to conduct an initial assessment of the overall school “climate” of Mattos elementary, due to complaints from parents.

However, several speakers supported Muzzafery’s leadership. “From the moment I met Ms. Muzaffery it was clear she came to Mattos to improve it,” said parent Aaron Camarrata.

Since she was appointed to Mattos in 2013, Muzaffery helped develop the Science Magnet program at the school. Construction of a new science building began in May 2015 and concluded in September.

“I have worked with no one more fair than Ms. Muzaffery,” said Yard Supervisor Ryan Gaithe at the Dec. 9 meeting. “She’s only doing her job. Maybe not in the most justifiable ways, but I believe she is doing the best she can.”

Mattos Elementary has 625 students and is the only science magnet K-6 school within FUSD and students from around the district may transfer into the program when space is available. The program is a partnership between Mattos and the Math/Science Nucleus organization, a non-profit based organization in Fremont.          

FUSD Superintendent Morris responded to parent concerns in a letter addressed to Mattos community members on Dec. 18, where he stated the district hired former FUSD Principal Jim Hough to, “provide additional consultant support to Ms. Muzaffery.” The letter also detailed plans to develop forums for parents and staff to discuss their concerns.

The petition group responded in a Dec. 30 letter to Morris with concerns that, “retaliation against students and staff is genuine and no one will ‘openly discuss their perceptions’ with their antagonist in the room.”

The Fremont Board of Education held a regular meeting on Jan. 27 at the district office in Fremont. Mattos Elementary was not on the agenda for discussion.