By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
“When she retires, I’m going to sell shoes at Macy’s,” declares Cindy Duzi, an English teacher at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified School District.
Duzi is talking about her principal, Sheryl Weaver, in a way that few teachers talk about their boss. But she is not alone. Other Fresno Teachers Association members at the campus adore, admire and respect Weaver.
“She’s someone you can talk to,” explains English teacher Tashiana Aquino. “She makes you feel comfortable. She’s not just a principal; she’s also a friend. She takes time to actually listen to you. If you e-mail her or text her, she responds.”
Special education teacher Kem Vestal describes Weaver as nothing short of amazing.
“She backs teachers and implements discipline as needed. She defuses situations, and she’s got a great mind. She finds alternatives that are the best path for everybody. And she always lets teachers and staff know what’s happening, because she is on top of everything and so organized.”
Sunnyside High School is an enormous campus with 3,200 students and 150 teachers. There are four staff lunchrooms, so Weaver hands this writer the master key to make it easy to catch teachers on their break. Teachers are wary about being approached by a stranger until they learn the motive is to discover what they think of their principal. Then they smile and eagerly oblige. They use words like “kindness” and “caring.” They say Weaver knows about their families; she knows their favorite candy and supplies them at meetings; she knows when they are having a bad day or having personal problems, and reaches out to them. They say there is almost no staff turnover; few leave unless they are promoted or retire.
Weaver is no softy, say staff. She has a “don’t go there” list of things she won’t stand for, and if crossed, she will give teachers a talking-to that isn’t pleasant. But it helps to have a list of behaviors they should avoid, so her wrath is a rarity.
“She’s a leader — a strong leader — and everyone knows to take her seriously,” says Duzi. “You better put kids first, or you’re in trouble. She’s loving and caring, but you don’t want to mess with her.”
Weaver has been a principal for eight years at Sunnyside, and before that, she was a science and PE teacher, school counselor, vice principal and assistant principal.
“It’s very, very important for me to never forget where I came from,” says Weaver. “I still understand the challenges that teachers face every day.”
She believes it is the principal’s job to support teachers and to give them the tools they need to do the best job possible.
“I don’t believe you can have an ego in this job,” says Weaver. “It’s not about you as a principal. When I come to work every day, I want to make sure the staff is happy and have what they need to go into the classroom and do their job. Without them, I’m nothing.”
Weaver has a sign in her office: “Work with me, people.” A willingness to work as a team has created a sense of community at the school, described by staff as a home away from home.
When things aren’t going well at Sunnyside, teachers aren’t afraid to say so.
“They don’t have to send me an anonymous note or e-mail, because I have broad shoulders,” says Weaver. “If they don’t tell me something isn’t working out, I’m going to have to come back to them and say, ‘Where was your input?’ And I don’t like whining. If teachers and staff have ideas they want to talk about, fine. But don’t come in whining and complaining unless you have ideas.”
Math teacher John Sundgre says Sunnyside High School staff feel fortunate and appreciative they have a such good principal.
“We realize how fortunate we really are when we hear from teachers at other schools who are not as fortunate,” he says.