Saliyah Cruz, a dynamic educator whom officials were counting on to help build a new kind of high school, is leaving the Philadelphia School District, she confirmed Wednesday.
Cruz, the founding principal of Learning in New Contexts - a high school opened with much fanfare less than two weeks ago - declined to say what her new job would be.
Her departure is an unexpected blow to Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. and his push for innovation. Cruz was the chief designer of the LINC, as it is known, one of the district's three new small, personalized, project-based high schools.
"It was an incredibly hard decision," Cruz said Wednesday. "It was not something that I was looking for. It was an unsolicited opportunity that presented itself."
Grace Cannon, executive director of the district's Office of New School Models, said officials were "surprised and disappointed" at Cruz's news, which students learned on Wednesday.
"But we feel a lot of confidence in the school team and the students," said Cannon.
The school faculty of five core teachers, two special educators, and a handful of other staff are a strong unit, Cruz said, and ultimately, she felt confident enough in their leadership to make the decision to leave.
"I know that schools don't always recover well when the principal leaves, but I don't know that other schools are as collaborative as this one has been from the onset," said Cruz.
Moving forward, the plan is to find a strong interim leader, and conduct an extensive search for a permanent principal, Cannon said. Cruz's last day has not yet been determined, but she is committed to staying until a smooth transition can be made.
Wednesday was the eighth day of the school year, and so far, "it's going really well," Cruz said.
Telling the staff and students of her departure was not easy, Cruz said.
"The kids were understandably disappointed," she said, "but they have been amazing."
Recruiting a new principal to a distressed school district two weeks into the school year will not be easy.
But Cannon said she was "confident that we'll find somebody. It's such exciting work, and if somebody were to come here, the students are great, the staff is great and committed."
Cruz turned around a tough West Philadelphia High School before leaving the district during the turbulent administration of Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman. Cruz worked as a middle school principal in Delaware before returning to Philadelphia early this year to design and build the LINC.
In an August interview, Cruz said Hite's emphasis on innovation was reason enough to give up a more stable job, take a pay cut, and add a 90-minute commute each way. (She lives in Delaware.)
"You don't get the opportunity to design a high school," Cruz said in August. "They're asking us to do this and not standing in our way."