A large Santa Rosa school district held a community listening session following the fatal stabbing of Montgomery High student Jayden Pienta on March 1st.
Students and parents, teachers and board members, city officials and law enforcement - Community members gathered in the hundreds, spilling out the doors of the Friedman Events Center on Mayette Avenue in Santa Rosa for the hours-long listening session.
Though emotions remain raw for the community, and students especially, facilitators helped lead a mostly calm series of discussions.
The respectful and supportive tone for the evening was set with the performance of a Lakota song by one resident before school officials and discussion facilitators addressed the crowd.
Students were the first to express their thoughts.
Many called for increased investment in mental health resources and school counselors, as well as better transparency, supervision, communication, and accountability from school administrators.
Ava Parmelee, a student at Montgomery High, said the stabbing has made her dread school in a way she never has.
"There's such a culture that has been created in the last week that has made me anxious and stressful, and I don't want to go to school," Parmelee said. "And that needs to change. And that shouldn't have to start with the students. And I am beyond frustrated that it has."
In addition to the new concerns over safety on campus, Montgomery has come under scrutiny for its aging infrastructure, which students said hampers their learning environment.
Though an inspection from December 2022 described Montgomery’s overall infrastructure as good, the most recent facilities master plan available on the district's website, said aged facilities and restrooms are in need of significant remodel.
Joey Bowser, a senior at Montgomery High, detailed his experiences reaching out to superintendent Anna Trunnell in an attempt to bring relief to Montgomery’s physical environment well before last week’s tragedy.
"My initial email to you was in the subject line," Bowser said. "Please help my school restrooms, because that was the issue that I wanted to help change."
Issues with the school’s infrastructure he said, now pale in comparison.
"Now that feels so miniscule," Bowser said. "This is something that I've never experienced before and it's overwhelming."
Trunnell has come under criticism from students and parents since the fatal stabbing.
"I know that one event is not going to do it," Trunnell said. "It's going to take consistency on our part to demonstrate that when we listen, that we also take action; and so synthesizing and hearing what I'm hearing tonight, that is going to be a part of our work."
Trunnell noted the county’s other school superintendents were also in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting to listen and learn; and she said Santa Rosa City Schools board members and the district staff are re-evaluating their procedures.
"We are looking at what policy we can do differently, how we can be more effective in our communication systems, what we can do differently with the adults that are on our campuses and the services that we provide," Trunnell said.
Santa Rosa City Schools board president Stephanie Manieri said she is excited for what can come from the community expressing their needs and desires for Santa Rosa’s schools.
"After today I feel really hopeful," Manieri said. "I really want to make sure we continue centering student voice in every single conversation we have."
One refrain echoed by numerous community members was their desire to see school police, known as School Resource Officers, or SRO’s return to the city’s schools.
Santa Rosa Police Chief John Cregan said he is committed to making SRO’s available should the district's board members vote to reinstate them.
"School safety is one of the biggest priorities that we have, and we'll find a way to be able to make sure that staff and officers are available to provide us safe campuses here in Santa Rosa," Cregan said.
One speaker, a teacher at Montgomery, noted the repeated student calls for more mental health and counseling resources, but said teachers have a part to play too.
"Humanizing our classrooms is something that all of us teachers can do," they said.
Community member Jeremy De La Torre said everyone in the community needs to acknowledge their role.
"We need to expect everybody to hold accountability for themselves," De La Torre said. "The parents seem to be accountable. The students seem to be accountable. The teachers can be accountable and the administration needs accountable. Law enforcement needs to be accountable. Every person that has a seat at that table needs to have accountability for what they bring."
Another speaker, a teacher as well, said the community shouldn’t lose sight of why they gathered.
"We're here to be solutionaries," they said. "We want to hear the problem, but then we're here to make a change."
One point students made is their concern for personal safety. A concern Olive, a Montgomery freshman, expressed to the crowd through tears.
"When I was in lockdown for three hours, all I was thinking about was what was the last thing I said to my Mom and Dad, what was the last thing I said to my brothers, my teachers, my friends," Olive said. "I feel scared, sad, mad and most of all, unsafe."