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Helix Mystery: Head of Charter High School Quits After Less Than 2 Years

Rani Goyal resigns as executive director despite legacy of accomplishments at La Mesa school.

A dozen days before graduation and less than two years after taking the school’s top job, Rani Goyal resigned Friday as executive director of .

No explanaton was given publicly.

“As I’m sure you’re aware, we are limited by confidentiality laws that affect our ability to comment on personnel issues,” Helix spokeswoman Jennifer Osborn said late Tuesday night in reply to a Patch query.

“I know you understand that it is not an unwillingness to answer questions, but an inability to do so.”

Osborn shared a memo dated May 25 from the Helix Charter school board to “Helix Community Stakeholders” with the subject line “Change in Executive Director Position.”

The note said:

This letter is to notify the Helix community that, effective today, Executive Director Rani Goyal has resigned from employment.  We wish her the best in the future and want to thank her for all her efforts and contributions to the School and the community.

With the goal of identifying and securing a future leader for HCHS who will carry on Helix’s legacy of educational innovation and excellence, the Charter Board will immediately begin seeking an extremely qualified pool of candidates from which to select its future Executive Director.

Please be assured that it is the Charter Board’s goal to ensure that our students and families experience little to no disruption of the day-to-day routine of the school.

All end-of-the-year activities will proceed as usual, and Helix staff members will assume various roles to make sure this happens.  Further information concerning contact information for high level operations decisions will be forthcoming.

Thank you for your continued support of our School.

Goyal resigned just days before senior boards—portfolio presentations and interviews with community members—that began Tuesday and senior awards on Thursday.

Graduation is June 6.

Goyal was hired in the summer of 2010 in the wake of a battle with the Grossmont Union High School District over its charter status after a series of teacher-student sex incidents.

She succeeded Doug Smith, who resigned after 21 years as part of a settlement between the school district and Helix Charter High.

“We need to start focusing on the positive,”  in an October 2010 interview. “Let’s focus on the present and the future and where we’re going.”

Brian Kick, chater board president at the time, called Goyal a perfect fit for Helix because of her past experiences as an instructional leader.

Goyal took over the top Helix job in early September 2010 after serving as principal for three years at Temecula Valley High School in Riverside County.

“I worked with the teachers to help them better their own practices,” she said at the time—having started a schoolwide intervention program, curriculum teams and increased training for teachers.

At Helix,” she said two years ago, “the board wants me to lead the school in a direction that promotes student achievement.”

Goyal’s accomplishments this year included taking part in trophy ceremonies when the Scotties won their first state football championship. Last year, the baseball team won a CIF division title. She also oversaw several major construction projects—the dedication of a new science building and the groundbreaking of a performing arts building.

But she also was disappointed by the failure of the Grossmont Union High School District board to approve a community garden at Helix. In February, the Grossmont school board rejected a joint-use agreement for the garden on the University Avenue school’s campus.

In January 2011, she was criticized for  what first was reported as a “lockdown” amid a phone threat but later was termed “secure campus” mode. In any case, students reported hearing wild rumors via texting and Twitter—and couldn’t leave classrooms to go to the bathroom.

Goyal, in her mid 40s, is of Indian and Italian descent and has been to Prague, Budapest, Vienna, India, Singapore, Seoul, London, Ireland, Australia and Mexico—all in the past seven years, she said in 2010.

Goyal earned a history degree from James Madison University in Virginia and began her education career in 1990 as a history teacher and later was an assistant principal in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

In 2004, she moved to California, where she served as principal of Leadership Public Schools in San Jose and Richmond, both charter schools.

After four Helix teachers were arrested and convicted of sex crimes between December 2006 and September 2008 and after an assistant principal was accused of giving a troubled student a ride to a bus station in 2009, the Grossmont district’s board threatened to revoke the school’s charter. But a settlement with the charter school in April 2010 led to the hiring of Goyal.

The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding that includes a “compact for positive relations.”

One of the conditions required that “neither party shall say anything negative about the other party.”

Goyal in 2010 said she had no problem working under those conditions.

What happened at Helix, she said in 2010, “was before my tenure and I’m working with the [Grossmont] superintendent to forge a positive partnership between Helix and Grossmont.”

La Mesa Today first reported the resignation Friday afternoon and quoted La Mesa Mayor Art Madrid as saying: “I met with [Goyal] frequently and I was impressed with how she was addressing many of the issues at that school. Frankly, I was shocked to hear this.”

Profiled in 2007 when she took over as principal in Temecula, she was depicted as a single woman, with no children, who said: “This is my life. Temecula is my family.”

The story in the North County Times said Goyal moved to Temecula to be closer to her parents.

“I’m becoming a California girl," she was quoted as saying. “I’m learning how to ‘chill out.’”

In a message posted on the Helix website, Goyal writes:

Thank you for taking the time to look through our website to know more about us; but to really know us is to know the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” 

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