Mike Truesdell, president of Santa Rosa's Cardinal Newman High School, announced he will resign his post at the end of this month after nine years at the Catholic institution marked by recession, a quick transition of the formerly all-boys school to a co-ed format and a recent clash with Santa Rosa's bishop over a controversial morality clause the bishop proposed for the diocese's teachers.
He is set to take over as president of a Jesuit high school in Ohio in the coming school year.
Truesdell, 60, told Cardinal Newman board members, faculty and staff of the decision Friday at the annual staff barbecue. The school year ended Sunday with graduation.
"There's been a lot of good work done at Newman and there's an opportunity to do some good work elsewhere," Truesdell said in an interview late Friday.
Truesdell's departure, however, follows a rocky several months for Cardinal Newman and other Catholic schools under the control of Bishop Robert Vasa, who, since taking office in early 2011, has sought to exert his strict interpretation of church doctrine on a diocese that historically has had a more tolerant approach.
In February, Vasa proposed a contract amendment for all 200 Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese teachers under his control — including Cardinal Newman instructors — that would have required them to affirm that "modern errors" such as contraception, abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia are "matters that gravely offend human dignity."
Truesdell's announcement, which shocked many of 75 staff in attendance at the luncheon, was followed by an outpouring of support.
"He basically said this was the right move for him at this time," said Jeff Bertoli, the Cardinal Newman board chairman.
Teachers, parents and school officials praised his work keeping the 49-year-old school on solid financial footing during a time of fluctuating enrollment and transitioning it into a new co-ed era after the abrupt closure in 2011 of Ursuline High School, Santa Rosa's former all-girls Catholic school. Cardinal Newman now has approximately 640 students, according to the California Department of Education.
"He's just been a fabulous communicator and benefactor to the school in so many ways," Bertoli said.
Vasa's morality clause angered many parents and some teachers, including those at Cardinal Newman, and prompted Vasa to suspend the requirement for the next school year.
One Cardinal Newman teacher said Vasa's approach diverged sharply from Truesdell's.
"I think Mike feels the bishop has a different vision for the school and that his efforts were not appreciated by the bishop," said Jeff Scharfen, who teaches English at Cardinal Newman. "That's my impression."
"I think he wants to go where his energy and efforts are appreciated," Scharfen said of Truesdell.
Truesdell downplayed any suggestion he had clashed with Vasa and said the morality clause had not driven him to look for a new job.
"That was not a motivation for me at all," he said.
He would not say whether he agreed with Vasa's approach, but did defend the school's Catholic identity, which he called "very strong."
A search commmittee has been formed to find Truesdell's replacement. But Vasa, who could not be reached Friday, retains final say over who is hired.
"I'm sure that he will respect what the board does in terms of suggesting candidates," Truesdell said.