SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Parents, teachers and students at Oakdale Elementary School are speaking out after they say their former principal, Dr. Kadhir Rajagopal, known as Dr. Raja, was wrongfully removed after he created a transformative mentoring program at the school. They sent a letter and petition with hundreds of signatures to the Twin Rivers Board of Directors, demanding answers and the reinstatement of the principal.
David Lewis is an 8th grader at Oakdale.
“There’s this teacher named Mr. Pables, he’s in my classes 24/7 making sure I’m doing all my work, making sure I’m not fighting with no students, making sure that I’m not catching a pop outside of class. And coach Ace, she’s on the playground making sure I’m not getting into fights,” said Lewis.
He’s was talking about the experience he has had with the mentorship program created by Rajagopal, the principal at Oakdale until last month.
“And when he left, it was getting kinda rough. But when he was there, when he brought in the mentors, he made sure I was getting all my work done, that my grades was at a 4.0. Not no three, none of that. It was just a 4.0,” explained Lewis.
Lewis’ mom, Sheena Dykes, knows what Rajagopal's presence meant for her son.
“He feels love, understand, he can go to him for grades, he can go to just to talk to him,” said Dykes
Rajagopal was a 2011 California Teacher of the Year. His mentorship program had received hundreds of thousands of dollars of outside funding from organizations like the Sierra Health Foundation. It got underway in September 2021, and parents and teachers say it was making a big change.
Yet on Dec. 17, 2021 the staff at Oakdale received a letter from the Twin Rivers district leaders saying they were changing leadership, and Rajagopal would be joining the district office Special Projects Team, and leaving Oakdale.
ABC10 reached out to Rajagopal who confirmed the move was not his choice.
“It’s been a challenge. It’s been a challenge for my son and other kids that I know to go to that school. And now that the board is trying to take the school away from the community, it’s hard,” explained Dykes.
She wants district leaders to know the impact Rajagopal removal has made.
“Why don’t they come to the school and sit down and see what he has done, see what progress he has with the children, the mentors, the teachers,” Dykes said.
Reuben Ingraham’s son also goes to Oakdale.
“I truly believe in the mentorship program and Dr. Raja,” said Ingraham.
He admitted, Oakdale has struggled for a long time.
“Riots on campus, you know, when Dr. Raja was there, I never heard of one fight. Honestly. But daily I’m getting reports of fights from my son,” explained Ingraham.
He said he wants answers from the Twin Rivers Unified School district.
“That’s the question I have for them is, would you want your son to go to the school the way it is now? And if not, why would you take out the only positive person that they’ve had in the last couple years? I just don’t understand that,” said Ingraham.
ABC10 reached out to Twin Rivers Unified School District for comment. They responded saying:
“As a policy, Twin Rivers Unified does not comment on personnel matters. However, we want to assure our families and the community that the District has no higher priority than providing the best education possible for our students in a high quality learning environment.”
Ingraham said, without Rajagopal, everything just go back to the old way of doing things.
“They’re penalizing the kids. You know you’re getting suspended, you’re getting this. Well that’s the same thing that the penitentiary system shows them. You’re getting penalized. You’re not getting loved. And Dr. Raja brought love to the equation I think,” Ingraham said.