Failing the Test: One Question, No Answer at High School #9

Ousted Principal Suzanne Blake

Perhaps as counterpoint to the recent article in LA Progressive about parents trying to be rid of their school’s principal at Mount Washington Elementary School, quite the opposite battle with LAUSD and Local District 4 is taking place downtown as a school community tries to keep their principal – complete with protests at LAUSD HQ featuring students, parents and faculty sporting t-shirts saying “We Support Our Administrators”.

As The LA Times reported, there was a community forum on Monday evening at Central Los Angeles High School #9 (otherwise known as The High School for the Visual and Performing Arts) sponsored by the school’s PTA/PTSA in formation. It was billed as a Meet-and-Greet The New Principal, Luis Lopez – and The New Local District Superintendent, Dr. Dale Vigil – and a Q&A about the recent transfer and replacement of last year’s principal, Suzanne Blake. The meeting was chaired pretty darn well by acting PTSA President Judi Bell. There was histrionics and name calling but no furniture or fruit was tossed and the angry multitudes did not resort to barricades School Police were not called.

It would be nice to say a fine time was had by all ..and it would be completely dishonest. I doubt if anyone had a good time or a a good day – with the possible exceptions of those spectacularly absent.

One can often judge a meeting by those not in attendance. School Board President Mónica García, seen by many as the behind-the-scenes manipulator of the ouster; Superintendent Ramon Garcia – whose promise to Blake and her staff that she would be back next year was reversed. And Principal Blake, the aggrieved party …unless you count the students, faculty, staff, parents and school community. And believe me, they consider themselves uncounted.

Seeing as García, Cortines, and Blake weren’t there there they were subjects of most of the questioning.

There was one recurring question, asked over and over, re-parsed, rephrased – made hypothetical and deconstructed ad infinitum. It is the question posed in this week’s AALA newsletter. It is The Big Question, asked and not answered:

Q: Why was Ms. Blake removed and replaced?

And the answer offered by Dr. Vigil:

A: For personnel reasons that I am not a liberty to disclose to protect District employees.

He himself called it a wall: “I’ve put up a wall.” A wall of silence. Of obfuscation. All in all, just another brick. That wall.

This much was disclosed:

  • By personnel he means personnel, not personal.
  • Ms. Blake has not been informed of the transgressions, actions or lack thereof that triggered her ouster; she will be notified in due course.
  • Whatever occurred or didn’t occur does not approach criminal activity; this removal should not be considered disciplinary. It is administrative. Or perhaps: administrival.
  • Superintendent Cortines was not aware of the allegations when he spoke to Blake and her staff; he has since been informed.
  • The alleged mistakes/error/whatever were uncovered by Virgil himself in his first few days in the job, based on interviews, staff reports and data he reviewed – all confidential.
  • As far as Vigil is concerned, his decision is final and irreversible. Blake will not be back at HS#9. No way. No how.

Because this is a personnel matter the reasons will probably never be disclosed.

As far as the Protocol of the Pilot School Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) – which gives the School Site Council a role in administrator selection, being violated – Vigil stated that because the SSC never approved their by-laws the issue is moot: HS#9 does not have and never had a functioning SSC!

Of those questioned, new principal Luis Lopez came off best – he defended his tenure at Franklin High School and that school itself and pointed out that he has an arts background in dance – is a credentialed math teacher – and has experience administering at high achieving schools like Bravo Medical Magnet and at schools with challenges: Manual Arts and Franklin.

In fairness, Dr. Vigil acquitted himself admirably – he was constantly under attack from an overwhelmingly hostile audience; made all the more so by their questions being unanswered.

Suzanne Blake was universally praised and praised again, by teachers, by students, by parents. “Ms. Blake believed in us more than we believed in ourselves”, “Ms. Blake came down and ate lunch with us” ― the first year was “a raging success”.

But that said – there are questions besides the The Big Question – some asked and some not – that deserve an answer.

  1. There are allegations of strings being pulled and back room deals being made.
  2. What was the role of Board President Mónica García in this matter – and was it appropriate?
  3. Ditto for Mayor Tony and Eli Broad
  4. Ms Blake’s transfer out was obviously involuntary; was Mr. Lopez’ transfer from Franklin voluntary?
  5. Did any of this contribute the Superintendent Cortines decision to retire before his contract is up?
  6. If the SSC did not exist what is the legal status of their decision-making over the past year? Isn’t the failure to constitute a SSC the responsibility of the LAUSD Parent Community Services Branch? Was last year like that ‘Bobby’s Dream’ season of Dallas?

And finally: When Ms. Blake’s’ transfer was first announced the reason given was that she lacked High School experience, indeed she was initially reassigned to a Middle School. The rationale now given is this undisclosed/undisclosable personnel matter.

And, gentle readers, if you’ve read this far let me take you out on an editorial limb – in a direction I feel drawn uncomfortably and inescapably – with two questions and a bit of irony drawn from the McCarthy Era.

  • What did Dale Vigil, Ray Cortines, and Mónica García know and do …and when did they know or do it?
  • How exactly is a secret list: “I have here a list of X communists” different from a secret accusation, “I have a personnel matter I cannot disclose”?
  • The school play next year at LA Central High School#9, The Visual and Performing Arts High School is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

scott folsomDoes Eli Broad save HS#9 with a charter school? …or do the parents and staff?

Scott Folsom

Scott Folsom is an advocate for public education in Los Angeles. He sits on the LAUSD Bond Oversight Committee as well as numerous advisory and policy making committees and task forces at the district. He blogs at 4LAKids.blogspot.com and is on the boards of a number of non-profits dealing with child and parent advocacy, education, nutrition, fitness and health. A retired filmmaker, he lives in Mt. Washington with his wife and cat; his daughter is an English Major at an expensive college in Maine.

His opinions are his own – but he invites any and everyone to share them!

Published by the LA Progressive on July 30, 2010
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Comments

  1. Just to elaborate on PTSA and the difficulty in outreaching to its school community:

    I was on the PTA board for three years of a grade school that has a 50 per cent Hispanic enrollment (a full magnet). Our president herself translated all the materials (whether PTA or from the administration) that went home to the parents. In the newsletter, we indicated that if anyone requested a translator (be it for Spanish or ASL), as long as they did so with three weeks notice, we would have one.

    If you grew up in a school with an active PTA (my mother was membership chair and held other offices at my grade school many years ago), you often knew how much PTA would do for the school. It was a no-brainer for me to join my daughter’s PTA (and also include a membership for my husband). But as I said, I grew up understanding how much time the involved parents gave to the schools.

    For parents who came from another country or maybe only attended private schools, PTA may just seem like a group of parents who fund raise for the school or organize a school carnival. And the attitude may be, well, I don’t have the time or inclination, so let them do all the work. And I’m not going to give them $5 or $6 as the school district should be providing all this.

    It is very frustrating to try to involve all parents in the PTA when many don’t want to be involve. We had even said that you don’t need to go to the meetings if you can’t, but we should would love it if you give us feedback as to why (we even varied our schedule so we could have meetings both in the mornings and at night — even two meetings on the same date for the officer elections).

    At the magnet school, many of those involved in the PTA also were involved in the Title I meetings, SSC, etc. And we tried to post many of the minutes online or would send them to members who asked them to be emailed to them. But again, we didn’t have 100 per cent membership or even close, and that was frustrating to us.

    So, my suggestion is to stop trying to make this us vs them (as it’s been noted in many articles about Blake’s removal, there were problems getting to that local/outside quota, but it wasn’t the fault of Ms. Blake — who wasn’t even hired on until April prior to the school’s opening, but that was after many students were already committed to continuing in their current schools — or of the PTSA, or even your committee, none of which hadn’t even been formed yet). Why not have all the school committees work as a unit to make the school as great as it could be. And it seems from all that I’ve read, that many feel Ms. Blake had been working to this goal. Even if the school year wasn’t perfect (what school is?), maybe her second year would have been extraordinary.

  2. Lourdes Perez-Fox says:

    Sara, Thank you for being an active voice in the community. But your opposition to Suzanne Blake is well documented. And your claim that the majority of our parents at VAPA speak Spanish is COMPLETELY INCORRECT. PTSA President Ms. Bell had asked for parent phone numbers before school ended in June so she could do her first round of PTSA outreach in the summer (to encourage parent involvement in the PTSA from ALL FAMILIES). Little did we know the politics that would unfold. What you need to know is that on the rosters she acquired from the school office, their were 17 pages of students’ contact information whose parents were documented by LAUSD as communicating in ENGLISH-ONLY. This means that those parents chose back when their kids first enrolled in LAUSD as to what language they preferred to be contacted (i.e. report cards, mail from district, etc). In contrast, their were 11 pages of students at VAPA whose parents are documented as requiring SPANISH correspondence. So you need to get your facts straight. The sooner you come to terms with that FACTUAL reality the sooner your voice will be seen as a positive contribution, as opposed to a voice with her own agenda. If you can’t at least admit that flaw in your thinking and interpretation of real facts, then I publicly encourage someone to run against you for your ELAC seat. This is all about working together, I agree. But you are not always right. And in this case, in regards to any reasons why you are supporting the removal of Blake and now welcoming Lopez with open-arms, you are wrong. And statements you are making are really upsetting a lot of people because you seem to want everything to be perfect from Day 1. We are a new school, and these things take time and planning and collaboration. Another person’s comments posted above have me worried about Lopez. At the very least if Blake is gone, we should have been able to choose her replacement. Not have one just forced upon our school. The precedent that is being set here is terrifying. Because guess what, Shakir…. it is VERY difficult to get rid of a Principal. If Lopez underperforms, you will not be able to get rid of him.By supporting the removal of Blake and encouraging people to move on and get along, you are being a coward. You are falling for the same system that you grew up in as a BZOC resident. I graduated from Belmont. And this political stuff needs to stop. Please stand with us in opposition to this LAUSD travesty.

  3. Sara Shakir says:

    Maria, What happened? Why are you attacking me this way? Let’s not loose focus. It is not about me or Mrs. Blake or Dr. Vigil or Mr. Lopez, is it? We are not that important – That would be presumptuous. To me, it is about our kids and our communities.

    Read my post to Gavin.

    Also for your tranquility I do leave in the BZOC and frankly I don’t think we’ve met yet, but if you think I am a hypocrite because you think I don’t live in the BZOC, let me tell you that I would care the same even if that was the case. I care about this area because I have lived here the great majority of my life and I know we have big issues with graduation rates and economic mobility. I just care, and I am willing to advocate for those who are not present.

    Lastly, I encourage the efforts of the PTSA to continue its broad outreach, but i do believe it has to be more inclusive. I respect the work done by Judi Bell and other parents a lot. However, I got comments from frightened parents after last meeting. What are we doing (all PTSA, SSC, ELAC, CEAC ) to make all feel welcomed?

    Take care, and I hope we can meet and work together.
    Respectfully,
    Sara

    “A nation’s (a society’s) greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

  4. Sara Shakir says:

    Gavin, thanks for your views and comments on bilingual education. Today I had lunch with a fantastic parent who made it so clear to me what double immersion programs have done for her daughters. Amazing! They can read, speak and write wonderfully in both English and Spanish, and both of them are well on their way to college. I believe this will serve them well in life, as it has to so many of us. I have friends who have gone into the diplomatic service, foreign relations, commerce, etc, thanks to their mastery of more than one language.

    See, the point is not bilingualism or not. Why are we fighting? From your posting and our brief conversations I know you care about your kids and their education. I happen to care for the same things and I would like to see high expectations infuse into our school culture. That is all. Is this wrong? Are we not on the same page?

    The reason I advocate for Spanish outreach is because to help the students we need, i think, to get parents involved and not all the parents – in fact, a great majority do not- speak English. But, listen if you have a better idea I will be happy to work with you to bring grades up, and to get 100% of our seniors graduate this year – Let me know.

    BTW, I have been a media worker for some time and a lot of people know this. I just don’t think is that relevant to our work at school. I am happy to bring my craft to use when is relevant, in fact I did a presentation for Career Day and I brought a friend with me, just like many other parents and staff.

  5. I don’t have a child at the school, but she has been on a tour of the school and was interested in attending it for the 2011-12 year when she’s in ninth grade as she is interested in the curriculum.

    But it sounds that she won’t be welcomed there from the tone of Ms. Shakir’s post. She does have a proud ethnic background (Lithuanian, Latvian, Romanian, Polish, Russian among others), but I guess because of that and because we don’t reside in that Belmont area, she wouldn’t be right for the school, per Ms. Shakir.

    BTW, I once asked my mother what language (Latvian, Russian, Yiddish) did her father speak growing up. She said that the family came to the US when he was about one (in the late 19th Century) and even though his parents talked Yiddish, they insisted that he learn English as his primary language.

    Y’know, Ms. Shakir, anyone can be a racist. It isn’t a nice quality in anyone. So maybe students should be identified by their grade, and not anything else. Not even where they live.

  6. I’m so … I’m not sure I have a word for it … I will need time to digest (if that’s possible) Ms. Shakir’s diatribe against Principal Blake, the PTSA and ANYONE who wants answers from LAUSD. NOBODY IS TAKING ANYTHING AWAY FROM THE LATINO COMMUNITY — don’t you get it??? We are all ONE community – the LAUSD community, no matter the language, ethnicity or socioeconomic status — yet what I hear from Ms. Shakir is a tone of victimization, ownership, and ethnic and socioeconomic bias. Well then, let’s survey EVERYONE – students, parents, community, etc. and PUBLISH the outcome of the responses. That is the DEMOCRATIC thing to do. Ms. Shakir, Ms. Garcia, Dr. Vigil, etc. — VAPA has only been in existence for ONE YEAR!!! Could you have done better than Ms. Blake, the PTSA, etc. with the time or tools given to them — IN ONE YEAR??? I can’t seem to find the fairness in any of this.

    Sadly, BY HER OWN CHOICE, my daughter may be returning to her old school. She feels VAPA will not be the same, that the controversy will affect the students and the teachers, that kids may create ethnic clicks, and the focus on what VAPA is about (and they pride in being part of VAPA) will be lost. If she does return to her old school, she and I will continue to support VAPA in finding a resolution to what can be one of LAUSD’s most regrettable decision.

    “Sara Shakir for Principal!!!” [NOT]
    Recall Dale Vigil!!!
    Recall Monica Garcia

  7. Wow… it just keeps getting deeper.

    #9 has a Latino student majority, a Latina School Board president, a Latino LAUSD Supervisor, a Latino District Supervisor and 3 out of 4 Asst. Principals have Latino surnames. Now a Latino Principal who is close with the school board president… replaces an African American principal. Change Latino to “white” or “black” and see how it sounds.

    I can’t wrap my head around the idea that the #9 Latino students are under-seved or discriminated against. Why not ask THEM?

    Belmont Parents are welcome to the PTLA, SCC and other organizations. Please show evidence otherwise. And I personally developed a text service in Spanish to better communicate, and stood outside the school for 2 hours handing Spanish flyers about the service to Spanish-speaking parents.

    FYI… The small amount of involvement by local BMOZ parents is much, much more complex than they don’t feel ‘welcome”… I’m sure this problem can be studied, addressed and nurtured, but to blame non-Latino parents is pathetic.

    The #9 students are not hung up on race the way their parents are… let’s not teach them our worst traits.

  8. Sara Shakir needs to get her facts straight. Again, making demands and accusations that promote here-say. Shakir doesn’t even live in the bzoc. What a hypocrite. If her idea of a bad principal is Ms. Blake, just wait till she experiences Lopez. This is coming from a parent who went two elac meetings and two ssc meetings last year, and whose child attended Franklin for two years until we pulled him out because of the mess at Franklin. Not everyone in the bzoc supports Shakir or her one-sided views. Its ok though. She is alienating herself everytime she opens her mouth these days. And tell me Shakir…. The ptsa was barely created in June and has already reached out to 100% of the vapa families in an effort to notify them about last weeks forum, and to also get them involved. What has elac done to make all vapa families feel welcome or to encourage involvement? Aren’t u the chair? Or do english-only families not have a seat at YOUR elac table? Food for thought.

  9. Sara Shakir says:

    Mr. Folsom, you have confessed (at the PTSA formation meeting on July 16th) that you are a good friend of Ms. Blake, so you are being objective in your analysis? Here are some issues I have with your views:

    1- Who organized the meeting you are referring to? The PTSA, which by the way lacks any membership from the Belmont Zone of Choice, and it poorly, if at all, represents the demographics of the Pico-Union area that this school should be serving (poor, low-income residents in the inner city). In addition, most of the PTSA members never attended any SSC, ELAC or CEAC meetings – One or two did attended once or twice, but most of them were never there…However, they were invited to the 2nd WASC visit while other parents never learned about it (!) Are you aware of the role the PTSA is playing on this struggle? Why is it one-sided?

    2- When my daughter heard (at the meeting) that Ms. Blake used to sit at lunch with some students and all of the testimonies about how close she was to their families, she told me “how come she (Ms. Blake) never came to sit down at our table? She never said hi to me or any of my friends. Why?” I frankly don’t know, I told her, inside myself I said: I hope it wasn’t because I was involved in the school governance and we had vigorous discussions at times, or maybe because she liked some students and families more than others…I don’t know but I truly hope that was not the case. What is true is that few students had the same experiences expressed by the FEW at the meeting (maybe 30 students represented?)

    3 – BTW, talking about numbers and attendance in the meeting you cite:

    Do you know how many parents from the BZOC we had that night? I think we only had 3-4 (Why this is so, is also a good question, but I will leave it for another posting)

    Do you know how many of Ms. Blake’s friends were there? I guess from the ones who identified themselves, just about 4-5 who do not even live in the area, including her husband.

    Do you know how many students/parents we have at school, including the ones out of the district? 1053 families (463 from the BZOC, 597 from out of the area, according to school numbers send to the district and presented at the SSC)

    So how representative of the student population was at the meeting in your view?

    4- You forgot to mention the written and oral comments welcoming Mr. Lopez and highlighting issues from the previous year that myself and other parents expressed at the same meeting, are we not relevant to your analysis? Why?

    5- The SSC has existed in full plenitude. I have attended every meeting and there are very important decisions that came thru this body this year, i.e. The Election To Work Agreement (ETWA) for teachers, 2010-11 budget, etc. It could have accomplished more, including the evaluation of the principal and the recommendation of the school leader for the current principal or for other leader. This in addition to the creation of budget, staff, curriculum, schedules and governance committees mandated by the MOU and ETWA but the administrators opposed the immediate action on these items, correctly advocating for more inclusion – which we should be working on NOW within the school community.

    Also, remember that the SSC “recommends the selection of the school leader (with the Local District Superintendent having final authority)”

    I hope the PTSA works to be more inclusive and avoids supporting ONLY a selective group of parents and their views.

    Sincerely,
    Sara Shakir
    CLAHS 9 Parent/ELAC Chair, CEAC member

    • Gavin Glynn says:

      Ms. Shakir,

      You need to disclose you are a radio personality for Radio Bilingue
      and you are preferring a bilingual principal but not advocating
      bilingualism for the students in order to access higher education
      especially since it is required for entrance to the UC school system.

      Your fight is with LAUSDSBM Monica Garcia forgiving you a school
      with no salary for a bilingual community outreach parent/teacher.
      You claim the parents do not feel welcomed to VAPA. Who waits
      for an invitation? 64% of the Latino Agelenos quit H.S. by 16 years
      of age. The number one reason is not quality of education but the
      necessity to help assist with the family economics. Every community
      college now offers dual enrollment for H.S./College for Latino students
      to have a more flexible h.s. schedule in order to fit in employment.
      VAPA only had 20% students not matriculate to the 10th grade and they
      were not all Latino students. Latino students have academically fared better at VAPA then other LAUSD school district wide.

      Mr. Luis Lopez clearly states in his biography he came to this country not
      knowing a word of English. His teachers at Ben Franklin pushed him to learn English even when he wanted to give up H.S. and quit. It is because of his
      this support to learn English he was able to access Occidental College
      a few years behind Barak Obama. Ms. Blake’s CAHSEE scores were at 85% which are higher than LACES (which was rated #26 in US High Schools by Newsweeks magazine).

      It is clear you have a agenda of protectionism of VAPA for your own edification and satisfaction. Your racist attitudes toward American taxpayers who want the best campus for a arts education is flagrant and unconstitutional. It is a downtown campus and more parents attend from 30 miles away than parents
      living 2 blocks away. If the meetings are not convenient for double income
      Belmonters then request Saturday morning meetings. This lack of parents involvement is prevalent throughout LAUSD. I have heard to my face “I do not like to go to the school at night, it is too dangerous”, I am afraid of the black students might hurt my child”, “In my country we drop off our kids and do not ask question because the teacher is always right”, “My English is no good and I am embarrassed to speak”, “I do not want the government to know I am illegal”.
      “I go to work all day and am too tired to go to the school”. Then I see the some parents driving away in a 77K 2010 Cadillac Navigator or better. The LAUSD attitude assessment in 2008 revealed Koreans, Russian, and Filipinos rate
      education first, family, then employment. Latinos by in large rated Employment, family, religion, then education in this order. Employment first because many were living check to check or hand to mouth.

      My in-laws were immigrants and today remain illiterate in Spanish and English
      but speak both languages. Their daughter was the first Mexican-American Latina to attend Yale when it became co-ed. She is a Ford Scholar and attended Stanford U. for her masters and UCLA for her Law degree (passing in top 1% the first time). She was inducted as the President of the Mexican-American Bar Association. I asked my mother-in-law how did she know what educational choices to make for her kids? She answered “my kids interpreted for me” and
      “I show up to the Catholic schools and offer to cook and my husband mow the lawns at Loyola. What ever we had to do to get the education. Today you do not need to know English because you can open a business with no English customers.” She opened 5 restaurants and put 25 nieces and nephews into homes and used cars by negotiating the deal for them all in Spanish. “It is easier to lay an egg than to learn English.” Her son attended Pomona and Cal Arts and is a top costumer in Hollywood (Inception, Shutter Island, Social Network). Her baby was one of the first students to experience bilingual
      education in the 70s. He dropped out at 15, sold drugs, became a dad
      and got his G.E.D. and married the mother of his children. He said the bilingual education was the worst mistake of his parents. Teachers spoke only Spanish until 6th grade then switched to English cold with no transitions and he said he was lost from then on. He is gainfully employed by Cal Trans.

      The philosophy was if you sent the kids home with homework in Spanish
      it would raise the level of the parent’s education. It failed miserably and
      has been revamped three times since then. The pedagogy on foreign language is “how you learn your first language is how you will learn your second language.” If you were not taught Spanish properly in the home you will not learn English properly in school. My in-laws spoke proper Spanish having never set foot in a classroom. Spanish Radio taught them proper Spanish and they corrected their children’s Spanish. To this day they correct my and their children’s Spanish at family gatherings. The Koreans, Russians, Filipinos, Armenians, Chinese, Japanese, and Jewish send their children to language schools on Saturday mornings. The Latino population needs to follow suit and send their children to Spanish saturday schools to prevent them from learning Spanglish. Spanglish students speak Spanish at home but not enough to solve their problems and they speak enough English at school but not well enough to score high on tests. If the students learns in his native tongue properly he will learn proper English. Latinos who take Spanish in High School have higher tests scores in English. “Taking care of their own” is an immigrant’s credo in America!
      However, it does not mean make the schools take care of their own community’s culture but rather respect it and work with it.

      Gavin Glynn
      Parent

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