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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