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Officials challenged at forum over principal's removal from downtown L.A. arts high school

Students on campus on the last day of school at Central Los Angeles High School #9 in downtown Los Angeles, shown June 18. Credit: Brian van der Brug/ Los Angeles Times The sudden removal this month of the principal who headed the downtown Los Angeles arts high school has sparked an outcry, including a recent street protest and a combative forum Monday night attended by about 200 people.

Principal Suzanne Blake learned July 12 of her removal from Central Los Angeles High School No. 9, the $232-million arts campus that enjoyed a largely successful first year after a series of controversies, mostly before the school opened.

Monday's meeting took place in the school’s state-of-the-art auditorium, where local area superintendent Dale Vigil respectfully listened to statements and questions for three hours. His answers appeared to satisfy few.

Vigil repeatedly said that he couldn’t discuss specific reasons for Blake’s transfer because it was a “personnel matter,” and he’s legally required to protect an employee’s privacy.

“I have to go with the information and data that I have that I can’t share with you,” Vigil said.

He conceded that he hasn’t told Blake the reason for her transfer either.

“At this point she does not know,” Vigil said. “But in time she will.”

This response drew both laughter and angry shouts from audience members who protested that Blake and her supporters have been unable to defend her record.

Vigil later offered that he made his decision based on discussions with some staff members and district administrators.

Blake’s supporters have speculated about whether any role was played by school board President Monica Garcia, who criticized the school administration for not ensuring that 70% of students came from the low-income neighborhoods near the school.

Vigil, a former Bay Area superintendent who joined the district in late June, said the decision to remove Blake was his own. In an earlier interview, Vigil said Blake would run a middle school in Glassell Park. L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has since given Blake the option of opening a new middle school.

Blake was not present, but in an earlier interview she said that the 70% enrollment target for neighborhood students has been fully achieved in the incoming ninth-grade class, and that her late hire and the complications of opening the school hampered recruitment in the first year. In addition, the district itself sent over students misclassified as neighborhood residents, she said.

One speaker said Blake made it difficult to receive academic and budget information. Another faulted Blake for not speaking Spanish, but nearly all speakers lauded the principal.

Parent Tamar Rosenthal said Blake made students “feel warm, safe and affirmed” and recounted her tearful daughter saying, “Ms. Blake believes more in us than we believed in ourselves.”

Blake was “kind of the soul and heart of the school,” Rosenthal said.

“We need some reasons,” said 10th-grader Clementine Gamson Levy.

Joining Vigil was newly assigned principal Luis Lopez, who has served as principal at Franklin High in Highland Park for the last five years.

-- Howard Blume

Photo: Students on campus on the last day of school, June 18, at Central Los Angeles High School No. 9. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (45)

Face it, an Anglo that can't speak Spanish has no chance of getting or keeping a job in LA. If you don't believe me, take a quick look at the listings in Education or Nonprofits in Craigslist, most will require or prefer bilingual Spanish/English.

Welcome to the new world order, where the inmates are in charge of the asylum and the non-English speakers rule.

Ensure that 70% of the students come from "low-income neighborhoods near the school" sounds like "illegal aliens or their children," and the fishy non-explanation on Ms. Blake's dismissal feeds into the ethnocentric conspiracy theory now widely broadcast by La Raza types. Coming from a low-income neighborhood now affords an academic advantage in Los Angeles, where half the students fail to complete high school. Los Angeles should support and court gifted students regardless of their neighborhood.

I was there last night... Mr. Vigil got skinned alive. It was a bloodbath. And now this is a political nightmare for LAUSD. Vigil clearly had no idea what he was dealing with when proceeding to remove Ms. Blake. He should have definitely sought input from stakeholders (students, parents, and teachers) before removing Ms. Blake from her position as Principal. Everything Vigil did was in the middle of Summer, and it's clear that he and Monica Garcia have some kind of arrangement. Perhaps it was something Garcia told him he had to do in order to be hired? As a favor perhaps? It just reeks of conspiracy and fishy politics. I mean, how can someone who has only been on the job for 1 week (at the time Ms. Blake was removed) have any sort of thorough insight to make the decision that he did... unless someone guided him in that direction?! One parent at the meeting last night compared what he did to "coming in the middle of the night and kidnapping our mother". Vigil was a jerk to the parents and to the kids last night. He gave no answers. But you can tell he's nervous. What happened last night doesnt usually happen at public schools... it was like a private school lynch mob. That's how fired up the parents and students are about this. Glad that parents were talking about taking legal action. Also, on our way out my daughter heard students discussing holding a sit-in protest the first day of school if Vigil doesn't return Principal Blake. Vigil acted like a loose cannon, and now LAUSD will get more bad press. Typical, they are clueless. By the way, Channel 11 FOX news was there interviewing parents and kids outside too. It was on the 10pm news.

The principal was "faulted for not speaking Spanish"? Maybe the parents should be "faulted" for not speaking English.

Why is Dr. Vigil legally required to protect only some employees? The unnamed phantom receives full protection yet Ms. Blake, another one of his employees is publicly slandered.

It does not seem ethical for an employer to not disclose the reason/s with an employee. Ms. Blake deserves the right to know why she is being transferred. How is hiding the reasons protecting the employee? Apparently someone is being "protected." I don't think it's Ms. Blake.

this vigil sounds unreal, is he aa product of lausd?

It is pretty transparent that Monica made an end run around Cortines and removed Blake. She has made it public that she wanted long time friend Luis Lopez to be principal and we know that whatever Monica wants, Monica gets. Her greed for power will do her in just like the City officials at Bell.

Local District 4 Head Dale Vigil ignored the required authority of the staff of the school of the arts in removing Ms. Blake and appointing a new principal with absolutely NO input from the faculty or parents. In placing Principal Lopez into a much-coveted position he had been denied by the school site council last year, the school site council was completely disregarded, their authority unquestionably usurped. What is clear is that Principal Luis is a very close ally and friend of LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia. LA Times-please look into this further as these types of top-down decisions only destroy the cohesion and team efforts required to successful run a public school in such terribly trying times.

Principals are moved usually move from job to job because of complaints by parents. However, in this case, the principal received rave reviews from parents, teachers and students. This level of support is not very common for LAUSD principals, yet this one was removed. If she committed a crime or is being accused of mismanagement, then how does the district explain that she is going to be placed in another school? The cause of this removal is mostly likely politically motivated. If LAUSD states that parents, teachers and students are such an important part of a school community, how can it explain that all three groups desparately want this principal to return and continue to build on the first year's amazing successes.

This forum was arranged in a very constructive manner by the parents and PTSA at the school. Students, parents, teachers and administrators from CLAHS#9, as well as community members, arrived thinking we would get answers and be able to show our support for Ms. Blake. Instead, we were stonewalled at every turn and told that there was nothing to discuss or understand about the situation.
I am outraged at the way LAUSD has treated Ms. Blake and now I am outraged at the way this school district is treating us, the stakeholders at this school.
The message to students is basically that you can work with integrity, set and achieve goals, be a well-regarded and respected leader and still be dismissed for secret unknown reasons. This is appalling!
The message to the stakeholders? I think everyone who was there got the message loud and clear.

So what's with the secrecy? If there's a valid reason to make a change, why not state it? It doesn't pass the smell test, and those protesting this matter know it.

It's bad enough to quickly remove an employee - albeit a school leader - without informing that person of the reasons for removal. But, even if the principal were doing an awful job (which, from the articles that have been presented in the last several weeks, she seems to be doing decently with the resources she has), that is no excuse for the shameful way that LAUSD officials have handled this matter. Is Vigil some kind of academic Merlin or wizard to keep the principal in the dark? I wonder what would happen if school leaders handled the "dismissal" of chronically disruptive kids and students who deliberately failed all their classes?

This is the way LAUSD is operating. Part of it is racial. If you are not part of the Latino male macho crowd, you're out. it is really sad. People come here looking for democracy and then they don't respect it. We are slipping backwards in LAUSD when it comes to sexism and racism, but mostly at the top at the administrative level.

ONE QUESTION???? Why isn't this article in today's LA Times print edition? Did someone at LAUSD tell the paper NOT TO PRINT THIS STORY ???? If that is the case, then someone at the LA Times is controlling the news and not serving the public interest. Is anyone surprised????

This makes no sense. Why move the Principal to another school if she was doing a good job.... Especially in the first year of the school being opened when the school culture is just taking shape? It appears this Principal had overwhelming support of the school community she was hired to lead. Even if a few people didn't like her or might prefer the new guy, it does not justify the way in which she is being treated. How can you not tell someone why they are being fired from their job? Oh wait. She wasn't fired??? She was transferred? It sounds like this Vigil is alluding to something Blake did that was illegal. If so, then why would she still even be allowed to be a Principal at another school? Vigil is doing someone else's dirty work. I agree with the comment posted earlier that perhaps he was given this task by Monica Garcia as a requirement of his employment. What might he get in return? Hmmmm..... Well Cortines IS retiring. My guess is that Vigil is scratching Monica Garcia's back so her friend Luis Lopez can be Principal, and in return she will scratch his back when it comes time to OFFICIALLY fill Cortines seat as LAUSD SUperintendent. Deasy doesn't officially have the job yet. But a snag in the plan seems to have occurred: the stakeholders of this high school are mad actually PARTICIPATING!!!! Wow! How can Vigil not reverse his decision under such pressure? He will be committing public relations suicide if he lets thing stand as is. No replacing Cortines for you, Mr. Vigil. LOL @ LAUSD!!! PS - Why is this article not in today's print edition? I've never seen an article posted here that didnt make the print edition on news stands. LAUSD calling in favors perhaps?

this is soooo messed up. i don't even go to that school or have any ties. i was just bored and reading the latest news in the education section. a principal does well and they take her out after one year? makes absolutely no sense at all. there is this thing called due process. this blake lady should be told now. she has the right to defend herself. this is america after all. but this lausd guy vigil is running things like its a mafia. sounds like parents have a voice, but no choice. i say you file legal action against the district if you are the parents.

It seems to be the case more and more, every week, every year: the values of democratic principle, i.e., governance OF the people, governance BY the people, and governance FOR the people who are citizens of the governed organization, is slipping farther and farther away from us here in the USA. We have a war on our hands, and it's not in those places where we're wasting money and lives overseas -- it's right here in front of us. Plutocracy is taking over at the highest levels in our nation, and about to assume command as chief executive in the State of California (??) -- small wonder the LAUSD apparently believes that the same thing is OK in LA. As someone commented above: the LA Times should probe further into this high-handed, under-handed behavior by the top officials of an organization that has the charge of educating our children, at the behest of knowledge the petty-minded, egotistical decision only destroy the cohesion and team efforts required to successful run a public school in any time. Just think... it's an opportunity to communicate some actual news!

Let's see, you have a new school, things are going well, so you decide to replace the principal with someone from a failing school across town.

As usual, zero accountability from LAUSD. Its hard to tell who hates accountability more, LAUSD or UTLA.

This situation is very disturbing, in so many ways.
Given the poor state of public education today throughout the country, and in California and Los Angeles in particular, it seems capricious at best, and maybe politically malfeasant and conspiratorial, at worst, to remove a high-performing principal, with a 22 year track record of excellence and dedication without a stated reason.
From all accounts, CLAHS #9 has had an incredibly successful first year under the leadership of Suzanne Blake. In the initial year of any new institution, how many things usually go wrong? CLAHS #9's great success seems almost unimaginable. A high-scoring, crime free, public school campus filled with students who want to learn. I know, Ms. Blake should not be given all the credit for this success; she must share it with the students, parents, teachers, arts community and the school board. The school board should be proud of this success too. This success should be built upon, with the successful team that was in place, not torn apart. If adjustments need to be made, make them, but why remove a successful principal, who is supported by an overwhelming percentage of the parents and students at this flagship high school, to try out someone else. Is the Board so sure that Mr. Lopez would be so much better at running this school? What evidence do they present?
Parent are exhorted regularly that they need to be involved in their child's education, for that education to be successful. Here, there is a site committee that is supposed to be involved in decision making, that wants to be involved in decision making, and they have been frozen out, their opinions ignored. The next time I hear a quote from an LA school board member that "parents must take interest and be involved in their child's education,” I will laugh. What lip service, the board and the administration obviously only want such involvement when it suits themselves.

To the Board, get honest folks. If there was an actionable offense that compelled the removal of Suzanne Blake, at least let her know what it was, then she can make the matter public if she wishes. What are you teaching the students of Los Angeles with this action; that it is okay to accuse and act without facts, without evidence? That hard work and dedication and success might not be honored or rewarded? That justice and the rule of law are not a requirement in public affairs? That character assassination and innuendo are acceptable to accomplish your goals?
All of Los Angeles deserves an honest response to these issues. Quality public education is of concern to all citizens.

Ditto, ditto all above comments. The whole thing smells like rotten fish to me. I find it very sad when you are faulted for not speaking Spanish. My parents immigrated from Europe many years ago and bent over backwards to learn to read and speak English. They did not expect a translator. Why does a $232-million school have to cater to low-income with a Spanish speaking principal?
I'm sure the LAUSD did not know the nightmare they were creating for themselves with Ms. Blake's transfer. Those of us who know and admire her so much will keep getting louder and louder!! Also, I too am wondering why this isn't in the print version of the paper?? Seems pretty news worthy to me.

Bravo to Jeffrey Rathaus to his excellent comments above.

Why bother to have schools start school site councils if their opinions are discounted when they're counter to the desires of the school board president?

Why was there no comment in the LA Times on the fact that Dr.Vigil was a local superintendent in Los Angeles Unified School District just a few short years ago? And why was it not reported that when he did become that local district's superintendent, he removed a popular principal from the largest elementary school in the nation if not in the world, and replaced him with a man who was a friend of his from his San Diego gig, rather than from the extremely qualified administrators in LAUSD? Is is just a rumor or was that said principal given a free rental car, pre-paid gas card and a paid for condo to live in for his first year in LAUSD? Are these just "stories" that are discussed in the community or are they true? Is it that the reporter on this particular story forgot to do his/her background checks on the main players in this story, like Dr. Vigil? Any information on his work in the local district in which he was a superintendent? There must be some stories there as to how he handled "difficult" situations wouldn't you think? Regarding the new downtown LA high school, if having a Spanish surname and, or speaking Spanish takes priority over being an excellent principal, I would say, LAUSD has already suffered miserably from doing this very thing in the past. Ironically most of the "replacements" are not only Hispanic but male. Why is this so much more important than having a quality administrator? Does Dr. Vigil have a selective agenda? Why is he back in LAUSD? Under what circumstances did he leave his San Diego area position in the first place and his most recent post in San Francisco? Is he retired and working as an "interim" at a "consultant" fee, which seems to be more than a regular administrator salary? Come on LA Times. You can do better at reporting than this, can't you? These points need to be aired in the public arena. We need some answers about the decisions LAUSD makes with their administrative staff. They are the ones who are the "leaders" and they need to be held accountable for what is going on and how the monies in LAUSD are "appropriated". Susan Blake seems to have been there a short time with an enormous task and it sounds like she did a great job considering that she was "brought on board" long after the school was set and in motion. Typical LAUSD move, so it seems. That way they never need to take responsibility for any failures for what is going on in their schools as it appears. (I mean, I could be wrong here but how would I know without that background check?) And while your at it LA Times, why not look into how and why this school district can legally hide funds without telling the public how much is in an account and for what it is supposed to be used. It's time to play hard ball and get down to it. Anyone on the LA Times staff willing to run with that story? I'm ready to start investing into another a subscription to the LA Times when I find more of the investigative reporting that needs to be done to keep school districts and city councils shaking in their boots as to how public funds are used and who is running the show in our school districts and cities. It's time for a new way of reporting the news: deep investigation! Come on now! I know you can do it... but will you? ?Inquiring minds want to know", and we will be watching to see if you do.... or not!

A very sad time for all that has had to endure the bureaucracy that Mr. Vigil is knee deep in now... Ms. Blake is an amazing principle that should have never been taken from Central Los Angeles High School No. 9 in the first place! Time to make things right... bring Ms. Blake back... that’s of couse if she wants to... I don't blame her if she doesn’t...

Why has Mr. Vigil not told Ms. Blake the reasons for her dismissal? With all the raving support for Ms. Blake what is there to hide? I look forward to hearing the ENTIRE story which hopefully will end with Ms. Blake's reinstatement.

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