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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)

LA Times July 13, 2010:
"Suzanne did an admirable job of getting the school up and running, but at this point I feel the school needs the leadership of a seasoned high school administrator," Vigil said.
LA Times July 26th, 2010
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.
Who knows what next week's reason will be. Go Fish.

As an educator with LAUSD, I'm frightened that this is the example that is being laid out by the district. Is this the model I'm supposed to follow when I'm teaching my students?

Shall I fail my students and/or kick them out of class without rhyme or reason?
Shall I tell their parents that they cannot know why their children are failing because I'm protecting their child’s right to privacy?
Shall I look at the glaring accomplishments of my students and judge them only on their appearance?
Shall I discriminate against my children because my administration pushes me to do so?
Shall I turn my back on what is right because my political aspirations are more important?
Shall I run over everyone who gets in the way of what I want?
Shall I, in turn, teach these lessons to my students?
Shall I model these behaviors so my children can strive to be just like me? Shall I abandon all that I am to follow the examples of LAUSD?

Besides the reasons that many people are posting here, another thing to think about: In this rush to bring in someone who seems to be palsy-wowsy with Ms. Garcia, Dr. Vigil and the others do not seem to care about the reputation of a long time teacher and administrator. From what I've read, Ms. Blake has received awards and accolades for her administrative abilities at past schools.

To me, it seems like removing her in the fashion that Dr. Vigil has, and without giving her valid reasons, and the LAUSD offering her lesser assignments (middle school and K-8, rather than high school), the impression is being left that she had failed in this last assignment. Even the comments made that they need someone with Mr. Lopez's experience underscores this impression. But from the comments made by those who have worked with her in the past several years, including this last one, and from students and parents, I'm getting the idea that she doesn't deserve this slander.

The appearance of the school and the first year's student enrollment shouldn't reflect on her as these were qualities determined before her appointment. Considering that many incoming ninth graders make their decision of where to attend high school long before April of their eighth grade (either they planning to attend their home school they are assigned to, or they have applied to magnet and charter programs before January; my eighth grader is already researching high schools that have a vital arts program), and that students already in high school most likely would stay with their current one, the local to outside quota of students should not be blamed (?!) on Ms. Blake.

As to motivations on the part of Ms. Garcia, Dr. Vigil, Mr. Cortines, all I can say is, "if it walks like a duck, quakes like a duck...."

Vigil committed public relations suicide.

All of you parents ! Stop complaining ! There are reasons for why Suzanne Blake was fired and you must accept them ! Trust the district ! They have their reasons.

As a member of the community I've seen the outrageous actions of the so called 'Blake'. Thank God we have a Spanish speaker as a principal now, and one who greatly aided the API score of Franklin High School !

How can Dr. Vigil tell you what Blake did was wrong if it's against the law. You guys must keep in your big ego's and realize that there are much more things at stake rather than just knowing something for your own benefit ! Laws must be followed.

I've seen so many tequila bottles and weed packets and weed smell around the school... something fishy is going on ! I've heard from some teachers and students that the first year wasn't as successful as it seems, some may even call it a failure ! And administrators are acting shady. Shady. Shady. Shady. Shady. Shady.

Also at that meeting, it was all mainly out of Belmont zone parents. This small percentage of parents seem like they want to control the whole school ! Shame shame shame !

This is very ridiculous. There is no reason why she was removed from CLAHS#9. For the first school year, Mrs. Blake did an amazing job running the school. She was very hands-on. You would see her outside of the school passing out papers to the parents and talking to the parents. She wouldn't just be stuck in her office giving orders, you would always see her walking into classrooms and observing what was going on. She would go into the classes and participate in the lessons of the day. Now do we really see this in a regular public school? NO! Only a really dedicated principal would do this. YES, parents did receive academic and budget information. The students would receive a report card once a month, one in the their advisory and the other one would be mailed home. If parents wouldn't receive anything, its is more than obvious that their child was either not giving their parents none of the information prehaps they would receive bad grades. Come on, put it all together. In the middle of the school year, the school send out letters to parents stating what the money of the school was being invested on. So why would some parents dare to say that they weren't receiving any information? The school did have a very successful year. Amazing shows and 96% passing on the CAHSEE. Now if that isn't successful, then what is?? It is very ridiculous for parents to say that the school year wasn't successful, and that Mrs.Blake wasn't doing her job correctly!!

Dear Mother Feresa-
I don't know what country you live in. But I felt like I was in the Gulag, in Russia, not in America on Monday night. I was wondering who I needed to pay off, who I needed to be friends with, in order to get my voice heard. The stonewalling, the secrecy, the "I know better than you attitude" was repulsive and "Shame on Mr. Vigil!"

No, I won't just blindly trust that there are good reasons.
Yes, I pay my taxes that pay for LAUSD and I think I have a right to know why my child's life is being disrupted and the established community of her new school is being threatened.

No, I don't think someone is guilty unless proven innocent.
Yes, I believe that someone has a right to defend herself and to call witnesses in her defense.

No, I have never smelled pot on campus in all the times I have been there. But even if there were drugs on campus like at every other LAUSD high school (come on, be real) I don't believe Ms Blake did anything illegal (like condone illegal substances on campus) or I don't believe she would have been reassigned to administer a middle school (where most drug use begins).
Yes, I smell something fishy in this behind-closed-doors deal.

No, I don't think that a principal has to speak the language of any particular group in a school district. A principal needs to have many, many skills. But I wouldn't say that speaking anything other than the language of instruction at that school should be a requisite skill.
Yes, I do feel that parents should learn English or accept the fact that some things in this country may not be accessible to them. My grandparents only spoke Romanian. I can assure you that my father's principal did not speak Romanian. Somehow my father still got a graduate degree and an Honorary Doctorate.

No, I don't think that the active parents who are willing to put their time and effort in (I have a very full-time job) should be disregarded just because of our mailing address. Our children are no less worthy of a good education.
Yes, I think it is very sad that more people from the Belmont Community didn't come to the meeting. In general I wish that more parents and kids at every LAUSD school would get involved.

No, I won't be quiet and I won't be threatened by authority, whether it be the LAUSD or the Gulag.

I resent the comment from the person who posted as "Mother Feresa". I am a parent from the BZOC and was disappointed that parents from the BZOC did not think it was important enough to go to the community forum to meet the new Principal Lopez and to find out why Ms. Blake was removed. I mean, we all got a phone call... even in SPANISH!!!!! Just so you know, we are Salvadorian and my parents were 1st generation immigrants. My husband is Mexican and is a first generation immigrant. Many parents in the BZOC just do not care about getting involved in school functions or school politics. This is a cultural thing. Our community is so used to getting beaten down by people in power. So perhaps they were right in staying home, as Mr. Vigil reinforced that perception the other night. No matter how hard you try to court Latino BZOC parents in our community and invite them, they rarely show up. And if they do show up, they do so in small numbers. Mother Feresa, or should I say, LA SEÑORA SARA SHUKIR (or a friend of her's), need to go back to their own communities and mind their own business. Its funny... there are a couple parents like the one I just mentioned who don't even live in the BZOC and are trying to pretend as if they care. I'm sure they do care, in their own way. But the very fact that "Mother Feresa" brought up the non-BZOC parents demonstrates that she would rather those parents don't get involved at all. Honey, if it weren't for those super-involved non-BZOC parents pushing their non-BZOC kids to push themselves academically in school, then the actual BZOC kids would still be doing what all their BZOC friends who went to Roybal and Miguel Contreras are doing... not pushing themselves academically. This isn't to say that the non-BZOC kids are driven and the BZOC kids are not. Each student is motivated in their own way, and I am sure there are tons of BZOC kids who are very motivated learners. But we all have to work together. Señora Blake was setting the groundwork for that to happen. It was barely the first year that the school was open. She accomplished SO MUCH in this first year and we as parents commend her outstanding efforts. If she did not reach out to the Latino BZOC community enough during this first year, then the Latino BZOC community needs to get over their own sense of self-entitlement. In our family we dont feel like we are entitled to being courted 100% of the time. Ms. Blake was given the task of reaching out to all communities that had a stake in CLAHS#9... not just the greedy needy Latino BZOC parents like MS. SHUKIR and MR. VELASQUEZ who make claims and requests that (in their minds) must be handled immediately. This is one of the reasons we went to an ELAC meeting and left as soon as they atarted pushing their own personal agendas. No thank you! Fellow BZOC padres and parents alike, we implore you to support Ms. Blake... LAUSD gave her the keys to open a school that would use the arts to help educate academically. But her vision was much bigger than what LAUSD had in mind... because her vision had CORAZON!!!! It was her idea to make the school a WORLD CLASS ARTS HIGH SCHOOL..... emphasis on the words "WORLD CLASS". LAUSD just wanted the kids to do arts and crafts that complemented the academic curriculum. But Blake took her vision of a world class arts high school and worked hard to hire professionals and teachers that would make it a reality.... and it did become a reality. She took the tools that she was given and opened a school, the concept of which had never been opened before in the history of the U.S. (given the facilities, staffing issues, funds, community demographics, 70/30 ratio). From what we can tell in the academic development and personal growth of our daughter who attends CLAHS#9, her academics have improved as a result of the artistic intensity that Blake promoted on campus. But now we have this new guy Lopez who, believe it or not, will probably start chipping away at this intertwined artistic/academic intensity until there is nothing left but simple arts & crafts. He seems like someone who will just do whatever LAUSD tells him to do instead of actually fight for our kids when the going gets tough... which is what Blake did all last year even when people were actively slandering her to the point that things are where they stand today.

Thanks Tamar for saying what needs to be said. If more parents were involved these type of shenanigans would not go on but they are occuring in all areas of LAUSD but particularly in the core areas of LA south LA and downtown. It is criminal.

"How can Dr. Vigil tell you what Blake did was wrong if it's against the law. You guys must keep in your big ego's and realize that there are much more things at stake rather than just knowing something for your own benefit ! Laws must be followed. "

Sorry, but this does not make sense to me. Yes, if a student had a valid complaint, the student's name should remain anonymous, so as to avoid any potential retaliation. But the problem should be communicated as specifically as possible to the other party so there's the ability to correct the problem. If there was a real problem, keeping it a big secret doesn't provide the possibility of change.

But prima facie, it appears that there was not a complaint large enough to cause an administrator's removal. There wasn't anything that would have cause the immediate removal; she would have been placed on administrative leave as soon as such report was received by the LAUSD until properly investigated. She would have been made aware of anything else of significance, and so would the SSC. I would imagine that there would be a few teachers and students who would clash with any administrator. I have had issues with grade school administrators and a teacher who were allowing my daughter to be bullyied; I doubt if I had gone to the school board, these people would have been canned.

So, I'm doubting that there is a valid reason to have removed this prinicipal because of "personnel" matters. In fact, I doubt if the reasons have anything to do with non-political or unbiased matters.

In response to Fanny Arana's comment:
Unfortunately, to be a bumbling bureaucrat with no soul, those are the things you must do.

I am appalled at this thinly veiled favoritism and lack of regard to human decency. Not only was the right of knowing WHY you were removed violated but the attempt of covering it up with BS (such as "job performance" which was actually higher than they had stated) is purely laughable. I hope all of the district's suspicious and unethical behavior finally catches up to them in the end.

That is all. :)

Didn't know you needed to speak Spanish in the USA schools to be a principal? Or is this one of those racist things of LA

Mother Feresa is right about Vigil's refusal to tell parents and students the reason for Ms. Blake's transfer. I think he's doing good by keeping it a secret because she must have done something big if he was adamant in his refusal in front of a bunch of angry emotional parents.
I go to this school and I do not know why people always refer to it as the "crown jewel of the LAUSD." Ms. Blake is nice and polite and charismatic but that's all parents and students are seeing in her. When it comes to school and academics, who knows what she's doing? Do you all sit in her office? Do you know what she spends school money on? or what her plans are for the school? For all I know, she could've made VAPA the best school in the nation, or she could have been steering us towards disaster. The point is that parents are blindly defending something they don't know enough about. So what if we have high CAHSEE scores? Have you seen the AP test scores yet? Or the CST scores? Well, but then again, I don't know if Lopez is going to be a promising leader or not, but I'm impressed by his work at Franklin HS and his teaching record as well as his participation in his community
btw, at the meeting on monday, parents were just bashing on Frankling HS. Let me just say that even though Franklin does not have a great reputation in the neighborhood, the school isn't THAT bad. They have lots of APs there and there are students there that actually do really good in their classes. And just because it's a "bad" school doesn't mean there aren't rigorous classes there and good teachers. OK.
also, i noted that some of the parents at the meeting seemed to care more about the safety of VAPA after more BZOC kids come in. I was a bit offended by this because I happen to be a BZOC kid. How stereotypical of them -__-
At the meeting, when they were reading comments that parents and students wrote, one of them was something like this "I hope Mr. Lopez does a great job as a principal and makes all the parents eat their words." and i cannot express how much I agree. I really applaud whoever wrote that comment. wooooo!

This is rediculous, Principle Blake was so supportive of all of the students at the school, and i agree that she believed in the students more than we did our selves.

#1: The district is goin gto bring in some guy we havent heard about or know who or what kind of person he is.
#2: Its pissing me off how all of a sudden without anybodies consent they are going to fire her
#3: apparently she was doing her job if we are boy cotting about getting her back. Do us all a favor and BRING BLAKE BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

These LAUSD higher-ups are used to bullying their way around the district, relying on parents who are economically disadvantaged and disconnected from their childrens' schools.

They tried to pull an end-around at this school, which has drawn students from all around the city, and they got caught.

The east L.A. educational mafia is no match for politically connected parents from the mid-city and westside. These parents are invested in sending their children to high-quality, diverse public schools. God help you if you mess with their kids' schools without their say-so.

It seems that the school would be very successful as a performing arts high school for those who are selected based on their ability to perform. Sure, there are a lot of students who would love to enroll in a brand new shiny school that is only a few blocks from their home, but I believe this school wouldn't be a good place for the local students because they probably have no interest in performing arts.

If a 20 year career female African American principal (of mixed background) can't offer her best and provide a wonderful environment for students (one that is supported by parents, faculty and students), then no one else can. If Mrs. Blake doesn't speak Spanish, she can surely get her hands on Rosettastone and get it done. It seems that back door politics has reared its ugly head and unfortunately the race card is being played in the arts, an area that is supposed to transcend race. There should be more black, white, brown, yellow, orange, purple students at the school who are the best performers in Los Angeles. I'm sure there are other LAUSD faculty/staff - principals who might have deserved a transfer of this kind. I hope LAUSD finds a way to fix this problem quickly. This is a joke right?

after look at this n other school's in the lausd I see where my money went n am not a happy tax payer( I have no kid,s in school I'll say that up front)) these are'nt even modest building's...these would be an are too much ...I will never never aprove a school boand or bill again

The city of Bell has nothing on the corruption in the LAUSD. Great....another lawsuit, golden parachute and less money for the students of LAUSD due to Administrative and LAUSD Board incompetence. WHEN WILL THIS ABUSE END? The feds are reviewing the district, they should review this situation as well. The Principal deserves due process, and the students do not deserve to be shortchanged by this continual mismanagement which is a CRIME.

Why is Dr. Vigil legally required to protect only some employees? That is a very interesting question indeed.

Shame on the LAUSD. Sounds like Vigil wanted to give the job to a buddy... is that legal?

I think Ms Blake deserves clear reasons for her dismissal, the bilingual excuse is pretty lame considering that should have been taken care of in the hiring process. This is America correct? Why is the burden on the teachers to be bilingual? shouldn't it be the other way around?

Dear James,
Children of "illegal aliens" ,as you call them, who are born in the United States are American citizens. They and all the children living in the area are entitled to the best education in their own neighborhoods. You complain about an ethnocentric conspiracy, but your comments are so xenophobic. Principals get transferred all the time. You should not take Ms. Blake's transfer as an opportunity to be openly racist.

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