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