A storm of controversy involving the principal of Culver City Middle School has resulted in a rebellion by teachers who took their case to the school board last week.
The teachers have publicly criticized their principal, Ann Picker, as lacking sensitivity and contributing to low teacher morale.
The crisis reached a peak last week when more than a dozen teachers and parents appeared before the school board to protest the unexpected transfer of program coordinator Lorraine Secor to Culver City High School. She was transferred by Picker, who said she took the action for budgetary reasons.
Secor, a coordinator of school improvement funds who has been with the Culver City Unified School District for 25 years, was one of 26 teachers who signed a March 3 letter to the board expressing dissatisfaction with Picker. Without listing specifics, the letter, signed by more than a third of the teaching staff, accused the principal of increasing the level of mental and emotional stress at the school.
"Low morale, lack of communication between staff and administration, fear of reprisal and inadequate leadership have created an extremely stressful situation," the letter stated.
The teachers accused Picker of making decisions without consulting her staff, second-guessing them and refusing to give reasons for her actions.
"I think the school is falling apart," teacher Myrna Roscoe said. "As far as I'm concerned, the main problem is with the principal and her inability to communicate with the staff, the way she handles people and her lack of people skills."
School district officials have been reluctant to comment on the dissension because they say it involves personnel matters. Supt. Curtis I. Rethmeyer said that a consultant in conflict resolution was hired this month to work with the staff.
"We don't make it a practice of discussing personnel matters publicly," Rethmeyer said. "We have brought in someone who will help end the dissension. The principal's responsibility is to bring the staff together to work toward common goals. I think (the consultant hired) will get everyone to lay their cards on the table and bring things from an emotional to a rational level."
Board President Visited
School board President Diane Pannone made a personal effort to ease tension last week by spending two days on the campus talking to teachers and administrators.
Pannone, who also was reluctant to discuss the problems, said she found teachers and administrators willing to work to improve morale.
Several teachers, however, disagree. "When they hired a consultant they made it seem like we are the problem," said Kay Kemp, a teacher. "We are not the problem. She (Picker) is the problem. The woman is outstanding at polarizing things."
Simmering for Two Years
Picker, who also refused to comment on the dissension at her school, was hired two years ago from the Lawndale Elementary School District. Teachers and administrators say that the controversy dates back to Picker's selection as principal a year after the district reorganized the junior high school into a middle school with 1,000 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Many teachers felt that junior high school principal Herbert Linick should have been chosen to oversee the transition to the new format.
School board member Julie Lugo Cerra said, "I think Ann Picker is a fine principal." However, Cerra said that she was concerned that the controversy over Picker would hurt the educational program at the school. "We want a team (of administrators and teachers). The kids will suffer the most if there are problems between administration and staff," she said.
Board member Robert G. Knopf said that ultimately the school board is responsible. "The buck stops with the board. If there is a breakdown between the school board and the staff, then I think we have failed," he said.
As the coordinator of the district's $230,000 school improvement fund, Secor is also a member of the school site council, a committee of parents, teachers and administrators who advise the district on how the state funds should be spent. As of September, she will coordinate funds only at the high school. The middle school program will be controlled by the principal's office.
School Rated Excellent
Secor said she was informed of her transfer on May 9, the day after an inspection team from the state Department of Education toured the school and gave it an excellent rating. Among its findings, the review team said that teacher morale needed to be addressed.
"I tried to get an answer to why I was being transferred, but all she said was that it was for budget reasons," Secor said of her interview with Picker.
At Tuesday night's board meeting, parents and teachers voiced concerns about the effect the transfer of Secor would have on other teachers.
"A person like Lorraine Secor who has dedicated 25 years to the Culver City Unified School District deserves better treatment," said Patricia Woodruff, a teacher.
Kay Heineman, a parent, said the transfer would have an emotional effect on teachers at the school. "If the teachers are unhappy, then it affects the education of my child," she said.