LYNWOOD — In a move that apparently caught school board members by surprise, the principal of Lynwood High School has abruptly left the school.
Principal Larry C. Tripplett, who has been openly critical of shortcomings at the aging, overcrowded school, submitted his resignation Friday. Although the resignation is not effective until July 1, Tripplett indicated in an interview with The Times that he will not return to the school. He said he was also asking for an immediate medical leave but he did not give a reason.
"I don't think I'll be coming back," Tripplett said. "I think they'll accept. They don't want me back."
Tripplett said he is going into the fast food business and is negotiating for a franchise in Northern California.
"I'm getting out of education altogether. I'm moving up. I'm going into my own business," Tripplett said shortly after taking his requests to the district administrative offices.
At its meeting Tuesday, the Lynwood Unified School District Board of Education accepted Tripplett's resignation and approved an immediate 30-day medical leave. The action was taken without comment during approval of other routine business.
However, when a parent, Jackie Dandridge, asked board members who would be put in charge of the 2,600-student high school, Supt. LaVoneia Steele said, "Mr. Tripplett is not gone." Steele said Tripplett could return at the end of the medical leave, since his resignation does not become effective until July.
But when pushed further by Dandridge, a staunch Tripplett supporter, Steele said that assistant principal Mickey Cureton, 38, had been placed in charge of the high school during Tripplett's absence.
Board member Richard Armstrong said in an interview that Tripplett "just walked out. We didn't have much chance (to talk with him)."
But board member Thelma Williams said that "pressure from the board made him quit."
"We lost a good man," Williams said.
Willard Hawn Reed, board president, denied any pressure had been put on Tripplett. He said it would be up to Tripplett whether or not he returns to the campus.
"I think it was his decision. Mainly his decision," Reed said of the resignation. "I think he has been working on a career change for over a year."
School Board 'Critical'
The majority of the board had been "critical" of some areas of Tripplett's adminstration but there was nothing unusual about the disagreements, Reed said. "We hadn't been any harder on him than any other principal."
Tripplett has been popular with both students and parents who have said he improved the academic curriculum at the predominantly black and Latino school and had encouraged the students to seek higher education. He was able to instill school pride in the students, some parents say. When there were rumors last year that Tripplett was going to be fired, more than 300 students peacefully demonstration outside the school in support of him.
But Tripplett, who had been principal at Lynwood High for just under three years, was an outspoken administrator. He recently demanded that the board install metal detectors at the school or employ at least 10 security guards to protect against students bringing weapons on campus. The board did not approve the metal detectors but authorized increasing the security force from three to five.
Last month, Tripplett embarrassed members of the board by making it publicly known that the high school chemical lab was housing old, potentially explosive chemicals. The materials later were removed by order of the Department of Health Services.
Lynwood High is more than 40 years old and was built for not more than 1,000 students. The school now has an enrollment of more than 2,600 students. The district has been involved in turmoil for several years in an attempt to secure land to build a high school to ease the overcrowding.
Like other principals in the district, Tripplett has a one-year contract which expires July 1. He is paid about $57,000 annually. The district this week began sending out letters, required by law, to some district employees that they might be reassigned or not reemployed next fall. Tripplett was among 40 administrators who would receive such letters this week, Reed said.
"This is precautionary. The letters are sent to principals, vice principals and directors of certain programs (for budgetary reasons)," Reed said, adding that it was his understanding that no one on the list was to be fired but there is a possibility of reassignments and reduction in hours.