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New Chief Takes Over at Troubled Whaley School : Education: Popular assistant principal promises to involve parents, students and teachers in efforts to improve the campus.

March 18, 1993|HOWARD BLUME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COMPTON — School officials have reassigned a popular administrator to manage troubled Whaley Middle School in hopes of ending six weeks of unrest over the school's management and its run-down condition.

Assistant Principal W. Charles Littles has returned to Whaley as the school's new head administrator after a two-week stay at Dominguez High School. He pledged to involve students, parents and teachers in renewed efforts to improve the Compton middle school of 950 students.

"We're going to enjoy having school," Littles said. "We're going to enjoy learning and enjoy respecting each other."

The push began in earnest Saturday as about 100 students, parents, district employees and community members scrubbed bathrooms, wiped down lunch tables, painted over graffiti and planted roses.

"It was a good feeling," teacher John Rubio said. "It was the first time we had a family feeling at the school."

Littles said he would have such school cleanups at least once a month. He also vowed to revive the school's PTA, which has not met in at least two years.

Littles, a former Whaley assistant principal, returned to the school two weeks after officials of the Compton Unified School District transferred him, a move that sparked a student walkout at a campus already in turmoil. A group of students, parents and teachers lobbied for his return, calling him the most able administrator on campus.

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By last week, the group had persuaded Acting Supt. Harold Cebrun that Littles could calm the Whaley campus. Engineering the change, however, took a series of staff moves that began at last week's school board meeting.

First, the school board transferred Whaley Principal Naomi Ferns to an administrative post in the district office. Cebrun recommended returning Littles to Whaley as acting principal.

The school board, however, rejected the transfer. Opponents included Amen Rahh, who said Littles was not the best person for the job, and Cloria Patillo, who said Littles lacked experience. Littles joined the district in 1969 and became an administrator in 1985. That evening, the board made no decision on who would run Whaley.

Two days later, Cebrun returned Littles to Whaley with the title of assistant principal and transferred another Whaley administrator, veteran assistant principal Willard McCrumby, to another school. The changes effectively leave Littles in charge of Whaley--although he lacks the title of acting principal. The school board still must ratify the changes.

For now, Littles is best suited to "engender the support of students, staff and community and turn the school around," Cebrun said.

The task before Littles includes sprucing up an aging, vandalized campus and struggling with inadequate security, community apathy, low staff morale, supply shortages and lagging student achievement. These conditions led to a series of demonstrations starting in early February.

Students, parents and teachers who lobbied for the removal of former principal Ferns said Littles can make a difference.

"He keeps everybody out of the halls," student body President Tigress Briggs said. "He makes sure everybody gets to class."

"The school is much better than it was," said Lucie Becerra, a 14-year-old eighth-grader. "It is more clean."

Just two weeks ago, students complained that the eating patio and the bathrooms were too filthy to use. School and volunteer cleaning crews have solved those problems for now. Longer-term challenges include reopening the boys locker room, which vandals virtually destroyed, and obtaining needed Spanish-language textbooks and physical education equipment. Littles also must solve the problem of how to keep vandals from striking again.

"I've got my fingers and toes and everything else crossed, and I hope we can keep the school this way," Littles said of the scrubbed and repainted campus.

Littles plans to use parent monitors to patrol halls.

The school's difficulties helped drive away former principal Ferns, who accepted a position as "administrator on special assignment" in the district office. Her new duties include developing programs to fight truancy and prepare for emergencies, Cebrun said.

Ferns became a target for critics, who said that she belittled her staff, turned away parents and became complacent about many of the school's problems.

Ferns said that she requested a transfer from Whaley after it became clear that many parents and teachers did not appreciate her efforts to improve the school, which had a reputation as a problem campus before she arrived in 1991.

"When I went there it was a troubled school," Ferns said. "I wanted to turn that school around."

She added that she had the school cleaned repeatedly and made numerous attempts to involve parents--all without lasting success. Much of the vandalism is from students, she said.

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