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LITTLE TOKYO : Maryknoll May Lose Students, Teachers

June 27, 1993|IRIS YOKOI

More than half of the students at Maryknoll School might not return to the historic Catholic school on Hewitt Street this fall because of a controversy that has sent most of the faculty packing.

During the year, parents and teachers alike have expressed discontent over changes implemented by a new principal and what they claim is a lack of support from the Catholic school administration.

Seven of the school's nine teachers won't return in the fall, and parents say that because of this, they won't enroll their children. A group of parents contends that at least 60% of the Maryknoll families will pull their children from the school, which traditionally enrolled about 285 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade. School administrators would not confirm this fall's enrollment.

Parents and teachers also contend that administrators have destroyed teacher morale and parent relations and that the school's tradition of discipline has declined.

School administrators dismissed the uproar as a matter of resistance to change and to rules that have long gone unenforced.

Parents claim that Principal Kathleen Martineau arbitrarily changed policies and practices, taking such steps as forbidding teachers to speak to parents directly and restricting after-hours use of the school grounds by the athletic teams. The parents, who pay a monthly tuition of roughly $165 per child, said they have traditionally had an open, friendly relationship with teachers and that parent participation has been a vital part of the school's 72-year success.

"The beauty of Maryknoll was the teachers and the camaraderie of the parents," said Desmond Clarke, a La Puente resident who said he will enroll his daughter and son in a Catholic school in Monterey Park in September.

Toward the end of the school year, the principal told half the faculty that their yearly contracts would not be renewed.

Some teachers who have taught at Maryknoll for nearly a decade without any complaints or disciplinary problems suddenly received negative reviews, while others were told they needed to obtain specific state credentials. A couple of teachers who were offered contract renewals have decided not to return.

Parents say they repeatedly complained to Martineau and Father Joseph Klecha, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Chapel and chief administrator of Maryknoll. But parents' requests for meetings with the officials were denied, ignored or countered with restrictions, the parents said. The entire Parent-Teacher Organization board resigned in March after the breakdown in communications.

Martineau and Klecha referred questions to Sister Joan Faraone, regional supervisor of Catholic schools for the L.A. archdiocese.

Faraone said she responded to parent complaints by visiting the school several times and meeting with the pastor, the principal and each teacher individually. She said she encouraged communication among all the parties. Faraone declined to comment on teacher contracts and the allegations against Martineau because they are personnel issues protected by confidentiality laws.

She confirmed that the archdiocese requires all Catholic school teachers to have state credentials. But that policy was enacted several years ago, at which time teachers were given five years to obtain the credentials, and now "that time is up," Faraone said.

Key to the controversy is that Maryknoll underwent changes this year, Faraone said. "Transition is very difficult. I anticipate this is going to fall by the wayside."

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