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Community News: Southeast

SOUTH GATE : Dispute Erupts Over Choice of Principal

January 23, 1994|JENNIFER OLDHAM

The beginning of a new year found Tony Sandoval not only principal of the largest student body in the nation, but in the middle of a controversy surrounding his hurried appointment.

Sandoval, 46, began his tenure as principal of South Gate Middle School two weeks ago amid protests that the community was not properly involved in the selection process by Los Angeles Unified School District officials.

"We have a right to have a choice," said Jaime Jaime, president of Concerned Parents. "If they don't respect us as human beings, they should at least respect us as taxpayers."

The 300-member group is scheduled to meet with school board member Victoria Castro on Tuesday to ask for a district review of its decision and to replace Sandoval with the one of the school's assistant principals, Henry Torres.

Jaime said his group believes Torres is more qualified because he has been more involved in the school and the community.

Sandoval, a 23-year district veteran, was chosen after Pete Ferry announced he would leave his post Dec. 15 as principal at South Gate Middle School to become principal at Millikan Middle School in Sherman Oaks.

District officials were forced to choose Sandoval within a 48-hour period in order to have a principal on the job when the school year began Jan. 3, said John Liechty, director of the district's middle school unit.

Sandoval was transferred into the position because he had previously worked at South Gate as an assistant principal in charge of attendance, and because he is a Latino who speaks fluent Spanish, Liechty said.

The district could not consider Torres for the position because of a policy that does not allow assistant principals to be promoted within the school they are working, Liechty said.

Sandoval inherits a 4,100-member student body with a 92% attendance rate. The school, which is on a year-round schedule to accommodate its large student body, is 98.5% Latino.

Controversy surrounding the district's decision to transfer Sandoval from his position as an assistant principal at Irving Middle School in Glassell Park to South Gate erupted after the district could not show on paper that it had met with the community, said Willene Cooper, education commissioner for South Gate.

Parents also asked to see a list of qualifications used by the district to select Sandoval, but the district was unable to provide such a list, Cooper said.

A list of qualifications for new administrators is supposed to be drawn up by the community and district officials as part of a school-based management system, Cooper said. This system is not in place at South Gate Middle School, Liechty said.

Cooper has also demanded that Torres be appointed acting principal while the district reviews its decision with parents.

"It angers me when the district tells us we're part of the process and we're not," she said.

Liechty agreed Sandoval's appointment was a "bad judgment call," but said he knew what the community wanted in a new principal after numerous meetings with parents during Ferry's tenure.

"Who do I go to to get input when time after time, year after year, I have heard that the community wants a principal who is bilingual and Hispanic?" he said. Sandoval said he empathizes with parents' concerns and has been trying to quell the controversy by meeting with different groups.

He said that he will fight for parents' "First Amendment rights" but does not plan to step down.

"My goal remains to get as many parents involved in the school as possible. If this isn't a partnership, then the kids will suffer."

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