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District's Transfer of Administrator Raises Questions

Education: Supporters of controversial Oxnard High Principal Daisy Tatum contend that the move is politically motivated.


Describing herself, Oxnard High School Principal Daisy Tatum says, "What you see is what you get."

What you see is a 5-foot-6 woman who frequently rides to school on a red 1200 Harley-Davidson Spinster and tracks Oxnard High's 3,000-plus, diverse student body by being as ubiquitous on campus as spring fever.

What you get depends on who's talking.

Fans say Tatum gives her all to education, makes every student feel important and is a go-getter in the school and the community.

Critics say she plays favorites among teachers, too often micromanages, and makes decisions without enough input from staff.

At the end of the school year, Tatum--an Oxnard High class of '62 alumna--will leave her alma mater to head up the district's new four-campus community day school, which has been designed for low performers, students who have been expelled, and those on independent study. Channel Islands High School Principal Jim Nielsen will replace her at Oxnard High.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 28, 1999 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Zones Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
School principal--An article Monday contained incorrect information about Oxnard High School Principal Daisy Tatum. In 1994, Tatum became the first female African American principal in Ventura County.

Tatum didn't ask for the transfer, and she doesn't want to go.

"Who's going to take care of these kids?" she said. "They'll just be a number now."

Oxnard Union High School District Supt. Bill Studt calls the transfer a lateral move; Tatum will maintain her principal's title and salary. Trustee Steve Stocks said Tatum's experience with at-risk students--with whom she worked at the alternative Frontier High School--made her a logical candidate for the new job.

"Outstanding principals are really hard to come by," Stocks said. "And for those kids, she will be good for them."

Some frustrated and angry parents, however, are convinced that the board is moving Tatum for other reasons.

Dozens attended two recent board meetings to voice support for Tatum and get an explanation for her transfer. Earlier this month, they formed a community group to fight the transfer, to mount a recall campaign against four board members and to attempt to remove Studt from office. Parent leader Terry Merricks said she believes Tatum is being transferred because she is a woman and is not part of the "good ol' boys" network.

Janis Johnson, another parent, said, "You know there is something else going on because what the trustees are doing makes no sense."

Something else that parents and students point to happened earlier this year. Tatum investigated an incident involving two Oxnard High wrestling coaches, one of whom is trustee Bob Valles' son. Both Rocky Valles and Chuck Cordes were placed on administrative leave amid allegations by parents that they were drinking alcohol while the team competed in a tournament. The status of the investigation into those allegations could not be determined, but both Valles and Cordes are back at Oxnard High in teaching and coaching roles.

This came 1 1/2 years after Tatum fired popular swim coach Larry Raffaelli, creating a furor among parent and community supporters.

Needed Elsewhere

Trustee Valles said the transfer had nothing to do with his son or any other personnel issues. Every principal has supporters and critics, he added, but the board made its decision independent of outside pressures. And Tatum is neither the first principal nor the last whom the district will transfer, he said, insisting that she is simply needed elsewhere.

Board President Nancy Koch echoed those sentiments, adding that the success of the community day school depends on a strong leader who parents know and trust. Because Tatum has lived in Oxnard for most of her life and is very involved in the community, Koch said, "she knows what's out there to help these kids. She can influence parents, which we'll need to get these kids motivated again."

Some members of the staff are less confident of Tatum's leadership abilities, maintaining that she is inflexible and frequently over-manages. Though several of those unimpressed with her were reluctant to share their specific complaints, some offered mild criticisms.


One teacher, who refused to give his name, said that she is too authoritarian and controlling. And English teacher Lynn Murray said Tatum gives students and teachers the impression that she keeps tabs on everything they do and holds them responsible for their actions. Murray also said some teachers don't like how rigid Tatum is on rules and policies. But Tatum maintains that she is just doing her job.

In 1995, when Oxnard High's new campus opened on Gonzalez Road, Tatum instituted security measures that kept teachers locked out of their classrooms after school. Though the policy was designed to protect new computers, televisions and VCRs, teachers were angry at Tatum for restricting their access.

And in 1996, she canceled several senior class activities after the campus was spray-painted. Students said her punishment was too harsh, holding the entire class responsible for the actions of a few.

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