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The Valley

Reseda Principal Made His Mark

Retirement: In 15 years, administrator steered school through good times and bad.

June 26, 2002|ANDREA PERERA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Retiring Principal Robert Kladifko has seen hundreds of students come and go in his 15 years at Reseda High School. But among the handful who stand out are those he lost too soon.

Last month, junior Tulsi Kumar and four family members were killed in a house fire that police believe was intentionally set.

In 1996, senior Eric Hoggatt made a dozen or so tackles in a school football game, went home and climbed into bed. He never woke up. A head injury had caused a fatal buildup of blood in his skull.

In 1993, senior Michael Ensley was shot and killed as he walked down a school hallway.

In each case, Kladifko answered questions of the reporters and parents who descended on campus.

Faculty and students said it also was Kladifko who afterward shifted the focus away from the deaths and onto more positive aspects of Reseda High and its innovative academic, sports and extracurricular programs.

On Friday, Kladifko, 67, will end his tenure at Reseda High and cap a 42-year career with Los Angeles Unified School District.

He will assume an assistant professorship at Cal State Northridge, where his students will be future teachers and school administrators.

"I think that this principal has done more for this school, its programs and its public appearance than any other," said Joel Schaeffer, a 32-year Reseda High faculty member and the coordinator of the school's police academy program.

During Kladifko's tenure, Reseda High has instituted a number of programs. Among them are:

* theme-based academies focused on such diverse occupations as police work, new media and multilingual teaching;

* a student-run unity council to mediate conflicts among peers;

* a student-operated copier business on campus;

* a character-development program for staff and students, to instill such values as respect, responsibility and fairness, administered by Kladifko;

* and a Naval Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps.

A Reseda High without Kladifko just seems unfathomable, said graduating senior Nathaly Tortola, 17, the school's student body president. "We view him like a grandfather-type figure. Everybody turns to him when they don't know what to do."

Kladifko was recruited by the district in 1960 from a small school in Mazeppa, Minn.

Since then, he has worked as a teacher and administrator in schools in the South Bay, East Los Angeles, Watts and the Valley.

And he has been teaching an education class at CSUN.

"I've been in almost every corner of my district," Kladifko said, seated in his office, surrounded by plaques and certificates of appreciation.

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