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School Official to Step Down

L.A. Unified will replace Jefferson High Principal Norm Morrow, following a rash of student violence at the South L.A. campus.

June 01, 2005|Joel Rubin and Nicholas Shields | Times Staff Writers

The principal of Jefferson High School agreed Tuesday to step down amid criticism by city and school district officials over his handling of a spate of student brawls that many say have been fueled by racial tensions.

Principal Norm Morrow will be replaced at the troubled South Los Angeles campus on July 1, six months before he planned to retire, said Rowena Lagrosa, the Los Angeles Unified School District local superintendent who met with Morrow on Tuesday to finalize the change.

The move came on a day when Los Angeles Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa and schools Supt. Roy Romer expressed concerns over Morrow's ability to lead.

"My sense, frankly, is that things are out of control" at Jefferson, Villaraigosa said at a school board meeting called by board members to discuss recent campus violence. "I do not get the sense that anyone was in charge."

Villaraigosa visited Jefferson on Friday, a day after police broke up a campus brawl involving more than 20 students. It was the third fight in the past six weeks at the school. The mayor-elect and many parents and students say these melees were motivated by racial tensions between Latino and black students.

The events at Jefferson have unfolded amid other violent outbreaks on several campuses in the city and elsewhere in Southern California. While the fighting at many schools has occurred between blacks and Latinos, district officials have cautioned that factors other than race, such as overcrowding, have also played a role in the violence.

Romer also voiced the need for stronger leadership at Jefferson, saying in an interview that Morrow "had retirement plans that did not fit with the district's needs." The principal's handling of the recent violence had "accelerated" a decision to replace him, Romer said.

Romer also revealed that two assistant principals had been hired Tuesday to fill positions that had been vacant at Jefferson for about a month.

"There has been a problem at Jefferson for the past few months," Romer said. "There has not been sufficient adult presence."

Morrow, who district officials said had been principal at Jefferson for four years, declined to comment Tuesday morning on his retirement plans. He could not be reached after his meeting with Lagrosa.

Clarence Williams, a graphic arts instructor at the school, defended Morrow and questioned whether a new principal would fare any better.

Morrow has provided "excellent leadership," Williams said. "We have to understand that whoever is at the helm it could happen to ... " A new principal "won't change the flavor of what's going on."

District officials also took steps to improve security at Jefferson on Tuesday, assigning three additional school police officers to the campus and assigning several motorcycle officers to patrol the surrounding area.

School officials suspended four students for their role in Thursday's melee, one of them for four days, and said that more students could be suspended in coming days.

Lagrosa said that Morrow had planned to retire at the end of the year but he acknowledged in their meeting that "the events of the past weeks have highlighted the need to bring in a new team in July that will be at the school for the long haul."

"Consistency in leadership," she said, "is needed to move this school forward."

Morrow will continue to work for the district until his retirement in a position that is yet to be determined, Lagrosa said.

After listening to Villaraigosa, Romer and school board members reiterated calls to make campus safety a priority. The superintendent proposed a $4.5-million plan to improve campus security, mostly through increased hiring of campus aides.

"Who's running the schools?" asked board member Marguerite LaMotte, who called for a zero-tolerance policy for campus fighting. "Right now, we have the students running the schools, and we need to take control of them again."

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