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Faculty, students seek ouster of school principal

Teachers say Santee's leader changed courses after classes had begun. Mediator to step in.

August 23, 2007|Joel Rubin and Howard Blume | Times Staff Writers

A beleaguered Los Angeles high school is awash again in controversy as teachers, students and parents continued Wednesday to demand the removal of the school's hard-driving principal amid allegations that he improperly meddled with academic courses.

School district officials said Wednesday that they have agreed to bring in the city's human relations commission for mediation at the Santee Education Complex to discuss the future of Principal Vince Carbino. This is an unusual move involving a personnel matter but came after discussions with City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who has been supportive of Carbino.

"We know we have some real issues here," said Carmen Schroeder, the top administrator for the Santee region. Carbino "has some real admirers, and people who don't trust him."

The 2-year-old, year-round campus south of downtown was once heralded as the bright cornerstone of the district's massive, ongoing push to open more than 150 new schools but has struggled with violence, sub-par academic achievement and infighting since its opening.

District officials are investigating claims by teachers that Carbino changed the titles and content of as many as 35 courses this summer after classes had begun, affecting more than 850 students. Teachers and union leaders said they believe Carbino made the changes to comply with a court mandate that requires California schools to have sufficient textbooks immediately available for classes. They allege that Carbino personally changed or ordered changed the titles of classes before an inspection because books were not yet available for the originally scheduled course. After the inspection, they said, some courses were changed back; others were not.

The moves have roiled the campus, with students concerned they will not receive the appropriate credits toward graduation and teachers angry and confused.

As evidence, a teachers union official presented a printout containing the course assignments for various teachers. The assignments were different on a later printout.

"I cannot ethically give a student a grade for a class that they have not received all the lessons in," said a teacher, who spoke on condition that her name not be used out of concern for her job.

Santee has more new teachers -- who lack job protections -- than any other district school, said Dori Miles, an area representative for United Teachers Los Angeles, the union.

Mark Muskrath, a tenured social studies and history teacher with nine years' experience, said a sociology class he was teaching was changed to a Latin American studies class.

Senior Araceli Aca, 17, said her Advanced Placement literature course was changed to a writing seminar that she had already completed.

Carbino did not return repeated calls seeking comment, and school staff said he was not on campus during a Wednesday afternoon rally, the second this month, calling for his ouster. In front of the school, about 75 protesters, most of them students, chanted: "No more lies," and "Carbino must go."

Schroeder, the regional superintendent, declined to discuss specifics of the ongoing investigation, and said initially that Carbino's fate would be decided in the next few days. Late Wednesday afternoon, however, she acknowledged a change of plans: The district had agreed instead to the city's intervention. A final disposition regarding the school's leadership will be made by the end of September, she said. And district Supt. David L. Brewer will make the call.

The allegations over course titles will be only one factor weighing on Carbino's fate. More pressing, Schroeder said, was the broader question of whether Carbino, a police officer-turned-educator, is able to work effectively with teachers and other staff.

"It's a question of whether they can work in harmony or not," she said.

Muskrath indicated that there was little chance of a detente.

"I don't feel teachers are appreciated here," he said. Carbino's "tenure here has been marked by a heavy-handed approach and an arbitrarily non-collaborative style. That begins to wear people out."

The current turmoil is only the latest problem at the 3,360-student school.

Opened in July 2005 -- after what district officials have acknowledged was insufficient planning -- the modernist campus, with heated swimming pool, ballet studio, fully equipped chef's kitchen for culinary classes and banks of Apple computers, was supposed to be the model for new high schools. Instead, at its opening, several teaching positions were unfilled, hundreds more students than expected enrolled and overwhelmed staff struggled to handle melees between hostile groups of students, some with rival gang affiliations.

The school again became a center of attention when a Times photographer caught a student in the act of tagging a bus -- one that was carrying Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Brewer at a news event.

Carbino, who began as the school's co-principal and took sole charge last year, received early praise for helping to restore order and working to secure safe passage to and from school for students threatened by area gangs. In an unusual move, he gave students his cellphone number, encouraging them to call him with their problems and to allow him to help settle disputes.

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joel.rubin@latimes.com

howard.blume@latimes.com

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