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Principals join mayor's school plan

They begin work in an ambitious, high-stakes effort to improve some of L.A.'s lowest-achieving campuses.

August 20, 2008|Jason Song | Times Staff Writer

Tim Sullivan's first day as Markham Middle School's principal was Monday. He quickly found out that the computers didn't recognize his employee identification number and that he didn't have enough staff to register about 300 sixth-graders for classes the next day.

"I made one phone call to say 'We need this and we need that' . . . and I got six more staff to help," Sullivan said in an interview Tuesday. "It tells me that priorities are in place."

Sullivan is one of seven new principals hired by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's ambitious and high-stakes plan to improve 10 of the city's lowest-achieving campuses.

Like Sullivan, most of the new principals began their jobs this week, less than 15 days before schools open on a traditional calendar. The partnership assumed partial control of the campuses July 1.

None of the new hires have led a Los Angeles Unified school before, although most have been assistant principals in the district.

Three, including Sullivan, were hired from outside L.A. Unified, which is partnering with Villaraigosa's office to oversee the 10 campuses.

Eighty-one administrators applied for principal jobs, according to the mayor's office.

Sullivan and others acknowledge the quick turnaround and the high stakes -- the mayor won limited control of the schools after a series of controversial school elections late last year.

"All eyes are on the partnership," Sullivan said.

Sullivan, who was a high school principal in the Fontana Unified School District for two years, applied for the job because he wanted to work for a community-based campus.

Villaraigosa has touted his plan as a way for schools and communities to find their own educational solutions, and promised increased funding and less bureaucracy.

"They understand the urgency of this reform effort. . . . We wanted to get the best people possible," said Villaraigosa, who has raised more than $50 million for the partnership.

Markham, located in Watts, scored a 519 on the latest state Academic Performance Index, which measures schools and districts on student test scores in math, English and other subjects. The state target for 2007 was 800.

"I saw it as a particular challenge at Markham Middle School, which used to be one of the best, most highly touted schools in L.A. Unified," Sullivan said.

The mayor's partnership is requiring all of its principals to spend three hours a day in classrooms, assessing and supporting teachers, something that may be difficult to do, said Michael O'Sullivan, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles

"The vast majority of our administrators would love to spend three hours in classes, but the reality of the situation mitigates that," he said.

But Sullivan and other new partnership principals think they can do it.

"We are all instructional leaders . . . you have to be in place. Half your day should be in the classroom," said Leo Gonzalez, the new principal of Stevenson Middle School in East Los Angeles.

Gonzalez was an associate principal at Roosevelt High School, another partnership school, for three years.

Sullivan said he would not have joined a nonpartnership school.

"L.A. Unified is very, very large . . . and school sites can't get the services that they need," he said.

And although he acknowledged that there are bound to be kinks between now and when classes begin the first week of September, Sullivan said his first two days were encouraging and give him hope for the future.

"I needed to make some decisions yesterday and I got the support," Sullivan said. "Registration went very well.

"We already know the negatives. The unknown is how well we can do."

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jason.song@latimes.com

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