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Verdugo Hills parents and teachers foiled in naming new principal

Supt. John Deasy overrules Ramon Cortines, the former superintendent, and appoints an interim administrator.

August 09, 2011|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • John Deasy says he wants to be involved in the selection of school principals.
John Deasy says he wants to be involved in the selection of school principals. (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

Former Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines agreed last year to let teachers and parents at Verdugo Hills High School implement their own reform plan, which included hiring their own principal.

But Cortines' successor, current Los Angeles Unified School District chief John Deasy, has not approved the school's top choice for principal. Instead, district officials appointed an interim principal at the Tujunga campus. Deasy said that because he evaluates the district's principals, he should have a say in hiring.

Verdugo's plan was never approved by the school board, and Cortines said he believes Deasy has the right to ignore it. But many Verdugo teachers and parents say they feel betrayed by district management, partly because Deasy and others have said that campuses should have greater autonomy.

"The district asked us to take responsibility and to undertake reforms, and when we step up and do those things, we're not listened to and respected," said Jodie Brittain, a parent who sat on two hiring committees and whose children previously attended Verdugo.

The flap at Verdugo Hills is among several recent instances in which teachers and community members have accused the L.A. district of backtracking on promised collaboration. That has happened in both the hiring and removal of principals, including twice at the new downtown arts high school and at the Obama Global Preparatory Academy middle school in South L.A.

Cortines, who retired in April, said he agreed to partial autonomy for Verdugo because its test scores had improved in recent years and because he feared that its faculty might vote to make the campus a charter school, which would have led to a loss of enrollment and funding for the district.

The school's reform plan stated that "the selection of administrators is the sole purview of the Governing Council and shall remain independent of superintendent approval."

The district's administrators union was not involved in the negotiation, said union president Judith Perez. The superintendent typically has final say on principal assignment, Perez said.

After the former Verdugo principal retired this summer, teachers and parents interviewed candidates and forwarded their top choices to administrators. Deasy did not agree to the first choice, and the second took a job at another campus.

Deasy then asked the school to conduct another round of interviews and to include a senior administrator on the search committee. Once again, Deasy did not favor the school's top choice.

In an interview, Deasy declined to discuss his reasons for approving some candidates and not others, but he said he would not agree to a deal in which the superintendent has no say in a principal's hiring.

"I can't live with portions of the agreement," he said. "I personally will need to be comfortable with every single principal in this district."

School board member Nury Martinez, who represents the area around Verdugo, said she supports Deasy's actions. "I have to trust he's going to do what's right for the kids of Verdugo," she said.

Deasy said he would like to reach consensus with Verdugo teachers and parents on the next principal. In the meantime, he said, he has assigned an interim administrator to the post and will revisit the issue after state test scores are released in coming weeks.

jason.song@latimes.com

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