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D.C. educator to become principal at L.A. arts high school

Rory Pullens, who leads a well-established performing arts school in Washington, D.C., is chosen as the next principal of the downtown Los Angeles arts high school.

September 22, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • Students leave the downtown Los Angeles arts high school in June.
Students leave the downtown Los Angeles arts high school in June. (Los Angeles Times )

The next principal of the high-profile downtown Los Angeles arts high school is the head of a well-established performing arts school in Washington, D.C., officials confirmed Wednesday.

The selection of veteran arts educator Rory Pullens is the latest chapter for the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, which has been plagued by leadership turnover and other controversies.

In Pullens, the Grand Avenue school will have a respected leader who is credited with building and maintaining the caliber of program that district officials here are seeking. He has been head of school at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

"Pullens will bring energy, clout and vision to give this school a chance to be what the students in Los Angeles deserve," said James F. Robinson, a parent who was on the interview committee at the school. "What he did at Ellington was amazing."

Robinson and others said they believed Pullens would be able to attract needed outside funding that has been largely absent from the steel-clad $232-million school.

Pullens could not be reached for comment. He's scheduled to begin work with the Los Angeles Unified School District on Nov. 1.

He was on the short list of candidates before the opening of the school, which is in its third year. Pullens had tentatively accepted the job before a family crisis prompted him to withdraw. L.A. Unified ultimately chose two district administrators.

The district reassigned both, however, after the school's first year. The next principal was pulled in June to make room for another well-regarded outsider, Kim Bruno, who runs the well-known arts high school in New York City. She ultimately backed out, as she had when she was offered the job previously.

Pullens was in the running all along; he was included in a meeting in May at the foundation of philanthropist Eli Broad with Bruno and L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy. Broad, an influential education and arts donor, had pushed for a proven outsider to head the school.

Broad had been willing to supplement the principal's salary, according to former L.A. school's Supt. Ramon Cortines.

Deasy said Pullens will be paid according to established rates for district principals. But he would not comment on supplements that might be provided from outside organizations. The Broad Foundation declined to comment on that issue but praised the hiring of Pullens.

The administrators union opposes any form of additional pay for principals, noting that its members accepted wage cuts to help the district balance its budget.

"Before supplementing the salary of one individual, consideration must be given, at minimum, to restoring full salaries for all," said Judith Perez, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles.

Perez also questioned the need for looking outside the district's own pool of principals.

But teacher Greg Schiller, who served on the hiring committee, said the most important issue was making "the best choice possible — whether they were from within the district or from outside."

howard.blume@latimes.com

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