by Howard Blume | LA Times/LA Now | http://lat.ms/pPa8mc
July 27, 2011 | 7:02 PM - About 75 demonstrators gathered Wednesday afternoon to protest the removal of a Los Angeles middle school principal and the conversion of another South L.A. campus to a charter school.
Protesters were upset about the recent departure of Veronique Wills as principal of Barack Obama Global Prep Academy. They gathered outside the entrance of the school, located in Vermont Square, chanting, marching and carrying signs.
“It’s almost like meeting a saint,” teacher Charlene Brown said of Wills in an interview. “She looks for the greatness in every human being.”
Supporters accused Los Angeles Unified School District officials of giving up too soon on Wills, a veteran district administrator who had been hand-picked to manage the opening of the school in 2009. The school just completed its first year.
L.A. Unified officials declined to respond in detail.
“The transfer of Veronique Wills is a confidential personnel matter,” said Senior Deputy Supt. Michelle King. “She is currently assigned as the principal of Hope Continuation School.”
Wills did not participate in the protest.
Demonstrators also denounced the decision by the L.A. Board of Education to turn over operation of Clay Middle School in Athens to Green Dot Public Schools, a charter operator.
Charter schools are publicly funded but independently operated. Green Dot is not expected to bring back most of the Clay staff; many did not apply to work for Green Dot.
The Clay conversion has been a sore spot for some local activists and for school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who represents that area. A school board majority outvoted her in opting for the charter conversion. A group accompanied by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) recently canvassed the surrounding neighborhood to organize opposition to the charter.
On Clay, LaMotte has common cause with a recent political opponent, the Rev. Eric Lee, who ran unsuccessfully against her for the school board. At the Wednesday rally, he accused district officials of disregarding community voices about improvement efforts at Clay.
“I believe there is a moral and ethical violation of the public trust,” Lee said in his remarks.
Organizers of the event included local neighborhood council leader John Parker.
“Whether it be here at Obama or Clay or any public school,” he told those gathered, “we must demand that underserved communities, black and Latino communities, have a right to self-determination and must be the deciders in how their children are educated — not profit-hungry venture capitalists, whether they call themselves nonprofit or not.”
In other quarters, the Green Dot organization has won praise for trying to turn around historically low-performing schools, as well for operating under a union contract. District officials have defended the handover as an aggressive measure needed to reverse decades of unacceptable student achievement.