Monday, July 07, 2008

DOLORES STREET SHOWDOWN: Unions, teachers and parents battle over future of Carson elementary's principal

By Melissa Pamer, Long Beach Press–Telegram Staff Writer

Alicia Larios, 5, and her mother, Patricia, join teachers, parents and students protesting outside LAUSD's District 8 headquarters in Gardena on Wednesday. They're pressuring the district to remove Principal Anna Barraza from Dolores Street Elementary School in Carson. (Sean Hiller/Staff Photographer)


July 7, 2008 - Even as summer brings calm to many local schools, the two sides of a contentious battle at Dolores Street Elementary School are amping up their efforts to determine the future of leadership at the Carson campus.

At issue is Principal Anna Barraza, who just completed her first year at the school, where she was criticized by teachers who accused her of having a cold, imperious style that they say doesn't match Dolores Street's culture.

Last week, about two dozen teachers from the school picketed in front of Local District 8 headquarters in Gardena, protesting Barraza for a third time since late May, when they first publicly sought her ouster from the Los Angeles Unified School District campus.

Led by United Teachers Los Angeles organizer and Carson City Councilman Mike Gipson, who marched with one fist in the air and the other gripping a megaphone, the teachers chanted "Hey hey, ho ho, the lemon has got to go." They vowed to continue their pressure on the district over the summer in an effort to get Barraza removed from the 678-student school.

Meanwhile, officials from Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, the union that represents Barraza, said last week that they view the conflict as a test case for the district's willingness to stand up to UTLA tactics, which several AALA representatives termed "grandstanding." They vowed to fight against the teachers union.

"What's at stake: Are schools going to be run by laws and

policies or by political bullying?" said Dan Basalone, an administrator with AALA. "Anna is the profile in courage for us. She is the ideal principal."

Barraza recently declined to oversee summer school, which begins today at Dolores Street, saying last week that she wanted to spend time with family and that her decision was unrelated to the ongoing discord.

She said there is nothing she would have changed about the way she interacted with teachers last school year.

"I think I behaved very professionally," Barraza said, mentioning that she missed only one day of school and had set up regular meetings with UTLA chapter chairs, who called those meetings off in fall.

She has described an entrenched faculty that is determined to do things "the way things had always been done" - sometimes in violation of district policy. She said she thought her self-proclaimed devotion to following LAUSD rules had earned her the ire of teachers.

Nonetheless, Barraza said she wants to stay on campus next year, adding that she believes her transfer would be bad for a school that's had four principals in five years and saw a drop in test scores the year before she arrived.

"It's a school that has a lot of potential to move forward," she said. "The focus needs to be on the children. This year has been a lot of distraction."

Barraza's reputation among teachers preceded her arrival at Dolores Street last fall, when a July 2007 union newsletter said the principal was responsible for a "hostile atmosphere" and "threats and intimidation" at Dena Elementary School in Boyle Heights.

The district transferred Barraza to the Carson campus after teacher protests at Dena, a situation that mirrored the principal's removal from Riordan Primary Center in Highland Park in 2006.

Dolores Street second-grade teacher Ana Gomez, herself a graduate of the school, was displeased when she read the story in the United Teacher newspaper in summer 2007.

"I told my husband, `Look what's coming to our school. We need to get rid of her right away,"' she said.

Gomez decided to give Barraza a chance and had a good first impression, she said. That was shattered when the two had a conflict in October, an incident that was followed by the school's UTLA chapter heads delivering a list of complaints to Barraza and then cutting off regular meetings with her.

The list, AALA representatives said, is evidence that a campaign against Barraza is being coordinated at higher levels of the teachers union.

"When you come up with 33 complaints five minutes after school starts, it's orchestrated," said AALA President Mike O'Sullivan, who called the conflict "a line-in-the-sand case."

UTLA Harbor Area head Aaron Bruhnke disputed that.

"This is not driven by the UTLA building or the UTLA chair. This is being completely driven by the teachers themselves," Bruhnke said. "I know it sounds like a pissing match" between the unions.

Dolores Street teachers also said they had come to their own conclusions without the urging of their union.

"It's always a fight with her. It's her way or the highway," said Gomez, who has a child who enrolled at Dolores Street.

Gomez is one of 24 of the school's 38 certificated instructors who plan to hand in requests to transfer to another campus - a move that may be largely symbolic since the deadline for such requests passed in April.

Local District 8 Superintendent Linda Del Cueto, who likened the divide between the sides to the conflict in the Middle East, hopes that the teachers and Barraza will come to the table this summer with an outside mediator approved by both sides.

She said she opposed removing Barraza from Dolores Street.

"Transferring is not the answer," Del Cueto said. "We need to make this work."

Del Cueto said she has contacted UTLA President A.J. Duffy - who was known in his days as an organizer for successfully ousting principals that the union opposed - about beginning mediation. Duffy is out of town and it's not clear when or whether mediation would occur.

Bruhnke, who said he had not been contacted about mediation plans, stressed that Dolores Street teachers would have to decide if they want a mediator. But he doubted the success of such an effort.

"I'm not going to say `no' to any mediation efforts, but that's what the whole last semester was about. It was a whole year of conflict and mediation, conflict and mediation," Bruhnke said. "We've had many sessions with Anna Barraza. Enough of that."

Carson Mayor Jim Dear has been suggested as a mediator, and Del Cueto said she'd be fine with him, as have AALA officials.

Dear, a UTLA member who works as a substitute teacher for LAUSD, said he'd be willing to volunteer if both sides agree to his role. He voted for a resolution passed by the Carson City Council last month that urged LAUSD to address complaints about Barraza.

Dolores Street showdown - Press-Telegram

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