New principals begin work in L.A. mayor's schools partnership
photo: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times
Leo Gonzalez, newly hired as principal of Stevenson Middle School in East Los Angeles, talks with student counselor Tania Martinez. He earlier was an associate principal for three years at Roosevelt High School, which, like Stevenson, is part of the mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.
They are hired as part of an ambitious, high-stakes effort to improve some of the lowest-achieving campuses.
By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 20, 2008 - 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."
The Daily News
In L.A., majority of `mayor's school' principals transferred out
By George B. Sánchez, Staff Writer LA DAILY NEWS
Aug 20 -- Just five months after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took control of 10 of Los Angeles' lowest-performing schools, principals at seven of the sites requested transfers that left the mayor's reform partnership searching for replacements a few months before classes started.
The transfer requests came in May after months of controversy over the high-stakes five-year pilot program and heated debate among parents and teachers late last year about whether to join the effort.
Tuesday, the mayor named replacements for the seven, but the top-level changes are the latest challenge for the effort designed to prove that urban school districts can succeed.
While officials said all the transfers were voluntary, experts who have followed the mayor's reform bid said several factors may have been involved.
"It could be they're concerned about the change in focus or direction," said Steven Frates, a senior fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College.
"It could be they're concerned about the relationship and subordination to the mayor's control. It could be they prefer to be in a different environment."
Officials with the mayor's partnership said Tuesday that some of the transfer requests were unexpected.
"Some of them, we were surprised they didn't stay," Angela Bass, superintendent of instruction for the partnership, acknowledged Tuesday.
"Some of them, we weren't."
As of this week, the seven principals have been transferred to other open positions in the district, said Mike O'Sullivan, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, the principals' union.
"They were pretty straightforward," he said. "They allowed the principals and assistant principals to stay if they wished."
Four of the principals will take positions recently opened due to retirements elsewhere.
Meanwhile, officials are seeking to fill 13 assistant principal posts at the schools - out of about three dozen - that also have become open after a combination of transfer requests and promotions, officials said.
New principals named
After the principals' transfer requests, the mayor's partnership sought applicants through advertisements within Los Angeles and across California.
The new principals named Tuesday are: Tim Sullivan, Markham Middle School; Leo Gonzalez Jr., Stevenson Middle School; Sonia Miller, Gompers Middle School; Christina Rico, Hollenbeck Middle School; Charlene Green, Ritter Elementary School; Tanya Stokes-Mack, Figueroa Elementary School; and Sherri Williams, 99th Street Elementary School.
Three of the new principals are from outside the LAUSD.
Before becoming principal of Figueroa Elementary, Stokes-Mack was the school's assistant principal.
Sullivan, who is now at Markham Middle School after working as an assistant principal at A.B. Miller High School in Fontana, said he opted for the job because since the late 1990s he has watched with interest education reform measures across the nation.
"It's a very exciting concept," he said of the mayor's partnership. "If everything falls into place, it's a beautiful thing."
In total, 65 people applied to be principals and 160 applied for open assistant principal positions, Bass said.
Applications were initially screened by Bass and others within the partnership, but hiring committees at each school interviewed the candidates.
Potential principals had to make 10-minute presentations on implementing school-improvement plans and how to measure progress.
The pool of 65 people was eventually narrowed down to 15 candidates, Bass said. Three assistant principal positions must still be filled at Markham, where Sullivan began his first day Monday.
"Everyone wants to know what it's going to look like," Sullivan said. "It'll look like school."