By Melissa Pamer, Daily Breeze Staff Writer | http://bit.ly/vDGbDd
Updated: 11/20/2011 11:16:22 PM PST - Still smarting from several recent battles with Los Angeles Unified, the Westchester education community is now reeling from the removal of a popular new principal at Orville Wright Middle School.
Kenneth Pride, a former assistant principal at Westchester High, was selected by a school hiring committee to lead the neighboring middle school in summer 2010. Earlier this month, he was dismissed and demoted to a teaching position - an action that he says is linked to his handling last May of an incident of a sexual nature that involved two students.
School district officials are saying little about either Pride's demotion or the spring incident, citing confidential personnel matters.
Pride has been awaiting an appointment to a teaching position while sitting in the Westside office of Local District 3, which oversees Westchester schools. He said he has never been written up for any incident in his 12-year LAUSD career.
Pride said district officials demoted him because he failed to follow district policy by not immediately calling authorities after learning of a sexual encounter between students. He said he did not call police because he did not know for several days the names of the students involved.
"I have been treated pretty funky, pretty bad. The district is taking the position that basically I'm an idiot," Pride said. "It's brutal, it's ugly. I'm left in the lurch. They came down with a sledgehammer on me."
His removal has prompted an outcry among parents and students. There have been multiple community meetings on the issue since Pride's Nov. 4 dismissal, said J.D. Webster, chairman of the education committee of the Westchester/Playa neighborhood council.
"People in the community, parents, teachers, are all saying this is wrong," Webster said. "People were outraged, upset. ... There have been student protests. ... This was their principal. This was a man they believed in."
Local District 3 Superintendent Brenda Manuel answered Daily Breeze questions about the situation by email, offering only generalities.
"The decision to reassign Mr. Pride from his position is a confidential personnel matter and, therefore, specific details cannot be discussed or revealed. The district considers allegations of a sexual nature to be a very serious matter and the protocol includes investigating these matters," Manuel wrote.
Pride said a male student involved in the incident on the school bus was expelled, and his mother had threatened to appeal the expulsion to the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Pride could not provide details of the incident because of a need to protect student privacy, he said.
Official can't speak
LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer, whose district includes Westchester, said he was "bound by confidentiality" not to speak about the matter.
Zimmer said he was "very distraught and worried" about the school, which some say was showing signs of improvement under Pride.
His dismissal is especially sensitive in Westchester because it's a community that has fought to have increased autonomy from LAUSD for its "Family of Schools." The removal in 2010 of a community-selected principal at Westchester High - and the conversion of that school to a magnet campus this fall - raised hackles.
Some cynically see Pride's removal as an effort by district officials to regain control of the sometimes troubled middle school. Emails to that effect have been circulated in the community.
Kelly Kane, a parent who has rallied others to return their children to neighborhood schools while also being publicly very critical of the district, is furious. She views the demotion as yet another blow to the community's effort to assert independence from LAUSD.
"The only vestige of that autonomy was to be able to hire our own principal. But yet again the beast that is LAUSD has cut us down and said, `No, you don't get to make that choice either,"' Kane said.
Regarding the school-bus incident, Pride said he reported it to school police as soon as he had the names of the students involved. He learned of the incident after it occurred from a student journal entry that provided no names, he said. It was reported several days later once the involved students' identities were confirmed, he said.
He said he followed district instructions in pursuing the student's expulsion.
"Now the district is saying there's something I did not do when I was following directions every step of the way," Pride said.
In September, Pride said, a team of district officials descended on the school to investigate.
After questioning his handling of the May incident, Pride was notified Nov. 4 in a meeting at the district's downtown headquarters that he was being removed from his post. Assistant Principal Susan Allen was appointed interim leader of the school.
The same day, a letter was sent from Manuel to Orville Wright parents explaining Pride's reassignment. It provided no details.
"This difficult decision was reached after much discussion and deliberation," Manuel wrote.
Pride was returned to a teaching position, he said, because he had not spent enough years as an administrator to have rights under the district's administrator's contract to return to an assistant principal position.
A community hiring committee will select a candidate to replace Pride, Manuel said in an email.