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As Carthay Center turns magnet, parents want principal out

Yana Gracile | May 5, 2014

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Carthay Center Elementary School LAUSD LA Unified

Carthay Center Elementary School

Disgruntled parents from Carthay Center Elementary school in LA Unified’s District 1 are holding rallies this week to build support for removing their principal.

Their outrage arose after the principal, Crystal Campbell-Shirley, who is completing her first year at the school, told seven teachers on Friday — half the faculty — that they would not be welcome back in the next academic year. The dismissals came as the school is undergoing a transformation to an Environmental Studies Magnet, which requires all current teachers to re-apply for their positions at the new school.

But the parents say that four of the teachers, whom they describe as experienced and high performing instructors, were let go because they had been working closely with parents involved in the magnet conversion.

While the parents say they don’t object to the reapplication rules, they contend that Shirley was retaliating against them for voicing frustrations in March to an LA Unified instructional director, Autri Streeck, over Shirley’s lack of collaboration with the parents.

“This is absolutely not right. Our fears about her judgment were correct,” Naomi Cohen, a parent of two students at Carthay, told LA School Report. “This felt like a punishment that she was sending a message to the teachers that were collaborating with parents and a message to parents as well.”

Messages seeking comment left for Shirley and Streeck were not returned. The district said in a statement, “Since this is an ongoing personnel matter, the district has no comment.”

Cohen’s husband, Tyson Roberts, who has been active in the school’s transition said, “In the March 24 meeting with Ms. Streeck, the delegation of parents, including myself, told her that we have zero confidence in Ms. Shirley’s ability to assess the qualifications of faculty.”

An email response to the parents from Streeck read, in part, “Please know that teachers at Carthay have not been fired. Teachers that were not chosen to return to Carthay Environmental Studies Magnet School are still LAUSD employees. There has not been any change in the status of their employment.”

She went on to say that another district official, Instructional Superintendent Cheryl Hildreth, would review Shirley’s decisions and the recommendations made by a committee comprised of Shirley, Streeck, parent Jon Armstrong and a UTLA representative that interviewed each teacher for purposes of rehiring.

Teachers were evaluated only on how they did in the interviews — no other criteria, such as student classroom performance was considered, Roberts said.

Roberts, Cohen and other parents said that an agreement had been reached last year between the magnet committee and Shirley’s predecessor, assuring that all teachers would be allowed to keep their jobs. When that didn’t happen, Roberts said he was told by Streeck that if such an agreement was reached, it was not binding because a new principal is not bound by decisions made by a previous principal.

“My kids have personally experienced six teachers, and they were all excellent and are also very committed to the new magnet and, in fact, are already teaching the environmental studies curriculum even though Ms. Shirley has not organized the necessary training,” Roberts told LA School Report.

Roberts also said Shirley disregarded the views of committee members who felt strongly about the abilities of the school’s better teachers.

“The decision of which teachers to retain and which to dismiss was made by the principal alone and no-one understands what her criteria were,” Roberts said. “We only know that at least four of the teachers dismissed were among the very best teachers in the school who have been more active in preparation for the magnet than the principal herself, so it was not based on teaching effectiveness or on commitment to the magnet mission.”

He added that parents are now exploring other options to remove Shirley, including a petition to invoke California’s Parent Trigger law.

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