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Kennedy High principal evoking strong feelings, good and bad

Yana Gracile | May 30, 2014

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Suzanne Blake Principal of Kennedy HIgh School LAUSD

Suzanne Blake, Principal of Kennedy High School

Teachers at John Kennedy High School in Granada Hills are speaking out against the principal, Suzanne Blake, over what they perceive as an autocratic management style that fractures faculty unity.

While Blake has supporters among Kennedy’s 90-plus teachers and staff, the willingness of some teachers to complain suggests that she remains a polarizing figure within the school, contributing to a faculty divided over how it regards her as a leader.

Despite the obvious passion on both sides of the issue, Blake declined numerous requests from LA School Report to comment on how her leadership is perceived at the school.

Blake’s detractors accuse her of creating an atmosphere of mistrust and intimidation, running the school in a my-way-or-the-highway style. Others say she is the best thing that ever happened to Kennedy. From 2011 through 2013, the school’s API scores improved 5 percent, to 748 from 711.

Melinda Jackson, the school nurse who has been at Kennedy for 12 years, said she and the majority of the staff have deep respect for Blake and her administration because of positive changes in recent years.

“When Suzanne arrived, it was like a breath of fresh air; she cared,” Jackson told LA School Report. “She fostered a positive school environment by putting kids first.”

But Blake’s critics offer a sharply different view of her impact at the school, where she has served for three years. They spoke only on the condition of anonymity, fearful that they would lose their jobs if they openly criticized her.

“I’m afraid,” said one teacher, who claimed to have witnessed tactics of intimidation by Blake. “I can’t lose my job. If I’m on her hit list, I could be targeted.”

Another teacher, who has been at the school for more than a decade, said that there had been a sense of community and collaboration among teachers and administrators before Blake’s arrival. Now, he said, that has dissipated.

Blake came to Kennedy as someone well familiar with controversy. In 2010, the teachers union, UTLA, called for her removal as Principal at Central Los Angeles High School #9, now the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts. Three teachers among 43 were transferred out.

Shortly after arriving at Kennedy, she evoked outrage among some parents after she fired coaches of the school’s football, baseball and softball teams and ended several sports programs.

The first Blake critic told LA School Report that Blake plays favorites with certain teachers and students and lashes out and intimidates those she doesn’t like. He cited Leslie Garcia, a teacher and librarian who is under investigation for reportedly mishandling and manipulating the record-keeping of ARC, the after school program, as an example of a Blake-protected employee.

She was removed from the school but quickly returned.

Other teachers, the critic said, are unjustly dismissed and never heard from again. He said he knows of two.

“She’s getting away with murder,” he said. “Who is watching her? There is no oversight.”

A third critic said he has seen Blake insulting and disrespecting teachers with more than 30 years of experience. “It’s very miserable here,” he said.

Blake also has critics online. A petition calling for her removal lists more than a dozen complaints about actions she has taken. So far, more than 1,100 people have signed although there is no way to confirm independently whether they have any relation to the school. Nor is it clear what such a petition could actually achieve.

Criticism aside, Blake has supporters at the school who credit her as being instrumental in addressing problems that existed when she came on board.

Kristina Clyde, a department chair of special education, applauded Blake for bringing discipline to the school. Clyde said that when she first started, the air on campus lingered with marijuana.

But two months into her administration, Clyde said,“that stopped cold in its tracks.”

She also said Blake was able to crack down and eliminate drug dealers and gangs that ran ramped at the school.

Veteran science teacher Cindy Stuckey also feels Blake has been able to turn things around for the better and the school is now focused on learning.

“I just adore her, she is a true leader,” she said.

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