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Kennedy High’s new principal moving on from Blake era

Yana Gracile | June 18, 2014

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John F Kennedy High School Campus LAUSD

John F Kennedy High School Campus

As the incoming principal for John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills, Richard Chavez said he is only vaguely aware of the volatile situation he will be facing on campus when school begins on August 12.

Despite walking into the unknown, he says he will stay focused on his main priority which is doing what’s best for the students.

“If it’s good for kids, we’ll do it as long as it’s within our district policies and practices,” said Chavez, whose previous assignment was principal at Columbus Middle School, a low income, low performing school in Canoga Park that failed to meet the state API goal of 800 for 2013 and in fact, saw test scores drop 43 points to 698 from 2012-2013.

Until recently, Kennedy High School has been immersed in controversy over former principal Suzanne Blake’s management style, which created widespread division among faculty who regarded her as too authoratarian. Some teachers blamed Blake for creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, which they said remains despite the change at the top.

On June 6, Blake took another assignment as Lead Operations Coordinator at LA Unified’s Educational Service Center-North, leaving the door open for Chavez.

But trying to unify and quell the fears of the faculty is only one of the many tasks he plans to tackle.

“I need to understand the level or the degree to which faculty is feeling uncomfortable and for what reasons,” Chavez said. “I have an open door policy.”

With 16 years as principal at LAUSD and Compton Unified, Chavez has worked in a number of schools, including Compton High School and the Santee Education Complex, one of the L.A. Unified campuses operated by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa‘s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

At Columbus, he said he was able to lower suspension rates and improve attendance. He’s looking to make other positive changes at Kennedy.

One thing he said he plans to start is replicating a program he used at Santee, meeting with students monthly for “breakfast with the principals other staff members.” Chavez said he wants to seek student opinions on what they like about the school and what they would like changed.

“They see that we’re serious, and it goes back to building trust,” he said.

He says he was successful at changing the cultures of his previous schools.

“I believe I have a strong track record of getting that done,” he said.” I’m an experienced administrator and sat in a variety of chairs so you learn what works and what doesn’t work. But there’s no time for drama, just a time to work.”

“We’re looking forward to working collaboratively with him,” said Kennedy’s UTLA rep, who asked not to be identified.

One Kennedy staff member who supported Blake but also asked not to be identified, said she’s not happy with having a new principal because she feels Blake was an effective administrator who changed Kennedy for the better.

“Everything here is already structured and in control,” she said. “Everything is good, we hope this principal won’t change it.”



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