Latino parents voiced opposition to a principal removal at an elementary school Monday night at the Anaheim City School District's (ACSD) board meeting. Their testimonies were all for naught. If the scenario sounds familiar, it's because it is! This time last year, mostly Latino parents from Benito Juarez elementary called on board members to retain Principal Roberto Baeza instead of transferring him out to Palm Lane, only to be turned down. Just a few months into his new assignment, administrators placed Baeza on leave this year before Superintendent Linda Wagner demoted him back to being a teacher. The move didn't sit well with those who demanded answers.
Before Monday night's meeting, parents kicked off a series of planned actions starting with a protest outside the ACSD's office last Friday. The savvy supe came out with bottled waters to offer parents but didn't divulge any details on her demotion of their former principal. One mother present recounted how the issue came up a few days before the protest. Fifty or so Palm Lane parents met for a "Disciplina Positiva" (positive discipline) class when a visitor arrived.
"Superintendent Linda Wagner came and interrupted our meeting," Ceci Ochoa tells the Weekly in Spanish. "She told us that Dr. Baeza wasn't coming back and asked us what characteristics we'd like in a new principal." The parents responded that they wanted Baeza back. They also pressed for answers as to why he was taken from the school in the first place. They didn't get any then, just a caution that there was nothing they could do to bring Baeza back.
Sylvia Gudiño has a 5th and 3rd grader attending the school. She spoke well of the changes Baeza brought to the school facing tough socio-economic challenges. "His priorities were the children," she said in Spanish. "Now the situation is much worse since he's been gone."
Undeterred by the supe's intransigence, Palm Lane parents showed up to Monday's board meeting, especially since the demotion decision had been agendized for discussion. Protesters lined the back walls with signs noting ACSD board president (And Weekly 2012 Scariest Person inductee) Jose F. Moreno as "El Malinche Moreno" and depictions of Wagner's face crossed out.
Ceci Ochoa took to public comments once more. "We want to resolve the problem at our school," she said to applause. "We want to know why out principal was removed. I think our children should have the same quality education that your children have."
"Thank you for offering us some water," Rosa Vargas said directly to Wagner. She has grandkids at Juarez and nephews at Palm Lane. "You promised us that you were moving Baeza from Juarez to Palm Lane because he had the capabilities needed there."
Not one speaker from Palm Lane or anywhere else spoke in favor of the demotion.
After public comments concluded, Moreno introduced discussion on the issue. He offered the disclaimer that since it was a personnel decision, few details, if any, could be given with privacy protections under the California Constitution and Brown Act (although in 2013, Moreno did tell me after a meeting that he thought Baeza was a bad principal).
"The Superintendent is hired by the board," he said. "[She] assesses and makes recommendations on personnel decisions." Moreno gave his utmost word that the board discussed the matter thoroughly before its 4-1 closed session vote, while board member Jeff Cole assured parents that their sign-making protest efforts weren't wasted.
Parents took their protest outside Anaheim City Hall before the start of the council meeting yesterday as planned. But board member Sandy Blumberg had other words while trying to downplay the importance of the roles principals play at schools. "You know very little about what's gone on. All you know is that you love Dr. Baeza," she said. "It's time to move on and embrace someone new."
For Palm Lane, that means readying itself for its third principal in as many years.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2