The Anaheim City School District (ACSD) took action against Palm Lane Principal Roberto Baeza during a Monday meeting of the school board. In a 4-1 closed session vote, board members released him of his principal duties and will reassign the educator at the start of the next school year. It's not a first for Baeza as mostly Latino parents rallied against the board and superintendent Linda Wagner this time last year against a principal rotation taking him out of Benito Juarez Elementary.
News of Baeza's fate remained unknown until the ACSD put out a press release yesterday about the vote. Not even the educator himself knew it pertained to him. "I wasn't exactly sure what the vote was about," says Dr. Roberto Baeza. But he would soon find out in a followup meeting yesterday morning with the supe. "It was short, brief and to the point," he says. The former principal expected word on an investigation that put him on leave for three months. "What I got instead was my notice of demotion."
Baeza's whereabouts came up during public comment anyway as community members had their suspicions. "Why would you take a good thing away from the children?" asked Julie Brunette. She has a grandchild at Palm Lane and vowed to take action. "Bring him back. If I don't see him back next week, I'll picket." Brunette promised that others would too.
"We have a right to know why he's not at Palm Lane," added Jeanette Saldivar, a vocal parent in the effort to keep Baeza at Juarez last year. Saldivar blasted ACSD Board President (and OC Weekly Scariest People 2012 inductee) Jose F. Moreno for being a Latino elected official that failed to support them.
A beleaguered Baeza kept a low-profile during last year's protests. Up until then, he enjoyed an otherwise tranquil career that saw him climb the ranks from teacher to vice principal to principal. Out of the lost fight, Baeza started the new school year at Palm Lane Elementary, a school whose Academic Performance Index (API) scores didn't meet growth targets and consistently fell below state standards. Wagner told Juarez parents last spring that he was a great principal–an assessment that, on surface, is at odds with what Moreno told this reporter in person last July when he described Baeza as "not a good principal." Instead of things settling down, the supe put the Anaheim educator in her crosshairs long before this week's vote.
On February 17, administrators placed Baeza on leave pending an investigation. According to sources at Palm Lane, the superintendent explained the situation the very next day.
"Linda Wagner came to the campus to tell staff Principal Baeza was on administrative leave," one source told the Weekly. "She said there were complaints and concerns that needed to be addressed and investigated." Wagner clarified that he wasn't being investigated for anything illegal. It was only her second visit to Palm Lane at the time.
"As with any investigation, we want to ensure that we conduct it with the most minimal impact to the learning environment and disruption to students," ACSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Luis Caramena said back in March. "We are currently in the process of speaking with teachers and employees to make sure that the school is the best learning and work environment possible."
But our school sources say Palm Lane wasn't all that inviting to Baeza from the start. "He never got a fair shake at all," another says. "He was put into a hostile environment by Wagner, and she knew it. It has only escalated. It's really been blown out of proportion now." Staff reportedly remained divided as the investigation dragged on and on.
"Ensuring a constructive learning and work climate is our top priority," Wagner said in a press statement. "After thoughtful consideration, the school board decided to release Dr. Baeza from his position as principal at Palm Lane Elementary School and reassign him to another certificated position for the 2014-2015 school year."
The suave speak from the savvy supe falls short on reality. "I've been told I'm going down to a teacher position," says Baeza. "It's not connected to my job performance nor the three-month long investigation. I've been demoted."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz