An angry and confused group of parents convened in the library at Orville Wright Middle School in Westchester Nov. 7 to demand answers regarding the abrupt reassignment of the school’s principal, Dr. Kenneth Pride.
The Nov. 3 personnel move shocked many of the middle school’s parents, who say they felt the ex-principal was steering the school in the right direction and wanted to know from district officials why he had been demoted to teacher status.
At the Nov. 7. community meeting, Local District 3 Superintendent Brenda Manual took questions from parents, students and residents of Westchester who felt that Pride was not treated fairly by Los Angeles Unified School District officials and came to advocate for their children’s popular ex-principal.
The incident that initiated the process of Pride’s demotion began last summer on a school bus, where a sexual assault allegedly took place between a female student and a male student. Orville Wright’s administration was later notified and according to Pride’s wife, Lorraine, his assistant principal handled the matter.
Recently, Pride, who did not attend the meeting, learned that his job could be in jeopardy. His wife said LAUSD Deputy Superintendent of Academic Instruction Jaime Aquino told him that he was being reassigned because the former principal “couldn’t run a program, was derelict in his duty, failed to carry out his responsibilities and did not adhere to the district’s child abuse and suspension bulletin.”
Because the disciplinary action against Pride is a personnel and confidential matter, LAUSD declined to elaborate or comment on Lorraine Pride’s remarks.
On Nov. 8, students rallied outside the school to protest LAUSD’s decision to discipline Pride. The walkout was seen by some as an indication of the depth of the students’ desire to have their former principal reinstated.
Narbik Manukian, whose son began the sixth grade at Orville Wright in September, learned about the walkout and went to the school to make certain that his son was safe.
“If this was a student-generated action, I’m impressed with the fact that middle school students would have the kind of wherewithal to organize something like this,” he said. “It shows that the students have a lot of concern about what happened to their principal.”
Westchester-Playa Education Foundation President Kelly Kane, who was at the forefront of an autonomy movement in Westchester that would have given the seven local schools more centralized control, applauded the walkout.
“When I heard what they were doing, I was elated,” she told The Argonaut. “This is a population of students that is typically not self-organizing, and they joined forces to act on what they believe in. I’m very proud of them.”
Kane, whose two children attend Westport Heights Elementary School in Westchester, blasted the decision to demote Pride. She is convinced that Aquino is casting the ex-principal as a scapegoat over the bus incident.
“Not only is LAUSD too large to function correctly, it is rotten and festering from the inside out,” she asserted. “They have forced out a dynamic leader who was creating change.”
Pride is the third principal at the middle school since 2008. Like his predecessor James Stapleton, Pride was hired by a committee of parents, faculty and community members that was a result of the reform movement.
Manual sent a letter Nov. 4 to parents announcing the date and time of the community meeting and the district’s decision to demote the former principal.
“I’m writing to inform you that effective today, Dr. Kenneth Pride has been reassigned from the position of principal at Orville Wright Middle School,” Manual wrote. “This difficult decision was reached after much discussion and deliberation.”
Manual said in her letter that the district was prohibited from revealing the full details behind Pride’s demotion.
“Due to legal constraints, regarding confidential personnel matters, we are not at liberty to discuss specific details of his reassignment,” the local superintendent wrote.
The education foundation countered with its own letter shortly after the district informed parents of its decision to demote Pride.
“There is concern that the decision to remove Dr. Pride from our school is unjustifiable and unfair, without any recourse by Dr. Pride,” the foundation’s letter stated. “The notice of re-assignment was handed to all staff, teachers, parents and students without fair warning. The notice was also given to Dr. Pride without a right to a hearing or appeal.
“This issue does not only impact Dr. Pride’s professional and personal life, but the lives of our students, teachers, staff and community at large. We urge everyone to help with the fight for our leader at Wright, as he has fought for us since the first day he set foot on our campus.”
Pride’s wife gave an emotional account of why she feels her husband was removed from his position.
“My husband loves this school,” she told the audience, who applauded her several times. “It’s all he talked about.
“When he came home and told me why he was demoted, it was unbelievable. It really breaks my heart.”
Karen Monroy, an eighth grader, said it was unfair that LAUSD removed her ex-principal with very little notice.
“We can tell that he wants to be around us,” she said. “He loves his job and he loves being at the school. And in the short period of time that he has been here, he has always been there for us.”
LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Westchester, said he understood the frustration among the parents assembled in the library and touched on Westchester’s recent history with LAUSD.
“Much of this is about the very real mistrust that some folks have about LAUSD,” he said. “I get it. It’s very clear.”
Many in Westchester still harbor ill will towards LAUSD for what they feel has been a dismantling of many of the reforms that they were promised in their pursuit of autonomy. The restructuring of the department that would facilitate the transition, the iDesign Division, has undergone vast personnel changes and the promises of local control have largely been put on hold.
After the audience asked Manual and Zimmer if they would be advocates for them, both responded that they would relay the parents’ and Pride’s supporters’ views on the demotion to the proper LAUSD officials.
“Dr. Pride deserves a full due process, and he is in that process right now,” Zimmer said.
Manukian said students walking out of their classrooms to support Pride is not something that the school district should take lightly.
“If ultimately the community and the students are their main interests, an outpouring of concern for Dr. Pride should be something that they pay attention to,” he said.
Kane said while some left the meeting discouraged, she was pleased to see virtually everyone at the meeting on the same page.
“After this meeting, I feel that Westchester has grown up,” she said. “Everyone was in agreement about what they wanted, and that is Dr. Pride’s reinstatement.”
Orville Wright Parent Teachers Organization President Ron Mito said a group of parents was considering consulting with an attorney to explore what legal options exist to assist Pride.
“I think that whatever we can do within the legal system is appropriate,” he said. “But we’re hoping that LAUSD and Mr. Zimmer, who we requested to advocate on our behalf, will take this issue forward like he said he would.
“The community wants to work with the district,” Mito added. “And all we want is due process for Dr. Pride.”