Despite protests of a group of upset parents, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board approved the transfer of Lincoln Middle School principal Tristan Komlos to John Muir Elementary School, as well as the reassignment of Martha Duran-Contreras, whom Komlos re- places.
Maria Leon-Vazquez was the sole school board member to vote against the transfers.
As of July 1st, Komlos has taken over for Duran-Contreras, who has been with the district over 20 years and served as principal of John Muir for five years. Duran-Contreras has now become principal on “special assignment,” working with the district’s four Title I schools — McKinley Elementary, John Muir Elementary, Edison Language Academy and Will Rogers Learning Community.
“The district believes it is in the best interest of students and the district,” said assistant superintendent Mike Matthews of the transfers.
Said Duran-Contreras, “I was given the opportunity to work as a principal on special assignment working with our four Title I schools. I will meet with the four principals to determine an area of focus for my work with them. I have a strong commitment to working in a socially just situation ensuring that all children are educated.”
Several parents, and Duran-Contreras, spoke before the school board approved the transfers.
Some expressed their anger and sadness about seeing Duran-Contreras leave John Muir.
“I’m extremely upset,” said Charlene Nakamura, a parent of two students at John Muir. “[Duran-Contreras] always conducted herself in a professional manner. I am sad to see her removed from John Muir.”
Nakamura said the timing of Contreras’s transfer was also “unbelievably disrespectful.”
Nakamura and other parents said they learned of the transfer through an article in the Los Angeles Times Saturday, June 21st. The last day of school for John Muir students was Friday, June 20th.
“The kids said goodbye to their principal for the summer,” said Nakamura. “They had no idea that they were saying goodbye to her forever — that she’s no longer going to be the principal at their school.”
Another parent, Alicia Garey, asked, “Why would the district conduct itself this way?”
Garey expressed concern about appointing Komlos — whose background is in secondary schools and who reportedly has no experience in elementary education — principal of John Muir.
Garey, as well as other parents, also expressed concern about appointing someone who is not fluent in Spanish as principal of a school where 30 percent of the students come from Latino families.
“A large portion of our students come from homes where English is not the first language,” said Nakamura. “How is she [Komlos] going to communicate with these parents?”
Duran-Contreras is fluent in both Spanish and English, but Komlos is not, according to district sources.
Parents also stressed that John Muir needed the proper resources to transition a new principal into the school.
“All of our new principals get support, and we will be supporting Ms. Komlos and any other new principal with a combination of mentoring and training to help them be as successful as possible,” Matthews said.
At the meeting, Duran-Contreras also spoke among the upset parents, using passages from minister, educator and social activist Dr. Benjamin Mays.
“It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for,” she said. “Not failure, but low aim is sin.”
In closing, she said she hoped that the reassignments were made “with children in mind.”
The transfers come shortly after Lincoln Middle School teacher Thomas Beltran was charged with molesting several of his students.
The district would not confirm or deny whether the recommended staffing reassignments were related to the arrest of Beltran, who has been with the district 30 years and with Lincoln Middle School for about two decades.
Lincoln Middle School does not yet have a new principal but the district expects to interview candidates in early August and have someone on board in mid-August, Matthews said.