In the largest administrative shake-up in recent memory, two of the three elementary school principals in the South Pasadena Unified School District have resigned under pressure, touching off a protest by some parents at the schools.
"They did not have the option to stay where they are," school board President Yvonne Pine said about the resignations of two of the district's most experienced administrators--James L. Greulich, 60, a principal for 29 years who runs Monterey Hills School, and Arroyo Vista Principal Betty Cowan, 64, a 32-year employee. A third principal, Gordon Teaby, 53, head of South Pasadena High School, has also resigned, leaving the district with vacancies in the top positions at three of its five schools.
Teaby and school officials, including Pine, said his resignation was voluntary and unrelated to the other two. Teaby said he submitted his resignation on Feb. 13 and will accept an administrative position in another district. The timing of his resignation, however, led to speculation in the community that his departure was connected to the other two. Teaby would not discuss his new job. Greulich and Cowan apparently resigned under pressure from Dist. Supt. Warren Newman.
Newman said in an interview last week that all the resignations were voluntary, but he refused to talk about details, saying that state law prohibits him from discussing personnel matters involving specific individuals.
Pine, however, said Newman had notified Greulich and Cowan last month that they would not be retained as principals when the school year ends in June. He gave them the option of retiring, resigning or accepting reassignment to a classroom teaching position, Pine said. Statelaw requires that teachers and administrators be told by March 1 whether the district plans to retain them in their positions.
Pine said principals serve at the discretion of the superintendent and board permission is not required for reassignments, but she added that Newman had the unanimous support of the school board in his decision. A final decision on personnel assignments will not be made until June, but Pine said it appears unlikely Greulich and Cowan would be assigned as principals.
Since his promotion from assistant superintendent last June, Newman, 52, frequently has expressed a desire for more innovative instruction and leadership. Before being named superintendent, Newman had been assistant superintendent for four years.
Greulich and Cowan submitted resignations Feb. 20, effective in June, but word did not spread to the community until last week. Cowan, who has been a principal for the last 16 years, said she has asked for reassignment to the classroom. Greulich, who had been principal at Monterey Hills for three years, said he is seeking a job outside the district. Both said they had not expected reassignments.
"It was a surprise and a shock," said Cowan, who has been principal at Arroyo Vista since 1979.
Surprise--and anger--over the developments were also expressed by parents, who began circulating a petition this week to retain the principals. Lucille Wiltrout, whose two daughters attend Arroyo Vista, said she is urging parents to protest the issue at the school board meeting at 7:30 p.m. at the South Pasadena Middle School Auditorium.
"Speaking hypothetically," Newman said, "if I would say to an administrator I think I'd like to consider you for another post, that decision would not be made until June. That person would have the option to consider my discussion and make some other choices, one of which is to wait and see what happens, the other is to not."
Reasons for the changes remain unclear.
"I wish I knew," said Greulich. "I was told I no longer figured in the administrative plans of the district."
Cowan said her decision to change jobs was personal and declined to discuss possible reasons for the change.
Although Cowan and Greulich said they had no warning that they would not be retained before talking with Newman in separate private meetings in mid-February, Newman said his ideas were "well known" among his staff.
"At the beginning of February, all certificated staff were requested to indicate their plans for the following year," Newman said. "All I would say at this point is there had been some considerable dialogue with all the administrators. At this point in time, various options were discussed with the administrators."
Although he refused to disclose specific information about new policies or curriculum programs that led to his decision regarding the personnel changes, Newman did offer some general observations.
"It's a different era in terms of students' needs and community needs and I want to address those needs," Newman said. "It's a period of enormous growth in public education, the raising of standards. I'm looking at ways to improve the program. I want to have the best kind of leadership I can provide . . . ."
School board members also couched their remarks regarding the personnel moves in general references to the district's plans for the future.
Pine said "philosophical differences," not competency, led to the changes. "Our vision," she said, "has been made very clear by the superintendent--extremely strong curriculum, people who understand curriculum development and modern technology. People who understand basic core of knowledge and the kind of things that make our lives meaningful in a technological society. We are anxious for people who can lead innovation in teaching.
"We're not talking about asking a human being to implement a program. We're talking about philosophical differences. There isn't anything specific. There's nothing rotten in Denmark. I didn't choose to talk about this with constituents because I don't think it's any of their business. It's the superintendent's judgment."
Asked what new goals or programs might have created a philosophical rift between the departing elementary school principals and the district administration, school board member Ellen Hervey said that other than a recently adopted general statement of philosophy, goals and plans "have not been formulated."
Robert Smiland said the board is considering several changes, including offering counseling services at the elementary level and more on-site control over curriculum and budgetary matters.
Sturkie Refused Comment
Another board member, Joan Sturkie, refused to comment, and the fifth, Susan La Combe, could not be reached for comment.
The administrative shuffle clearly took parents and teachers by surprise.
Several teachers, who asked not to be identified, said the faculty at both schools was shocked. One veteran teacher at Arroyo Vista said the staff was saddened by the news. One parent active in school affairs said several teachers told her they had agreed among themselves not to discuss their views in public.
Arroyo Vista PTA President Myrna Leisure said Cowan has had a good relationship with parents, but declined to discuss the resignations.
Terry Granath, president of the PTA at Monterey Hills School, said, "The majority of the people I've spoken with have been unpleasantly surprised. It is a very difficult position for us to be in because we do think Mr. Greulich has done a very good job and at the same time supports our district."
Granath said most parents are upset because they feel they have not been given a sufficient explanation for the moves. "We don't have answers."
Terry Robinson, a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District whose daughter attends Monterey Hills, said she thinks Greulich has done a good job at the school and is well respected by faculty and parents. She characterized the district administration's reference to innovation and curriculum development as "educational jargon . . . that says nothing."
"Greulich is a strong person and I could see where he could have some clashes with some," Robinson said, "but overall I'd never question his competency or his dedication."
Robinson is organizing a protest for the March 20 school board meeting.