2 Principals Survive Tough Assignments With Honors

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Times Staff Writer

At Haddon Elementary School in Pacoima, two-thirds of the kindergartners don’t speak English, many students come from low-income families and the school operates on a year-round calendar so that 1,300 students can be squeezed onto a campus built for 1,000.

The situation is different, but no easier, at Miguel Leonis Continuation High School in Woodland Hills, where four teachers and about 90 students work in a loosely structured atmosphere. Most of the students attend the small alternative school because they have have been unsuccessful in a traditional school.

Haddon and Leonis are not easy duty posts. But Albert Roque, principal of Haddon, and Howard Marcus, principal of Leonis, won honors for doing their jobs well. They were among six administrators in the Los Angeles Unified School District named outstanding principals this week by the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.


Fourth Year for Awards

This was the fourth year that outstanding principals have been recognized by the chamber. Principals are nominated by their supervisors. The selection is based on their students’ achievement on standardized tests, community perception of the school and the principal, innovative programs and the morale of students, parents and staff.

Finalists were given $1,500 for instructional programs at their schools. But, although the money is important, Region Superintendent Tony Rivas said he believes putting the principal in the spotlight is more meaningful.

“Principals take a lot of knocks from a lot of folks throughout the year,” said Rivas, who oversees elementary and junior high schools in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley. “It’s great when we can take time out and recognize the important role they play.”

For years, studies have pointed to the pivotal role the principal plays in creating an effective school. Ernest Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, said in one such study that, in schools where achievement is high and there is a clear sense of community, “invariably, the principal made the difference.”

At Haddon, Roque has spent seven years trying to improve the educational opportunities at a school that is almost 100% Latino, with students who work at many levels of English proficiency.

Since his arrival, the school has added many special laboratories in which students can receive extra help in subjects such as math, English reading and Spanish reading.


Roque has worked hard at making parents feel they have a part to play in the school, the Chamber of Commerce said, and many of the teaching aides enlisted at Haddon are parents.

Roque said his fluency in Spanish makes it easier for him to provide a bridge between parents and the school.

Puts Value on Teachers

Roque places an especially high value on getting the best teachers for the school. He estimated that he gets 30 applicants for every opening on his faculty, an unusually high number, which makes it possible for him to be selective. He said the fact the school operates year-round is an attractive feature to job-seeking teachers.

“The key here is our teachers,” Roque said as walked the hallways of Haddon. “If you have good teachers, you’ll have good programs.”

Roque spent 20 years in various capacities in Eastside schools before joining Haddon. He has always worked with elementary-schools children because “I just want to shove them in the right direction,” he said.

“The objective at this school is to elevate student achievement,” Roque said. “Test scores are important because we’re judged by them. But there are a lot of other important things we must do that can’t be measured by tests--developing leadership skills, making sure students have a variety of experiences and making sure all students know they can be successful.”


Disputes Special Art

At Leonis, principal Marcus said there is no art to being an outstanding principal. “I just think it’s hard work, an effort to be understanding and to be a motivator to the students and the staff,” he said.

In 1972, when Marcus was given the assignment to open Leonis as an alternative school for students who were not able to adjust the traditional large high school, he saw the job as a steppingstone to another assignment. Fourteen years later, Marcus is still at Leonis and says he can’t imagine himself being a principal at a large, more structured school.

As at all continuation schools, students must sign contracts with their teachers that promise completion of a certain amount of course work in a specified period. Continuation school students must meet the same graduation requirements as those at regular high schools.

The contracts at Leonis also apply to parents. They must pledge to volunteer time working in the program, doing jobs from preparing a dish for the school cafeteria, to counseling students on job opportunities, to teaching skills such as photography, landscaping or computer programming. Many retirees also volunteer at Leonis.

“We’re able to increase our course offerings by 200% because of our volunteers,” Marcus said.

Region Superintendent Rivas, who has supervised both Marcus and Roque, said there is a common thread to their success.


“They both want to make school an enjoyable place to learn.”