Sylmar Protest Seeks New Look at Transfer of Principal

Times Staff Writer

Toting signs and calling on school district officials to reconsider their decision to transfer a popular principal, about 30 parents, teachers and students rallied Monday in support of a Sylmar administrator who was demoted this month after she failed a principal's examination.

"We're simply asking that they keep the woman they gave us in the first place," parent Linda Chambers said. "I say give her another chance."

A Los Angeles Unified School District spokesman, however, said the rally will not alter the decision to transfer Jean Lau from Sylmar Elementary School, where she had been principal since last fall, to a Chinatown school, where she will serve as assistant principal.

'Going to Stand'

"The decision is going to stand," spokesman Bill Rivera said.

People at the rally said Lau had devised innovative programs, got parents more involved and improved the curriculum at the school.

Also attending the rally were representatives of Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulveda) and Los Angeles City Councilman Howard Finn. Katz's representative, Paula Zwagerman, said the legislator had sent a letter to Supt. Harry H. Handler asking him to reconsider the decision to strip Lau of her position.

"Ms. Lau has been an inspiration to the community of Sylmar," the letter read in part. "She has demonstrated her ability as an effective administrator and has been extremely responsive to the community she serves."

Finn will send a similar letter, his representative said.

But Rivera said the decision was already reconsidered earlier this month after parents and faculty voiced their concerns to the board.

29 Failed Test

Lau was one of 74 principal candidates who took the required three-day test in November. She was among 29 who failed the test.

Rivera said principals normally are not appointed until after they pass the test. But in recent years, mostly because of staff attrition, district officials have had to make some conditional appointments of administrators they feel will succeed in the job and eventually pass the test, he said.

The district originally decided that those who failed would not continue as principals, but after an uproar from communities losing principals, the district decided to retain 10 who had failed by a narrow margin, Rivera said. The reinstated principals must pass the test next year or they will be removed, Rivera said.

Cites Big Gap

Rivera said there was a big gap between the scores of the 10 reinstated principals and those of Lau and four other conditional principals who were told they would be transferred.

Lau's replacement, Yvonne Chan, the former assistant principal of Sharp Avenue Elementary School in Pacoima, has not taken the exam, Rivera said. If she does not pass the test, she also will face a transfer, he said.

"It's not that we're appointing people who are not qualified," Rivera said. "In an exam process, by nature, somebody's going to succeed and somebody's going to fail. . . . Ms. Lau was very successful on the job, but unfortunately she did not pass the exam with a high enough score to be continued."

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