Principals Who Were Swapped Start Year With Clean Slate

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

In January, the proposal became a bombshell.

John Nicoll, superintendent of the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, urged the school board to swap the veteran principals of Newport Beach’s two archrivalhigh schools, Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor.

“This change will be good for both men and for both schools. . . . It’s just a lateral transfer,” Nicoll said.

Neither of the principals, Tom Jacobson at Newport Harbor and Dennis Evans at Corona del Mar, wanted the swap. Neither did the parents, teachers and students. A roar went up in the community, and an overflow crowd packed a Newport-Mesa Unified school board meeting Jan. 12 to protest the proposed swap.


Despite four hours of testimony by parents and students against the switch, the school board unanimously voted for Jacobson and Evans to exchange jobs in the 1988-89 school year.

About 1,000 students reacted by staging a walkout Jan. 19 at the two high schools and marching to Nicoll’s office at school district headquarters. Some parents and alumni talked about launching a recall against all seven school board members.

But by March, the threatened recall action had been abandoned. No more school demonstrations took place. And the two principals quietly prepared to leave their old posts and report to their new high schools.

Last week as the two schools opened, Jacobson, who had been principal of Newport Harbor for 12 years, started the school year as head of Corona del Mar High. And Evans, who had been principal at Corona del Mar for 17 years, spent his first day as new head of Newport Harbor. None of the furor that marked January was evident during their first week at the new schools.


“It’s really been great, with community, faculty and kids all rallying to make this work,” Evans said.

Jacobson similarly found that “the kids and parents and faculty have been extremely helpful and kind as I’ve made the transition.” The controversy, he said, has faded into memory. “We don’t hear about (it) anymore; it’s well behind us. The bottom line is that we work for the superintendent and the school board, and we respond and report to work where they want us to work.”

Nonetheless, the two principals conceded that the change had its painful moments. “You don’t work for a school for 12 years without storing up many fond memories,” Jacobson said.

After 17 years, Evans said, “there are a lot of feelings. But when you’re a professional, and you have a job to do, you certainly are going to do your best. Everybody here at Newport Harbor has been more than gracious.”


Superintendent Nicoll, the man at the center of the storm in January, said last week, “The controversy--if that’s what you want to call it--is now behind us, and these two principals are continuing to do a good piece of work. . . . I think this gives them both new opportunities for professional growth, and I think the change is in the best interest of the school district.”

A frequent question of critics in January was whether Nicoll had an unexplained motive for making the switch. Last week, Nicoll said he never did. “That kind of talk is claptrap,” he said. “It’s claptrap.”