Kenneth Crowe, the demoted former principal at Hawthorne High School, was named Wednesday night to replace ousted Principal Lawrence Freeman as the top administrator at Inglewood High School.
In a 3-1 vote with one abstention, Inglewood trustees discounted the recent decision by their Centinela Valley Union High School District counterparts to demote Crowe from the principal's office to the classroom.
"That was a political decision," said Inglewood school board President Lois Hill-Hale. "We just based our decision on his qualifications."
Crowe, who had headed Hawthorne High since 1988, has been a controversial figure in the racially charged Centinela Valley district. His reassignment and announced resignation sparked student walkouts and racial unrest this spring. He was demoted in June to a teaching position at the district's continuation high school. Centinela trustees have not provided a public explanation for the move.
There was little response to Crowe's hiring at the sparsely attended meeting Wednesday night, though a handful of Freeman supporters left the room after the late-night decision.
"To me it's a terrific loss to the district," said Sandra Mack, a Freeman supporter who has a son at Inglewood high. "The district won't be able to replace the expertise, knowledge and dedication that Freeman had no matter who they bring in."
In recent weeks, as speculation grew about who would get the Inglewood High principalship, many community members discounted Crowe's chances because of his run-ins with the Centinela Valley trustees.
But Inglewood Supt. George McKenna, who supervised Crowe several years ago at Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, called Crowe "an experienced principal" caught in a politically divided school district.
McKenna said Thursday that Inglewood High students will find Crowe to be "an energetic, fun-loving, upscale, high-visibility, strong man. They'll like him. They'll love him."
Hill-Hale said Crowe impressed district officials because of his skills with people and his strong emphasis on student achievement. She said he also offered an enlightened response when asked how he would have handled the student fighting at Inglewood High that was ultimately Freeman's downfall.
The fighting broke out in May when black students walked out of a Cinco de Mayo celebration to retaliate against Latinos who had interrupted a Black History Month activity in February.
After the incident, some students blamed Freeman for not dealing effectively with racial divisions at the school. At the time, school board members called the turmoil at Inglewood the last straw for Freeman, who took stress leave the day after the fighting.
Crowe's selection ends a two-month search that began in May when Inglewood trustees voted to reassign Freeman to an as-yet-unspecified position in the district.
Freeman, 67, enforced strict disciplinary and dress codes during his six years at Inglewood High, andhis allies credited him for ridding the campus of gang activity and establishing high expectations for students.
His detractors, however, called him "Screamin' Freeman" and criticized his brash leadership style and strict rules for both students and teachers. During his tenure he had been picketed by teachers and found guilty of unfair labor practices in his treatment of the faculty.
Freeman appealed to the Inglewood trustees in late June to "search their hearts" and reinstate him at Inglewood High. He could not be reached for comment Thursday on his replacement.
McKenna, who had urged the board to replace Freeman, nevertheless praised Freeman's dedication to the students of Inglewood High.
Crowe received the highest ranking among 10 applicants for two principal's posts in Inglewood. The other position, at Crozier Junior High School, went to the second-ranked person on the list: Lowell Winston, an Inglewood resident who is principal at a Compton middle school.
Inglewood trustees said they questioned Crowe about the turmoil in the Centinela Valley district but did not contact board members there because of the politically charged atmosphere. Along with Hill-Hale, other board members voting for Crowe were Larry Aubry and Joseph Rouzan.
Hill-Hale said trustees based Crowe's evaluation as a candidate on his responses to questions and their intuition. When asked how he would have handled the student fighting, Crowe told the trustees that he would have formed discussion groups that included students involved in the incidents, faculty members and administrators, Hill-Hale said.
Board member Zyra McCloud, who cast the sole vote against Crowe, said she did it for his own good. After his controversial tenure at Hawthorne High, McCloud said, she did not want him to endure more turmoil in Inglewood, where the community is divided over whether Freeman should have been ousted.
Board member Thomasina Reed, who abstained from the vote, said she had reservations about Crowe's selection. "I wish he had five years' more experience," she said.
McKenna said former Centinela Valley Supt. McKinley Nash, himself recently fired by trustees there, spoke highly of Crowe.
Crowe, a graduate of UC San Diego and Pepperdine University, began his career as a junior high school principal in Los Angeles in 1975. He moved in 1979 to Washington Prep, where McKenna was principal, working as a social studies teacher and activities director for the next four years.
Crowe later became assistant principal in Lynwood in 1983 and dean of students at Hawthorne High in 1985. He was named assistant principal at Hawthorne in 1986 and principal in February, 1988.
One of his first major moves at the school was to reassign more than 30 teachers who had been teaching in areas for which they lacked credentials. The predominantly white teachers union complained bitterly about the reassignments and accused Crowe of favoritism and poor management skills.
Crowe, who is black, argued that he was the victim of racism and late last year began accusing the predominantly Latino school board of not moving fast enough to ease racial tensions in the district.
Crowe received a letter from the board in March reassigning him to an unspecified position at the end of the school year. He responded by announcing that he would resign.
It was Crowe's announced resignation that led to massive student walkouts March 5 and 6. Crowe supporters alleged that the decision to reassign him was racially motivated and was a payoff for the teachers union's assistance in electing three new board members.
In addition to the Inglewood post, Crowe had applied for the principal's job at Duarte High School and was among the top three candidates for that post. The Duarte board chose an applicant from within the district.