Parents Rally for Ousted Whittier Principal : Education: Backers of Phelan Elementary’s Kirk Reeve want him reinstated, citing his work at the school and in the community.


Teachers and parents at Phelan Elementary School have rallied around Principal Kirk Reeve, fired last month by the Whittier City School District.

Parents held two rallies last week demanding that the popular principal be rehired. A demonstration before school Monday drew 75 parents. Later that day, close to 100 parents with signs gathered with their children at the board meeting at Dexter Intermediate School. “Parents are backing him 100%,” said Deborah Buff, president of the school PTA.

Teachers also praise Reeve, saying he’s qualified where it counts most, in providing his 420 pupils with a strong education. He has been principal at Phelan for seven years.


The groups will present their case to the school board at its Monday night meeting at Edwards Intermediate School. A petition with 1,000 signatures will be presented, urging that Reeve retain his job after this school year.

District officials won’t discuss Reeve’s removal, which the board approved Feb. 19. Administration policy is not to discuss personnel matters in public, said Supt. Neal Avery. The 56-year-old Reeve will finish out the school year as principal and have the option to remain with the district as a classroom teacher, Avery said.

Parents and teachers say they know of three incidents leading to Reeve’s dismissal. In 1989 and again in 1990, the school was poorly prepared when the district reviewed it prior to evaluation by state and local educators. In addition, a former teacher once complained about the school’s bilingual program, alleging discrimination against bilingual students and teachers. About one in four students at the school uses another language other than English.

Teachers say the problems with the reviews were not substantial. After the district reviews, the school changed the way it wrote its reports, and its programs ultimately rated highly with the evaluators. Faculty members also praised Reeve’s attention to bilingual programs and his efforts to learn Spanish.

“I feel he is very supportive,” said Alma Candelaria, who teaches a bilingual first-grade class.

Reeve called the support heartwarming and unexpected. “I am not attempting to fight the dismissal from my position, so all of these things that have started to happen come as complete surprise to me,” he said.

“I have no ax to grind,” he added. “I am saddened to feel that the people who employ me do not feel they can count on me to do the kind of job they feel needs to be done. But I’m the type of person to look ahead and go on with life.”

Reeve, a district employee for nearly 30 years, wouldn’t comment on the reasons for his firing, saying only that he took great pride in the district’s schools and instructional programs. He would like to keep his job.

Teacher Mary Mitchell said that faculty members also want Reeve to stay. She called Reeve “firm, fair and honest,” a calming influence who allowed teachers to use their professional judgment. “He’s always supported us, whether it’s materials or a problem, and it’s been immediate support,” Mitchell said.

She noted that Reeve often worked Sundays and regularly attended after-school parent meetings. He mingled with the children at lunch and with parents both before and after school, she said.

The district’s decision surprised teachers because Reeve “has never said anything negative about the administration,” Mitchell said. “That shows how professional he is and how unprofessional they were.”

The school board can reverse its decision to replace Reeve, Avery said, but the board had to notify Reeve by March 1 to reserve its right to remove him.

Parent Craig Gramer said the principal has accomplished much during his tenure.

Reeve encouraged PTA fund-raisers that paid for new playground equipment and student field trips despite budget constraints, Gramer said. In addition, he installed bulletin boards outside classrooms for students to display projects and reinstated the PTA parent newsletter. Once, he intervened with district officials on parents’ behalf, asking the district to print the newsletter just as parents had written it.

Incentive programs begun under Reeve’s leadership include awards programs four times a year to honor students for good attendance, academic achievement and proper behavior; classroom awards handed out by teachers every one or two weeks; lunch with the principal for student achievers, and honoring one class a day for good behavior at lunch.

Gramer also praised Reeve for forging good relations between the school and the neighborhood, noting that the principal, a La Habra resident, had attended a Neighborhood Watch meeting to plan the school’s role in an earthquake or other disaster.

Although conservative by nature, Reeve would also let teachers and parents pursue new ideas that could benefit the school, and “he takes pride in calling people and asking for information,” Gramer said.

After Monday’s meeting, the board will again hear from parents on Wednesday to discuss the qualities they would like to see in the school’s next principal.

“We don’t want to see anything new,” Gramer said. “The qualities are already here.”