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Parents Oppose Lorbeer Official’s Ouster : Education: Differences between the junior high school principal and Pomona Unified administrators have apparently led to his reassignment to a lower-paying teaching position. : DIAMOND BAR

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of parents say they will ask the Pomona Unified School District board Tuesday to reinstate a controversial junior high school principal, who is known as a strict disciplinarian.

Jack Housen, 68, principal of Lorbeer Junior High School in Diamond Bar, has been reassigned as a teacher starting next fall, after 25 years as an administrator. The move came in a 5-0 vote of the school board March 5.

About 60 parents, some of whom met Wednesday night to plan their strategy, credit Housen with raising student scores on standardized tests, launching innovative academic and parenting programs and maintaining a safe, strict environment in a school district that has been plagued by gang violence.

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Through their attorney, Pomona administrators declined comment, citing privacy laws.

They denied, however, that Housen, who has been principal of Lorbeer since 1983, was demoted. “Mr. Housen was reassigned according to the provisions of the Education Code,” said Adrienne Konigar, the attorney for Pomona Unified. “This is not a disciplinary matter. It has nothing to do with his performance at Lorbeer.”

But Housen says his annual pay of $75,600 will be cut by about $20,000 by the job change. He maintains that Pomona Unified is demoting him in retaliation for his refusal to be a “team player” and take part in district political games.

Housen said being a team player in Pomona Unified involves what he calls ethical compromises. The principal, who is listed in “Who’s Who of American Educators,” points to a series of incidents over the years in which he claims district administrators have tried to undermine his policies of strict discipline.

In one such case, Housen said administrators ordered him to remove a suspension letter from the file of a Lorbeer student after the boy’s parents complained, even though the suspension had been upheld by the district’s own appeal process.

When he refused, Housen received a letter of reprimand for his “defiance” and was strongly criticized on his 1990 evaluation.

In his 25 years as a Pomona Unified administrator, 22 of them as principal, Housen’s evaluations show consistently superior or satisfactory marks in academics, staff development and school management.

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But he has also been cited as insubordinate, intimidating and inflexible and has been reprimanded for defying orders and refusing to attend meetings, according to evaluations and memos.

The way things work in Pomona Unified, Housen said, was illustrated by an incident involving another principal last year. In that case, a teacher at Ganesha High School discovered a transcript indicating Principal Tony Lopes had raised a report card grade for the son of school board member Linda Wright.

Wright said she asked for a review of her son’s grades but denied that she had asked Lopes to raise the grade. After the incident became public, the district launched an investigation. Lopes admitted he had acted improperly and changed the grade back. He was given an administrative job with the district.

In Housen’s case, years of controversy came to a head on Feb. 14. Housen said he was summoned to the office of Pomona Supt. Irv Moskowitz and told he was being reassigned to teaching because he wasn’t a “team player.”

In a March 13 letter to Housen, Moskowitz elaborated: “You persist in charting a course which is contrary to the overall team effort of the District. Your attitude and contrary position has caused the Board to lose confidence in your ability to be an effective team member.”

School board President Brenda Engdahl said that “the team player thing” was the major reason behind Housen’s ouster and added there was “not a big smoking gun.”

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Housen “has a track record of alienating people at this district,” Engdahl said. “Administrators serve at the whim of the school district. Maybe we think we’re going to find someone who’s better.”

Housen sees it differently: “I speak out about things that are wrong, and they see this as something they need to rid themselves of to retain their power.” He wrote Moskowitz that “principals should take risks to serve student needs . . . I didn’t know I had to be a member of the ‘good ol’ boys’ club.”

Parents who are collecting petition signatures to get Housen reinstated praise him.

“He is an extremely strong educator who doesn’t play favorites and metes out discipline regardless of who you are,” said James Berry, whose 14-year-old daughter, Wendy, attends Lorbeer.

“The school has done nothing but improve in the time he’s been there,” said Deborah Roldan, whose 12-year-old daughter, Vanessa, also is a student there.

But Housen’s critics say the school, in the more affluent community of Diamond Bar, has always outperformed other Pomona campuses. And some parents complain that Housen runs Lorbeer like an army barracks and disciplines children for the slightest infractions.

“He carries the suspension and detention way too far. He has his own way of harassing and intimidating kids,” said Dianna Batts, whose eighth-grade daughter attends Lorbeer.

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Another parent, Beverly Carmichael, who has leukemia, said Housen revoked her daughter’s transfer to Lorbeer because the girl had missed 45 days of school, ignoring Carmichael’s explanation that the girl had accompanied her mother to the hospital for treatments.

Both Carmichael and Batts, who are white, also contend that Housen, who is black, has singled out white children for discipline and that he treats black students more leniently.

Housen called that charge nonsense and pointed to support from parents and teachers of all ethnic backgrounds.

Roldan, who calls Housen “a man of great integrity,” is white. So is Lorbeer teacher Stu Laurie, who said the principal “challenged and pushed me to excel, and it’s made me a better teacher.”

Academically, Housen helped launch at Lorbeer a math tutoring program, which was developed at Stanford University. In the past three years, students have gone to the state finals in the Geography Bee and the Los Angeles County Science Fair and won first in a Cinco de Mayo Essay Contest sponsored by USC.

CAP scores, which measure student achievement via standardized tests, rose 18% in reading and writing and 15% in math between 1987 and 1990. That places Lorbeer above the state average and at the top of the school district.

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Teachers say Housen keeps a high profile, patrolling the halls and grounds and popping into classes to observe them. He also enforces a stringent dress code that bans midriff-baring tops for girls and haircuts with gang insignia.

Belinda Johnstone, who is black, said Housen threatened to suspend her son Blake, 14, because the boy, who is not in a gang, came to school with a prohibited haircut. Johnstone had Blake’s hair recut.

Several weeks later, she said, a friend’s son who wasn’t a gang member but had a haircut like the one Housen banned was shot and killed by gang members.

“I feel like he saved my son’s life and protected the lives of all those kids,” Johnstone said. “He wasn’t nasty. But he told me in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable.”

Housen was vice principal and then principal of Marshall Junior High School until 1978, when the district made him principal of Ganesha High School.

His 1983 transfer to Lorbeer came over his objections and those of some Ganesha parents, who said Housen cleaned up the campus and kept gangs and drugs at bay. The parents raised almost $10,000 to hire a lawyer in an unsuccessful bid to retain him.

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“He was a super principal; he was willing to take control and be strong and back you any time there was a discipline problem,” said Elaine Berg, the registrar at Ganesha High and one of the parents who lobbied against Housen’s removal.

Maria Gonzalez, coordinator of the English-as-a-Second-Language program at Ganesha, recalled that Housen “was not a PR person. He was very dedicated and his main concern was that students be taught well.”

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