City Lights: Dwyer principal needs to be commended

Meet Don Ruisinger, the Jim Joyce of Dwyer Middle School.

Anyone who follows sports must remember the flack last year regarding Joyce, the Major League Baseball umpire whose blown call with two outs in the ninth inning thwarted what would have been the 21st perfect game in history. As soon as the outrage subsided over pitcher Armando Galarraga's lost place in the record books, the media largely focused on Joyce's grace in admitting his error and Galarraga's sportsmanship in holding his temper.

The 28-out perfect game, as it came to be called, served as a reminder that we're all capable of screwing up. Journalists are prone, too. For example, there was the time I placed the Westside of Costa Mesa under the wrong ZIP code, the time I mischaracterized an author's view on legalizing pot, and … well, I could go on for a while.

But I'd rather use this column to talk about Ruisinger, the former Dwyer principal who called me from Texas last week and all but ordered me to write a story pinning the whole Dwyer mess on him.

It's doubtful that Ruisinger, who now serves as principal of Lehman High School, will suffer much job fallout if his name gets attached to the spat over the solar panels that Chevron plans to erect on Dwyer's front lawn. He's an educator with years of experience, half a continent removed from his former school, and no one seems to be accusing him of breaking the law.

Still, when Dwyer parents began complaining that Ruisinger did little to inform them of the solar panel project before he stepped down in June, I figured it was only fair to get his side of the story. I left a message with his secretary and guessed the odds were about 20 to 1 that he'd call back.

After all, if I were blamed for a controversy that mushroomed to the point where celebrity attorney Gloria Allred got involved, I might pretend to be out of the office myself.

Instead, the morning before hundreds of students and parents rallied outside of the school, Ruisinger called me and set his feet promptly in the fire.

"I was the principal when those decisions were being made, and I'm 100% responsible for anything that goes wrong at that school," he said. "If things weren't communicated well to the community at Dwyer, that was my fault."

For good measure, he instructed me not to even write a story about the solar panel flap unless I made it clear that he was at fault. He said that about two more times during the interview.

I asked Ruisinger if he planned to contribute to the protest, even if it was just by phone or e-mail. He said no, he didn't think he had any say in the matter anymore. But he praised the kids who helped to spearhead the rally, calling it a healthy lesson in civics.

"I'm just sitting here in Texas, interested to see how this all works out," Ruisinger said.

Unless a proposed lawsuit from parents changes the outcome, it appears pretty obvious how the Dwyer situation will work out.

Chevron has already fenced off part of the lawn and taken steps toward installation, and Supt. Kathy Kessler said the district will proceed with the project after the school board's approval.

If nothing else, though, the Dwyer kids have gained valuable experience in coordinating and staging a civil protest. And in their former principal, they've seen a fine example of stopping the buck.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at

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