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Cartnal named LCHS principal amid ongoing investigation into alleged slurs made by student fans

Jim Cartnal, a former assistant principal at La Cañada High school, was appointed to the position of principal by the LCUSD Governing Board Tuesday after serving three months in an interim role after the December departure of former Principal Ian McFeat.
(Sara Cardine / La Cañada Valley Sun)

Handling business at a brisk pace Tuesday night, La Cañada Unified Governing Board members appointed administrator Jim Cartnal La Cañada High School’s permanent principal and addressed resident concerns about recent reports of troubling fan behavior at a championship basketball game.

Cartnal, a former history teacher and assistant principal, was promoted in 2017 to the district-level position of executive director of pupil and personnel programs and services for a one-year contract before transitioning from the position to become interim principal in December 2018, replacing an outgoing Ian McFeat.

His new position takes him from a salary of $143,184 to $146,764, LCUSD Supt. Wendy Sinnette confirmed.

During the board meeting, officials praised the administrator for his passion and dedication.


“We’re so lucky to have you in the mix here,” said Board Vice President Joe Radabaugh. “Your passion, your integrity, your character, your stakeholder management — you bring leadership on so many fronts.”

Cartnal officially takes the reins of La Cañada High as the campus continues its investigation into charges made by Outlook newspaper publisher Charlie Plowman in a Feb. 28 opinion column that a group of students hurled racial and homophobic slurs at an opposing team’s players during a Feb. 23 championship basketball game at Azusa Pacific University.

During a discussion item, LCUSD officials assured residents they were holding fast to values of inclusion and respect, while continuing to investigate the incident and examining where district and school protocols could be strengthened.

“A lot of learning has gone on,” Sinnette said. “We are appreciative of our community for being so passionate about what the expectations are — we share that responsibility with you.”


Cartnal provided an overview of that night, including administrators’ attempts to coach potentially problematic fans the day before. The district’s investigation included 30 student interviews, reaching out to the opposing team’s school and potential witnesses and reviewing game footage and written statements from employees who attended.

“We’ve had LCHS staff review La Cañada basketball programs game film start to finish. We have watched the entirety of the game on Fox Sports Net, and none of those viewings reveal any confirmation of the allegations,” he said.

Local resident John Zaimes, a longtime friend of Plowman’s, said he believed the publisher heard what he reported and said the district should publicly apologize to the other team and its fans, as well as to members of the CIF Southern Section.

Parent Ravi Verma worried the latest report may be part of a wider culture of intolerance and name-calling at La Cañada High and expressed concern at Plowman’s statements that school administrators present were aware of the behavior and did nothing.

“I can understand if there [are] a few bad apples here and there, people who act up and who fall through the cracks,” he said. “But if there is something systemic in the school district that’s something that is a lot more serious.”

Officials said they were responding to the incident on multiple levels, talking with cheerleaders, student and athletic leaders and counselors about how to combat what seems like a rising trend of profanity being used at basketball games.

“That is a difficult thing to ponder how we fix, but it’s also a brilliant call and opportunity to, again, focus on the power of language,” Cartnal said.

Wellness Center progresses with mental health contract

After more than a year of planning, a proposal to build a Wellness Center at La Cañada High School is beginning to take shape, according to Cartnal and LCHS counselor Rachel Zooi, who updated board members in advance of a vote on a contract for mental health services.


Cartnal explained the center will be part of a systemic overhaul aimed at reducing student stress.

“We’re looking for a systems approach of equipping our young folks — who are making the grades and making them at a great, great level with all the costs of that great high performance — as it relates to stress and … anxiety, which we understand is a function of depression,” he said.

The center, to be located in the campus’ Information Resource Center, will feature offices and meeting rooms in addition to a comfortable space with couches where students can decompress.

Board members unanimously approved a $99,500 contract with Milpitas-based Counseling and Support Services for Youth (CASSY) to design and deliver comprehensive school-based counseling services for the 2019-20 school year, recommending a one-therapist service model.

Devils Gate sediment removal update

Sinnette provided another update on the progress of the county’s plans to remove some 2 tons of sediment from behind Devil’s Gate Dam at Hahamongna Watershed Park starting in April.

A group of La Cañada parents, school and city officials have met with area legislators and continue to talk with representatives from the county’s Public Works Department to determine how health risks associated with as many as 425 daily truck trips in and out of the area might be mitigated.

Sinnette said the county has promised to monitor its diesel hauling trucks to ensure all vehicles are 2010 or newer, and that no formerly recalled vehicles will be used during the project’s four-year span.

“The trucks will roll on April 15,” she said. “We’re talking about assessing traffic and air monitoring potentially. There are a lot of major impacts so we have to have people at the ready.”


Also Tuesday, board members:

• Showed initial support for a memorandum of understanding with the Pasadena Community College District to provide district students with access to advanced level courses not offered at La Cañada High. Once approved, the agreement would allow for a college level math course beyond Advanced Placement Calculus BC and other courses moving forward.

• Received an update from Sinnette on the March 3 visit by representatives of the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, which is reviewing the accreditation of La Cañada High School. The superintendent said administrators were hopeful the school would complete the process and offered areas for continued focus, as relayed by the visiting team.

Twitter: @SaraCardine