B y H a n n a h G l a s s t o n
"What would a year be like if it started smoothly here?"
"I don't know, I guess it wouldn't be Tucson High."
--Overheard at a recent Tucson High Magnet School Site-Based Governance Committee Meeting
PARENTS, TEACHERS AND even School Board Member Joel Ireland say there's politics a plenty behind Tucson Unified School District's recent decision to transfer respected Assistant Principal Robert Templin from Tucson High Magnet School, leaving faculty, parents and students stunned.
They got a second jolt when the transfer spurred Principal Henry Lujan to resign. And it's all happening just before the school bell tolls.
Rumors of "political owesies," in the words of one teacher, are thick in the halls of the state-of-the art facility, and people are demanding answers.
"We all know why Templin was transferred, but we don't want to be the source," says one faculty member who asked not to be identified, as did all teachers for this story, saying they fear a "media circus."
Ireland says, "What seems clear to me is that a great many of our personnel moves have been precipitated by these closed-door deals made amongst these three women who currently run the school board," referring to, Brenda Even, Marybelle McCorckle and Gloria Copeland.
He adds Templin's transfer "was directed and engineered by Gloria Copeland because she dislikes him (Templin) and thinks that he's done some things that she calls racist. So she had him moved out. That's my opinion. I think that's what happened, because there's no other reason to move him."
Copeland says that's just not true. "I have no indication that Mr. Templin had done anything of a racist nature at Tucson High." In fact, says Copeland, she recently worked directly with Templin helping a minority child get back in school and get his degree.
"Mr. Ireland is the same person who accused me of being racist when I stood against the southwest high school and called me an eastside Anglo. I just think he's out there shooting dice. And of course, because I'm a person of color, I'm an easy target for an Anglo to use the word 'race.' If I felt Mr. Templin was acting in a racist manner or was racist, I would tell you that."
Robert Templin, already working in his new job at Palo Verde Engineering and Technology Magnet School, says he has no information regarding Ireland's comments. "Gloria Copeland and I worked closely together for all students' benefits--both minority and majority students. I've never had a conflict or any concerns with Mrs. Copeland."
"Ireland likes to grandstand," says a Tucson High faculty member. "He has nothing to lose. I think it's interesting the men are angry now and the women are playing the good old boy's game." (The three female board members have voted together recently on district transfers as well as issues like funding for all-day kindergarten and teacher pay raises.)
Perhaps Ireland doesn't have anything to lose. He says he's not planning to run when his term is up next year, noting, "eight years (will be) enough."
Politics aside--hardly possible with an elected school board running the state's largest district--there remain a bunch of ticked off people at Tucson High.
The Tucson High Site-Based Governance Committee, a group made up of parents, students, staff and teachers, complain they were never consulted about the high-level changes, including naming the district's fine arts magnet coordinator, Tom Patrick, as interim principal at the school.
In forming one of a growing number of state-mandated site-based governance committees in TUSD, they have taken to heart the district's own wordy directive: "Site-based decision making creates an atmosphere where decision making is a collegial, shared process fostering an exchange of ideas and information so necessary for effective professional practice and for an improved educational process." Now they want to know why they were denied a voice in a highly important school matter.
"The whole issue is that TUSD has a right to transfer administrators if and when they think it's necessary," Copeland says. "When Bob Templin's name came to the table for transfer, I didn't have a problem with it because you have a magnet at Tucson High that is running fairly well. It's been in place for 10 years. Bob Templin didn't invent it, and he certainly wasn't the reason why it was successful."
Placing Templin at Palo Verde was "a natural," Copeland adds, because of his work at Tucson High, and because he "had some involvement with children of color."
Copeland notes that of the 27 people she's met with concerning Templin's transfer, only one was a minority. Many were Anglo teachers and staff, she says, with children at the school. She also points out Templin had interviewed to be principal of University High School. "What if he'd gotten that job? What would have been their response then?"
Tucson High committee members say there were serious mistakes made by the board that need answering, if not correcting. At the very least, they want it known they hope the board doesn't conduct itself this way in the future.
"It appalls us that they can make this much investment in buildings and not make the same investment in the administration," says one faculty member, referring to the $13 million dollars spent on the nearly 175,000 extraordinary new square feet of buildings at the fine arts and science magnet school.
To go along with the marvelous facility, "we had continuity," laments one teacher. "It was finally just all coming together."
That "coming together," say teachers and parents, was in part brought about by the combination of Robert Templin and Henry Lujan.
Lujan was pulled out of retirement in Colorado and appointed principal just two years ago. When he got the word that Templin was being transferred to a comparable job at Palo Verde High, faculty members say, Lujan submitted his resignation and said he didn't want to be asked back. (TUSD lawyers, according to district spokesperson George Martinez, have ruled that Lujan's resignation letter is not public record, calling it instead "a confidential personnel letter.")
Tucson High faculty members say Lujan believed the district "had tied his hands" and that perhaps this wasn't the first time. Other teachers would only speculate that in Colorado Lujan was "used to more money and less political maneuvering."
The only word concerned committee members got from School Board President Brenda Even, according to one teacher who attended a meeting with her, was that these transfers are routine. "When someone challenged her by saying she didn't care about the 2,400 students here, she said they were caring about the 60,000 students in the district."
TUSD's Martinez, who was ordered by Even to return The Weekly's calls, says "routine" is exactly what the transfer of Robert Templin was. "Brenda tried to make the point (that) we know parents feel left out of administrative transfers, but that (transfers) happen quite frequently."
Ireland maintains that in no way was Templin's transfer routine. He states flatly it was "orchestrated."
"Some administrators get shoved around every two years because they're not good," says one teacher. "That was not the case with Templin. Many people here felt he was the strongest (administrator) on campus and the students respected him."
Meanwhile, Jim Marr, a curriculum specialist with the district, will take the part-time fine arts coordinator position at the school while keeping his regular duties. Filling Templin's shoes will be Leland W. Bracy, Jr., who moves over from Booth-Fickett Magnet School.
At a packed Tuesday-night board meeting, the Tucson High governance committee called for a reversal of Templin's transfer and a voice in selecting a new principal.
Ireland, saying he hadn't seen so many people angry since the "Catalina High School thing," made a request at Tuesday's meeting that the Templin transfer be put on the agenda for the August 29 board meeting.
Templin, asked if he'd like to return to Tucson High, replied, "Always. It's a great school to work at." But he added, "I work for the district, and if they need me at other schools, that's their prerogative to transfer me and move me there."
Copeland sees Templin staying where he is, no matter who complains. "When I support moving an administrator I don't do it lightly," she says. "I'm not going to change my vote on any of these moves we've made."
Tucson High parents and teachers, trying to take the high road, say above all else they want students to come first. As one committee member puts it, their goal is what everybody's should be: "Turning out educated, thinking, people."
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