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Denver Chief Ousts 12 Principals in Shake-Up

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Less than a year after he swept into office, Superintendent Irv Moskowitz is doing some administrative spring cleaning in the Denver public schools.

He removed 12 principals and an assistant principal from their jobs this month as part of a strategy to boost student achievement and literacy rates.

Most of the employees will either be reassigned to teaching positions or assume other administrative tasks, such as writing grant proposals, by the fall, Mr. Moskowitz said last week.

Only one employee--Assistant Principal Ruben Perez--was fired. Mr. Perez drew national attention last December when he tried to suspend 97 students at Horace Mann Middle School for disciplinary reasons. (See Education Week, 3/29/95.)

Mr. Perez contends he did nothing wrong and said he may file a lawsuit to compel the district to reinstate him.

Plan to Improve Reading

Mr. Moskowitz explained that the shakeup was part of an overall plan to improve literacy and academic excellence in the 63,000-student district.

When he took the job last September, the superintendent asked each of the district's 110 schools to draw up plans to boost achievement and literacy. Schools were told they would be judged on their efforts.

"Children haven't really progressed in the fashion we expected," Mr. Moskowitz said last week. "So difficult decisions had to be made to effect some changes."

Making 'Tough Decisions'

In some of the schools whose principals were transferred, at least 60 percent of the students who are members of minority groups are illiterate, said Tom Mauro, the school board president.

Mr. Mauro hailed the superintendent's decision, saying it was necessary to improve reading in the schools.

"We hired a superintendent to make tough decisions, and these are unpopular ones," Mr. Mauro said. "There is a significant literacy problem in this district and we need to deal with it."

In evaluating administrators, district officials also looked at their schools' dropout rates, grade-point averages, and overall school performance.

Mr. Moskowitz said the district would reshuffle the demoted employees into the positions that best match their skills.

Complaints of Unfairness

But many parents and teachers at Crofton-Ebert Elementary School in downtown Denver were furious at the decision to oust their principal. Paula Biwer, they said, was an excellent school leader who fostered a caring environment for her students.

"When we found out about it we were really upset," said Lorie Pena Helm, a preschool teacher.

She added that Ms. Biwer was instrumental in efforts to raise money for school projects and in helping build a strong sense of community at the 350-student school.

Ms. Helm argued that literacy and other test scores were too arbitrary a measure of a school's achievement.

The personnel changes also angered some parents and district employees who charged that the staff reorganization betrayed the district's pledge to let parents and teachers run their own schools.

The superintendent sought last week to reassure his critics.

Mr. Moskowitz promised to establish a school-based selection committee composed of parents, school employees, and community members that will appoint the new principals.

Many of the job candidates will likely come from a principals' academy that Mr. Moskowitz set up to train district employees for administrative posts.

Already 65 district employees--mostly teachers--have graduated from the academy, which is based at a local university.

District officials expect to begin the process of hiring new principals this summer.

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