When Norm Morrow became the principal of Jefferson High School in Los Angeles four years ago, the art deco building was severely overcrowded, had poor security, and—two months into his leadership—was one of 12 schools statewide to be audited because of low academic performance.
“What I saw was a system that cheated the kids,” Mr. Morrow said in an interview last week. “Nobody in L.A. had an answer [to the problems]. I felt the kids deserved better than what they were getting.”
It seems that school officials are still struggling for answers to the problems that have plagued the 3,800-student Jefferson High for years. Recently, the school attracted unwanted national attention for a series of incidents in which student brawls broke out on school grounds. Since then, Mr. Morrow has dealt with a flood of media scrutiny.
The recent fights were sparked by tension between African-American and Hispanic students.
Overcrowding at the school, he said, made it more difficult for school officials. “It’s not easy to control such a situation,” he said.
District officials echoed Mr. Morrow’s sentiments.
“Under the best of conditions, it’s not an easy school to lead,” said Stephanie Brady, the director of communications for the 725,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District. “It takes everyone working together—parents, teachers, students, the community—which is what that principal was working toward.”
Ms. Brady said that, contrary to reports in the local and national media, Mr. Morrow was not asked to step down as principal because of the recent student brawls. In January 2005, he had already told district officials he planned to retire either this July or in January 2006. He plans to be an education consultant upon retirement.
District leaders plan to address safety issues at the school by tightening enforcement of the student code of conduct, installing security cameras this summer, and adding police and staff presence on the campus. Four community committees have been formed to foster diversity education, promote youth tolerance, and provide more after-school activities.