Criticizing a Principal

The articles on this page are reprinted from the Courier, the newspaper of Birmingham High School in the San Fernando Valley. Newspaper advisor Adrienne Mack commented:

“Although the commentary may seem harsh, it is what students think. No matter how hard a principal may be working at meetings and behind the scenes, students expect and want their principal to be visible-to shake hands with the kids when he/she walks across campus, to get on the P.A. and praise them when they’re good and yell when they’re not, to pick up trash and make them do the same. There was no intent to embarrass Mr. Kleinman, just to get the school shaped up.”

Students prefer their old principal

Published in The Courier, Dec. 1996

By Marvin Arevalo, Aida Marquez, Alan Ocana

Seniors: Remember how tough it was in our freshman year? Remember those tardy lock-outs, the clean campus, and a principal that really cared? Does “ganas” and “Dr. Henry Gradillas” sound familiar? Remember this: “In the early 1980s, calculus teacher Jaime Escalante- backed by principal Henry Gradillas-twisted, bent, and broke the rules in an ambitious campaign to transform barrio Latinos into math whizzes.” (Daily News)

Gradillas had an educational philosophy which is “Minority students don’t score poorly on standardized tests because they are stupid and don’t want to learn. They don’t do well because they haven’t taken the classes that prepare them for those tests.” When Gradillas came to Birmingham High School (BHS) in 1992, the number of students taking AP exams increased from 303 to 535.

When Gradillas was our principal we never had to worry about not wearing hats. Why? Due to his strict attitude, students listened to him and kept our campus clean. If Gradillas ever saw anyone leaving or throwing trash around he would go up to them and make them throw it away. Or, he would personally pick up and throw away the trash. Ever since Gradillas left BHS, you can see the drastic change. No one listens, no one cares about what the principal says or does.

Compare Mr. Kleinman to Dr. Henry Gradillas; Mr. Kleinman does not get the same level of respect Gradillas had when he used to make public announcements. When Gradillas made an announcement on the PA, everyone listened. When Gradillas an-nounced tardy lock-outs, the majority of students ran to class. Every morning Gradillas would make sure the tardy lock-out would be enforced. He would have security round up students walking around school. He would be walking around school making sure students would be in their respective classes. When the tardy bell rang, he would go off campus in his green van, to McDonald’s at Balboa and Vanowen and to Stop In Donuts on Victory, to round up students who were not in class. He would personally bring them back to school and make sure they would go to their classes.

A student registering late for school had to have a personal interview with principal Dr. Henry Gradillas. During the interview he would ask questions about your academic, and ethnic background, and about any involvement you might have with gangs. If you were involved with any gang activities, and had bad grades, he would have you on check. Any minor default you had, he would personally expel you from BHS and make sure you would not come back. Gradillas would make sure students would be given the most challenging classes for their academic level. BHS does not run the same as when Dr. Gradillas was here. BHS was a more disciplined school than it is now. Students were proud of their school. We need a strong principal, just like Dr. Gradillas was. Behind a good school should stand a good principal.

Principal Kleinman defends his work

Published in The Courier, Jan. 97

Dear Courier Staff:

As you know, the principalship is a high profile position. As principal, I am always being criticized. Every decision I make leaves questions of fairness, interests, favoritism, compliance, etc. I told our faculty when I first arrived that I am not Henry Gradillas. My style is not to get into a van and look for students. I expect myself as well as my administrators to be disciplinarians when situations and measures call for it.

The principalship is so demanding that it is impossible to be everywhere at once.  specially because of LEARN, I am required to be off campus more than usual. Students don’t see me as often as I would like. I am aware and concerned about my visibility on campus. I go to most of the athletic events at night and to all students’ award functions as well as a myriad of other evening meetings.

I believe that the students who wrote the article lack awareness of the demands of a school and the job of principal. I don’t agree with what the students wrote, but respect their right to say or write it.
-Gerald D. Kleinman, Principal

Former Principal Gradillas thanks the students for their kind words

Published in The Courier, January 31, 1997

Note: Henry Gradillas retired as principal of Birmingham High School in 1994.

Dear Mrs. Adrienne Mack,

Let me congratulate you and your Journalism students on a very fine Courier…

“Ganas” was used a lot by me in my presentation, always giving Escalante credit for having used it so well initially. How four years can change most students, especially at this stage in their lives. To the students I am now considered the principal that “cared”. Why? The reason I cared was because I did those things that at the time they hated and thought to be oppressive behavior by an insensitive principal. Now they realize that without the structure and discipline it is difficult to learn effectively in an environment that might not be friendly and may not be conducive to good learning. They now know that a school must be a “familia” and that all are responsible for their actions as well as for the actions of their fellow students. All I tried to do was to make it possible for them to learn and work together in a relatively clean, safe, friendly, and academically rich and challenging environment. What they thought of me then was not as important as how they now think of me and how they view why I did what I had to do. I did it for them.

Thank you very much for the article. Let the students know that it made my day, gosh, it made my week. I feel very honored and overwhelmed that they consider it a tribute to me.

Since I left I have missed the Birmingham “experience” so I have begun substitute teaching for the local schools in the Richland and Kalamazoo areas in the State of Michigan. I enjoy being with the students again. My three-and-one half years at Birmingham were very enjoyable. I miss the interaction with the school faculty and staff for they kept me hopping most of the time. How I wish I could hop again…
-Henry C. Gradillas

Criticisms Angered Principal Kleinman
Published in The Courier, Jan. 97

By Joshua Smith

Principal Kleinman was outraged and hurt at the commentary written last month in the BHS Courier. It is his contention that the article took advantage of his position as principal by not coming and discussing the thoughts and feelings behind the issue. Principal Kleinman, “respects people’s rights to say what they want to say,” however, he believes that before being critical of an individual, one must have all the facts. Every principal has a different style and that style does not necessarily mean that one way is better than another. Although Dr. Henry Gradillas may have been very successful as principal of Birmingham High School, it is Mr. Kleinman’s feeling that he too can bring success to Birmingham.

Many positive things have occurred since Principal Kleinman took over BHS two and a half years ago. More A.P. classes have been added to the curriculum, students have received more mathematics awards, and Birmingham students have received higher percentages on the CTBS tests. According to Kleinman, not everything that makes a successful school is visible. There are many behind-the-scenes things that take place that allow for success. It is Kleinman’s goal to have all students on an academic track, motivated by a clean and healthy environment. However, Kleinman intimated this is not an easy task. It takes input from administrators, teachers, students and parents to make a school successful. Kleinman enjoys being a principal. Kleinman said he loves the school and added, “My door is always open for students. I am open to all suggestions.” Kleinman wants very much to reach out to the students and work with them to make education a positive experience. He would like to work with the whole Birmingham community to make our high school successful.