Lincoln High’s Revolving Door Claims Another Leader
During his short tenure, John Ross helped open a program that allows high school students to take courses for college credit. According to district officials, this year Lincoln had a record high number of graduates who met college entrance requirements. But none of it has been enough to attract a significant number of students back to Lincoln.
This post has been updated.
The revolving door of leadership at Lincoln High continues to spin.
At a school board meeting last week, Superintendent Cindy Marten announced that John Ross, who was appointed to lead Lincoln in 2014, will move out of that role and be placed on special assignment.
Next year Ross is scheduled to move to the district’s Placement and Appeal Department, where he’ll work with students who’ve been incarcerated or are facing expulsion.
Ross becomes the third principal to leave Lincoln since 2007, when the school reopened with a $129 million campus.
District spokesperson Linda Zintz said the selection process to determine the next principal hasn’t yet started.
The decision to replace Ross was discussed last week during a private meeting between Ross, district officials and several community members.
Francine Maxwell, a parent who attended the meeting, expressed frustration at the leadership changes at Lincoln and said it showed a lack of leadership on Marten’s part.
“The community is not happy,” Maxwell said.
During his short tenure, Ross helped open a program that allows high school students to take courses for college credit. According to district officials, this year Lincoln had a record high number of graduates who met college entrance requirements.
But none of it has been enough to attract a significant number of students back to Lincoln.
Students flocked when Lincoln opened its doors in 2007 – so many, in fact, that the school didn’t have resources to serve everyone. Teachers said at the time that overcrowding and lack of supplies put a dent in teacher morale.
In recent years, Lincoln has had the opposite problem.
Between 2007 and 2015, enrollment dropped from 2,300 students to 1,450. Lincoln now has so much vacant space that this year district officials considered letting a charter school share part of the campus.
Ross followed Esther Omogbehin, a controversial leader who left the school in 2014. Omogbehin later said Marten and former board member Marne Foster pressured her to leave in a series of private meetings.
Since Marten became superintendent in 2013, about half of all district principals she started with have retired, transferred to other schools or moved to loosely defined “special assignments.”
Zintz didn’t comment on the reason for Ross’ departure. But last year, school board trustee Richard Barrera told me the movement of principals is related to Marten’s larger vision for the district.
“Cindy and her team spend more time with principals than any previous administration. If she identifies principals who are struggling in certain areas, she’ll strategize ways to support them. She doesn’t just come in there with an axe and cut them down. But if principals can’t make changes, then she’ll move them,” Barrera said at the time.
Marten has placed a number of principals on special assignment, including some who were struggling or facing accusations of improper behavior at their current schools.
In 2013, in her first month as superintendent, Marten moved former La Jolla High Principal Dana Shelburne to special assignment after an audit found that more than $200,000 in donations weren’t backed up by any receipts. (Shelburne and a school board member at the time said the audit had nothing to do with the move.)
Later, Bruce Ferguson left Green Elementary School amid accusations that he failed to report cases of child sexual abuse. He took a job in the district’s Central Office.
Mitzi Lizarraga, former principal of the School of Creative and Performing Arts, was removed from her post and placed on special assignment in 2014 amid tensions with Foster over the treatment of Foster’s son, who was a student at the school. Lizarraga stayed for a few months then took a job in Los Angeles.
Marten also offered to place Omogbehin on special assignment working as a credit recovery counselor. Omogbehin said she turned down the offer then left the district all together.
Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, who in February was appointed to represent schools in the Lincoln area following Foster’s resignation, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Whitehurst-Payne is running for a full term on the board against LaShae Collins, a staffer for Assemblywoman Shirley Weber.
Whoever wins in November will be tasked with uniting schools in southeastern San Diego, where parents have had longstanding concerns about safety, lagging enrollment and underperformance.
At a February meeting held at Lincoln, area superintendent Bruce Bivens said, “the goal of the cluster is to keep kids in the cluster,” referring to the group of elementary and middle schools that feed into Lincoln High.
Seven out of 10 area families send their kindergarten-age kids to neighborhood schools, Bivens said at the meeting. By the time students enter high school, seven out of 10 families send their kids to schools outside of the neighborhood.
Rachel Evans contributed to this report.
Clarification: An earlier version of this post said the decision to move Ross was made during a private meeting between Ross, district officials and several community members. After this story published, the district said the decision was discussed during that meeting but was made by Superintendent Cindy Marten before the meeting took place.