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Las Vegas high school principal out after parents complain

Updated December 10, 2019 - 7:02 pm

The embattled principal of Clark High School will leave the school after dozens of parents complained about his work performance last week at a Clark County School Board meeting.

In an email to staff late Tuesday, Region 2 Superintendent Debbie Brockett said Principal Antonio Rael and Assistant Principal Christina Bentheim would not return for the remainder of the semester. School Associate Superintendent Sam Scavella will work with Clark until new leadership is selected next semester.

Whether Rael chose to leave or was let go was not immediately clear. Brockett said the Clark County School District cannot discuss individual employee matters but would hold a school staff meeting Tuesday to discuss the decision. Both Rael and Bentheim are on at-home status, according to district spokesman Mauricio Marin.

Rael issued a response over the weekend to parents who said he had enacted unwanted changes to a thriving school, creating tension between groups of students and causing teachers to quit due to stress.

In a letter sent to parents and posted on social media, Rael said he perhaps initiated change too quickly. But he added that the new policies were necessary to “advance academic opportunities for every student,” including the 2,400 “zoned” students whose college and career readiness rates have not matched those of their magnet school peers.

Rael also condemned what he characterized as slanderous claims about his character and his religion, and the outed his background as a former Clark parent and first-generation college student.

“We can and must do better by our children,” Rael wrote. “And of course, we cannot continue to do the same things and expect different results.”

Rael did not return multiple calls Tuesday from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Parents’ concerns

At the board meeting, Clark parents and students said Rael had hired a slate of new staffers to observe teachers, creating an atmosphere of micromanagement that had led to the departure or transfer of a number of staff members, including an assistant principal.

Others said he enforced a harsh tardy policy while throttling traffic in and out of campus, making it more difficult for students to get to class on time. Female students and their parents said they felt unfairly targeted by a dress code posted before homecoming that told students to “keep it in disguise, from your chest to your mid-thighs.”

Rael defended many of the changes in his letter as necessary for a campus that “lacked many basic safety structures,” adding that he expected students to adhere to dress codes and class schedules. However, he wrote that it was “regrettable” that teachers have felt micromanaged by the presence of administrators in their classrooms.

The parent group does not plan to respond directly to Rael’s letter, according to liaison Meeta Shah, who said prior to the news of Rael’s departure that the group would wait for district administrators to complete their follow-up process.

Parent John Chang, who spoke at last Thursday’s school board meeting, also said Tuesday he was not sure whether the ideal resolution would include a brand-new principal.

“It would be a hard job for a principal to come in the middle of this and take over in a way that makes everyone happy,” Chang said. “However, I also hope that doesn’t deter finding a good principal.”

From Mojave to Clark

David Tatlock, a former teacher who helped establish a magnet medical program at East Career and Technical Academy, and later, a Select School program at Mojave High, said Rael had enacted similar policies during his tenure as principal at Mojave.

The key difference, Tatlock said, is that the district and community members recognized Mojave had an achievement problem. Its status as a turnaround school gave its principal greater control over school policies like hiring and firing, and it made the school community more willing to embrace new ideas.

Clark, on the other hand, maintains a reputation as a good school driven in part by the excellence of its magnet programs, Tatlock said, leading to friction when change is enacted. However, he said achievement figures reveals stark discrepancies between magnet students and zoned students that suggest there is room for improvement at Clark, too.

In his letter, Rael said nine of 10 magnet students are “college and career ready,” according to state standards, while only two of 10 zoned students are deemed prepared.

“Where are all the people upset that 75 percent of students at that school have horrendous achievement rates?” Tatlock said. “It’s like the Titanic is sinking and you’re upset about the song the violinist is playing.”

He said changes to traffic flows and tardy policies will likely cause some pains for students and parents initially, but that they’re designed to improve school safety and protect instructional time, the latter of which is critical to achievement rates.

Tatlock said the district itself has ultimately created the inequality between magnet and zoned students by dedicating additional resources in the form of staff, supplies and other funding to the former.

“Many people think magnet programs are a reward for high-achieving students,” Tatlock said. “But really, they’re an opportunity for equity for all students.”

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at aappleton@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0218. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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