Turmoil at Arts High School

The LAUSD's $232 million arts high school lacks a permanent principal two weeks before school starts. Luis Lopez (left, with local district superintendent Dale Vigil) took the job before classes started last year, but now works in Superintendent John Deasy's office.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - The $232 million performing arts high school on Grand Avenue has had two principals in its first two years. Now, two weeks before classes begin, the school finds itself without a permanent leader.

The high-profile New York arts school administrator who had been tapped for the job has decided not to take the position. It is the second time she has walked away from the LAUSD's offer to lead the attention-grabbing school designed by Wolf Prix.

The latest rejection of the job by Kim Bruno, the principal of the lauded LaGuardia High School of Music, Art and Performing Arts in New York City, comes after a recent courting process that included in-person interviews in Los Angeles. She was not the only candidate, but she was the district's top choice.

LAUSD's human resources department reposted the principal position on Aug. 15, said Danny Palma, assistant to Dale Vigil, the local district superintendent for the region that includes the recently renamed Ramon C. Cortines School for Visual and Performing Arts. The district will accept applications through Friday, Aug. 26.

In late July, a principal selection committee consisting of parents, teachers and other stakeholders in the school at 450 N. Grand Ave. named Bruno their top choice to replace Luis Lopez, who in June was suddenly moved out of the job. They also selected second- and third-choice candidates.

LAUSD Supt. John Deasy and Vigil approved the recommendation, but Bruno ultimately rejected the district's offer, Vigil said. The district has appointed interim principal Chiekko Rupp, a retired educator, to open the school in September and remain there until a permanent leader is chosen, Vigil said.

It is unclear why Bruno, who could not be reached for comment, backed out. When asked what could have caused the rejection, Vigil said, "You'd have to talk to her. I was very supportive of the committee and that's who they wanted."

This marks the second time Bruno appeared to want the job before changing course. She verbally committed to taking the position in 2009, when the district wanted her to be the school's first principal. After visiting Los Angeles, she canceled, citing "professional reasons" in an email to Los Angeles Downtown News.

Unstable Ground

Whoever ultimately takes the job will be the third principal in three years at a school that has been roiled by political and administration-related conflicts. Original principal Suzanne Blake was fired after one year, though no reason was ever publicly given.

Parents who claimed Blake had done an able job and was adored by students staged a protest outside the district's Beaudry Street headquarters in July 2010.

Blake's replacement, Lopez, was removed in June. Again, there was little public explanation for the move. He has since taken a position in Deasy's office that the district characterized as a promotion.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Lopez was fired.

Vigil said the school nevertheless has stability because four assistant principals, who oversee the campus' four arts-related academies in music, theater, visual arts and dance, are all returning. Still, the district will look to quickly find a permanent principal.

"We'd like to have someone in place before September is out," Vigil said.

Greg Schiller, a science teacher at the school, and a member of the selection committee, said he knew the group's recommendation was "held up in human resources." That was the last he had heard about the process, Schiller said.

Rupp, the interim principal, is overseeing the school as it sets to embark on its third year. Rupp, who in a short time has earned admiration from the school community, including teachers and parents who spoke with Downtown News, said she hopes the district selects a permanent leader soon.

"For the school's sake, it's better to have a permanent person so that that person can really help the school community," Rupp said. "There's no way I'd like to stay here for an entire year because people would look at me as an interim. And that's not fair to students."

Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at ryan@downtownnews.com.