The Principal Matter

Teachers said Principal Gil Cho was dictatorial. Students said he manhandled them. The school district said he was doing a good job.

The president of the Board of Education, Mark Sanchez, is now uncertain if he received the correct recommendation. "I've felt that there have been principals and superintendents that have acted like cheerleaders instead of being critical," he said.

Of the more than 70 school administrators who came before the board this year, about five contracts were not renewed, Sanchez says. (In Washington, D.C.'s school district — which awards contracts of only one year — 15 to 20 principals are reportedly given the boot every May.)

During his tenure, Sanchez says he has regretted renewing approximately five contracts. It's happened because of incomplete information from the assistant superintendents, who seem to prefer keeping the decision-making board "out of the loop," he says.

Dr. Martin Luther King Academic Middle school will have a new principal next year.
Rodney Dilger
Dr. Martin Luther King Academic Middle school will have a new principal next year.

Cho's contract might have been renewed, but that didn't mean he couldn't be transferred. On May 27, 2008, that's what happened.

"I am writing to inform you that the Principal of Martin Luther King, Mr. Gil Cho, is being requested to continue his good work next year at another middle school," assistant superintendent Hepperly wrote. "Through this change of assignment, Mr. Cho will be able to bring great resources to his new administrative appointment that will benefit greatly from his extensive expertise and experience."

The letter proceeded to extol Cho for implementing new programs, securing grants, adding alternative sports to physical education, reinstating music and choir programs, and for raising the overall Academic Performance Index (API) of the school from 694 to 722. (Privately, however, a handwritten note in the district's investigative records indicated Hepperly planned that same week to "memorialize" a verbal reprimand given to Cho for unspecified reasons.)

For the teachers' union, this was an outrage and a total whitewashing of Cho's tenure. Galgano huffed that other faculty members were responsible for most of the accomplishments on that list. Although rumors circulated that Cho would be moved to AP Giannini, one of the top-scoring middle schools in the district, his file reveals that he will become interim assistant principal at Lincoln High School.

On a recent Thursday night, the Board of Education met in a closed session to discuss the Cho situation and other private matters. Both Cho supporters and his critics on the faculty were present.

During the public comment session beforehand, things got ugly. History teacher Judy Gerber said she didn't think Cho should be working with students. PTA member Carlos Ramirez countered that the teachers were in it for themselves and not for the students. Sanchez had to keep interrupting to remind everyone that they could be sued.

Then the school secretary, known as "Ms. Nancy," took her turn to speak.

She has been the school secretary "from the beginning," she said (the yearbook reveals that she has won the school's award for most spirit). She had been very upset that teachers slandered their principal, and wondered why everybody couldn't just work together. She sounded ready to cry.

"It saddens me to see these adults acting like this," she said. "Worse than the kids. If the adults can't get it together, then how are we going to have the kids get it together?"

When Ms. Nancy was finished, Sanchez thanked everyone for coming and quickly dismissed them for the closed session. In the hallway, the teachers discussed whether anything they had said or done would make a difference. They seriously doubted it, and offered condolences for those at Cho's new school.

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