By Ken A. Epstein
The Oakland Unified School District is moving ahead with plans to remove Frick Middle School Principal Jerome Gourdine, who over the past 18 years has earned a reputation as one of the best and most loved educational leaders in the district.
The district is also transferring popular assistant principal Jeffrey Taylor, saying decreased enrollment means the school does not have the budget to support having an assistant principal.
Frick is located at 2845 64th Ave., by MacArthur Boulevard.
Stunned and angry parents and staff met Wednesday after school in the school library with district Regional Executive Officer Kimi Kean, who told those at the meeting that Gourdine was leaving the school on his own accord to accept a promotion.
“Why does this suddenly come up four days ago? All of a sudden he’s doing something wrong? We’re going to fight you to the last minute, whatever we have to do” said Dr. Larry Moore, who works at the school and is a member of the West Oakland Renaissance Committee, the Elders’ Council.
“Why are you taking away two fantastic African American administrators?” he asked.
“I understand that nothing went wrong. This is his family (at Frick).” replied Kean. “There are opportunities out there, and it is a promotion. It’s going right, and we actually need to use him in a different position to have wider influence.”
However, when asked pointblank whether leaving or staying was the principal’s choice, Kean said the decision was in Supt. Tony Smith’s hands.
Jacqueline Simon, a school security officer, asked Kean, “Is it up to Mr. Gourdine at this point? Or is it up to you or the superintendent? We just want to be clear.”
“(Gourdine’s) input is very important,” replied Kean. “(But) it is up to the superintendent.”
“You don’t know what it’s like on the inside. You’re looking in through a small window,” Simon said to Kean. “You’re not going to separate us from something so strong that we built. This is a family that’s never going to be broken apart.”
“I have never been to a school where my child has been more loved, cared for, helped, and pushed to go to college, Mr. Gourdine pushes for every single student going to this school,” said Teresa Jauregui, whose son Jesus broke into tears during the emotional discussion.
“We’re going to fight for him,” said school custodian Geraldine Lovato.
“Why would you come here at test time, during state mandated testing, and make this announcement, upsetting the students, making them angry?” asked Moore.
“We need the superintendent out here to talk to us,” said another parent.
Responding, Kean said, “There are costs to any transition. The superintendent is looking out for the interests of the whole district.”
According to a school board member, who did not want to be identified, Gourdine agreed to leave the school after he was told that he could not continue at Frick.
Though the Wednesday afternoon meeting had been called by Kean’s office, on the day of meeting, her office sent out a robo-call and emails saying it was cancelled. But the meeting was held, attended by about 25 staff and parents.
In an interview with the Post, parent Adriane Harry talked about what made Principal Gourdine’s leadership so special. She has one 12 year old at the school and a son and daughter who graduated from Frick.
“He told all the children that that are kings and queens, and my two older kids (18 and 19 years old) still consider themselves kings and queens. Because that’s what he always called them.
“He’s concerned about how they do in school, but he’s also concerned about how they turn out as individuals,” she said.
“He’s a mentor,” she said. “He tells them to be successful, go to college, and how to care for others. He tells the kids, ‘I know your mom would want you to go straight home from school.’ He and Mr. Taylor are just awesome people.”
“He came to my daughter’s birthday with his wife and his children,” she said. “He has made such a difference in my children’s lives, and he still does. My older kids still come back to visit him.”
Several sources say Kean has removed or fired several African American administrators this year. Neither district spokesman Troy Flint or Supt. Smith has responded to questions from the Oakland Post.
A district observer said he believed the district may be considering closing Frick, which has been losing enrollment, and therefore decided to remove Gourdine, a strong school leader , to make closing the school easier next year.
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 3, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)