Families to fight for popular principal
Families at Encinal High School are calling on Superintendent Kirsten Vital to reverse her decision to remove Mike Cooper as principal of the school.
They learned Wednesday that Cooper, who parents and students credited with boosting student morale and achievement in his two years at the helm, wouldn’t be returning as the school’s principal in the fall. And they are mobilizing in an effort to convince Vital to bring him back.
The decision comes as the final votes on the Measure E school parcel tax are cast. And it has stoked fears for some that the district may seek to close the school.
“I think it would be tragic for him to leave,” said Michele Walker, a parent whose two children will be juniors at Encinal in the fall. “Encinal would not be Encinal without him. That’s how (my children) feel.”
Walker said Cooper has a strong rapport with both parents and students. She said Cooper, who many students refer to as Coop, is a fixture at the school’s sporting events, pacing the field and popping into the snack bar.
“He’s a hands-on type of principal,” Walker said. “Wherever the kids are, that’s where he is.”
Steve Sparrow, an Encinal custodian and longtime volunteer, learned Tuesday afternoon that Cooper wasn’t coming back to the school in the fall. He said Cooper would drive out to a nearby doughnut shop and other spots to make sure students were in school.
“When he told the staff, it was a big shock,” Sparrow said. “(Vital) had no right to do that to him.”
Elaine Spencer, a student at Encinal who is hoping Cooper can stay, said he walks through the school’s classrooms and that he performed in the school’s production of “West Side Story.” She credited Cooper with raising the school’s state test scores and standing.
“I really like him. He’s a great principal. He’s done a lot for the school,” Spencer said. “I think he really understands the kids that go to the school.”
In her letter to families, Vital said that she sometimes has to make decisions people don’t like and that she knows that moving Cooper from Encinal may cause a lot of anxiety and angst. But she said she’s committed to finding the right leadership for the school.
“Sometimes, as a Superintendent, I have to make difficult and unpopular decisions that are not well received; this is one of those times,” Vital wrote.
She didn’t comment further on the reason for Cooper’s ouster, because it is a private personnel matter. But she said she appreciates Cooper’s commitment to the students and hopes he stays with the district. Sparrow said Cooper told staff he was asked to be a vice principal or teacher at Wood Middle School.
Vital, who has set a meeting to talk with families at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Encinal cafeteria, said she will post the principal’s job in the next two weeks and that she plans to set up a community interview panel to recommend candidates.
Cooper declined to comment, saying Vital had requested that all media inquiries be directed to her. Students had a lot to say about Cooper, though.
Daniel Marte, who just graduated from Encinal on June 11, said Cooper handled tough situations with grace, including an incident where some students at the prom were found to be drunk and this year’s senior class prank, when students took the desks out of classrooms and planted them in the halls.
Marte, who won the principal’s award this year, said Cooper called the offending students into school early to replace the desks that they had moved. He then held an assembly where he congratulated the students for pulling off such an organized prank and for not destroying school property – and told them never to pull such a prank again.
Outgoing senior class president Giuliana Allegrotti said going to Encinal has been tough these past four years because of budget cuts. But she said Cooper always stood behind the students there.
She said he made a point of engaging Allegrotti about the awkwardness she felt having her mother in such a high position at the school and worked to make her feel comfortable about it. Tracy Allegrotti is Encinal’s dean of students.
“I just got the sense he cared about my well-being,” said Allegrotti, who said she was “flabbergasted” to learn of Cooper’s fate.
Cooper became principal of Encinal for the 2008-09 school year, filling the job when Tony Kuns resigned after less than a year at the helm. Prior to becoming principal of Encinal, Cooper served as the school’s vice principal and also taught at Island High.
Last year, the school’s academic performance index scores jumped by 36 points, and this year, the school’s position on Newsweek’s list of best high schools, which rates schools based on the number of advanced courses and tests they complete, jumped from 1,087 to 733.