ROCHESTER — In the wake of controversy over the removal of James Monroe High School’s principal, the Rochester City School District has announced his replacement.
The district named Vicky Ramos as principal in a July 28 staff e-mail from Superintendent Boglen Vargas. Ramos served in the same position from 2009-12 and subsequently worked as the district’s executive director of student placement and school operations.
The announcement followed a contentious board meeting July 24 regarding a resolution to hire a new principal following the removal of Armando Ramírez.
Ramírez, who has been Monroe’s principal for the past two years, said that he learned he was going to be removed after seeing a proposed board of education resolution online that called for placing a new principal at Monroe this fall.
"I was shocked," he said at the board’s July 24 meeting.
During the meeting, which was attended by more than 200 people, the school board voted on an amended resolution, which called for hiring Avon High School Principal Barbara Zelazny but not appointing her as Monroe’s new principal, as was originally proposed.
After the vote, which followed an executive session that lasted for more than an hour, the superintendent offered an apology for the manner in which Ramírez’s ouster was handled.
"This is not the way the district should conduct business to find out the way that you did," he said to Ramírez. "But there is a sense of urgency … for the entire community."
Vargas cited a 27 percent graduation rate for Latino students at Monroe as one of the biggest reasons for his urgency to make changes at the school. Despite several speakers emphasizing that the school’s overall graduation rate has increased during Ramírez’s tenure, Vargas said that the district administration would continue its search for a principal at Monroe "who can meet the challenges."
Board member Mary Adams, who voted against the resolution, expressed concern that Zelazny would be one of a number of principals without an assignment.
"Our responsibility as a board is effective … allocation of resources," she said.
Prior to the July 24 vote, Monroe students and staff gave impassioned pleas for the board not to remove Ramírez.
"Mr. Ramírez connects with every (student) at our school not only academically but socially," said Heidi Robles, who will be a senior. "He genuinely cares about every single one of us."
Heidi has attended Monroe since seventh grade and has gone through three principals. She said that since Ramírez came on board, the school has seen dramatic changes including less tension between students of different races.
"He calls us his kids because he treats us as so," she said nearing tears. "So please, I beg you, don’t remove him as principal."
Stephanie Rinaldi, a senior school secretary, said that Ramírez did reduce the school violence among students, boosted the number of Advanced Placement courses available to students, restored the National Honor Society, improved the graduation rate and brought back the music program.
"Continuity is very important," she said. "This (decision) is two steps forward, five steps back. Mr. Ramírez is a great leader, especially with urban students. He can relate to their lives as he has lived that life himself."
Teacher Gina Porter said that Ramírez showed a lack of collaboration with teachers and staff.
Following the vote and the superintendent’s remarks, Ramírez and his supporters filled the hall outside the board conference room. Many of the students were crying and hugged Ramírez before they left the building.
He addressed the Latino graduation rate by explaining that many of the students in question are recent arrivals to Rochester with limited language skills who are then expected to pass an English proficiency exam. Even if they begin school as juniors, they are still expected to pass that test, he said.
"I wish the students at Monroe the very best," he said. "I’ll still be a part of Monroe High School. These are my kids."
Ruby Meléndez, who graduated from Monroe this past spring, was one of the students visibly upset by the board’s decision.
"It’s heartbreaking," said Ruby, 17, who had brought in posters of support. "The only bad thing people said is that he was too student-oriented. That was his problem."
Ramírez, who has been with the district 24 years, said that he was given 30-day notice of the removal and has yet to learn of his new assignment.
Zelazny, on the other hand, was named principal of Northwest College High School at the Douglass Campus, the district announced July 29. She replaces Mary Aronson, who will move to another assignment, district officials said.