West High School has seen its fair share of principal turnover. And now, another change is afoot: Santiago Grado, West's brand-new principal, has announced he's resigning effective October 31. Domonic Martinez, one of West's assistant principals, will take over for the remainder of the year.
It's a strange turn of events, since Martinez — previously the principal at CEC Middle College, a high-achieving career and technical magnet school — was disciplined last year for not following budgetary procedures.
West High School
Furthermore, CEC staffers had complained about Martinez, saying that he discriminated against female teachers and white employees, that he hired unqualified friends and relatives, and that he mismanaged school funds.
"There were definitely some concerns raised about his leadership at CEC," says Antonio Esquibel, a Denver Public Schools administrator who serves as director of several schools in west Denver, including West High. "Based on what I know, DPS investigated some of these concerns."
The probe revealed that "budgetary process procedures were not followed properly," Esquibel adds. Martinez was "reprimanded for that" — though not fired. DPS officials wouldn't discuss the reprimand. "Domonic understood what happened and what the concerns were, and he fully explained himself to his superior," Esquibel says. "He fully understood what mistake he made and was remorseful for that and said it wouldn't happen again."
Martinez himself says, "There were some processes that I was unaware of, but nothing criminal or anything like that." He adds that in his two years as principal at CEC, 75 percent of his 25 hires were Caucasian, with 50 percent being Caucasian women. "I am of mixed race," he says. "I am Caucasian and Hispanic. I'm proud of both and ashamed of neither."
He was relocated to West, Esquibel says, because "he demonstrated strong instructional leadership" in spite of the other issues. He also grew up in west Denver. "The community likes him," Esquibel adds.
That was apparently not the case with Grado — at least when it came to his academic vision. Grado came to West from Northridge High School in Greeley, where Esquibel says he'd increased student enrollment, an ongoing problem at West. But early into his tenure at West, it was clear he was struggling in other areas, Esquibel says.
"There were some gaps in leadership, specifically around academic achievement," says Esquibel, who previously served as principal of Abraham Lincoln High. "One of the things we're really trying to focus on is making sure students at West know there's a strong commitment to them and to provide them with a great education to prepare them for college and beyond. In order to do that, we need a strong instructional leader."
West held a meeting last week to discuss the change with parents. Only one showed up, however. Esquibel says that's because most parents agree with the decision. Plus, he adds, West's parent participation is low — a problem administrators are eager to solve. West has hired a new combined office manager and parent liaison, Carol Grant, who is already planning ways to get alumni involved in the school. "I'm not afraid to bleed a little orange to get there," she says, referring to West High's colors of orange and black.
The district also recently hired Fernando Guidice as the parent and community engagement coordinator for several schools in west Denver, including West. Guidice was previously a parent liaison at Lincoln. According to district officials, he helped boost parent engagement there.
The district will evaluate Martinez's performance as principal this spring and determine whether to keep him or to start a search for another replacement.
Next year will bring even more changes for West. A plan calls for phasing out the traditional ninth-through-twelfth-grade model in favor of two new, smaller schools. One, called the West Leadership Academy, is to be run in partnership with College Board Schools and will focus on post-secondary preparation. The other, called the Generation School at West High, is a partnership with Generation Schools and will focus more on core academics.
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