West High parents say they never received letter about principal resignation, meeting to discuss it

As explained in the Westword story "Tough Subject," the recent resignation of brand-new West High School principal Santiago Grado was sudden. To help parents make sense of the change, West High held a meeting on September 29 at 4 p.m. However, only one person showed up. Now, a West grandmother says the reason may be because many parents didn't know about it.

Helen Garcia has two grandchildren at West and is a frequent volunteer there; she says the students and teachers call her "Grandma Helen." In the past week, Garcia says she's spoken with 38 parents -- all of whom say they never received the letter DPS claims was sent to parents explaining Grado's resignation and inviting them to the meeting.

"If the parents don't get the message, how are they supposed to show up?" she says.

But Denver Public Schools says an attempt was made. "Letters went home with every student when the change was made. We'd be happy to resend the info to any family who did not receive it. The content of the letter will also go home to families in the next newsletter, due out this week," DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn said in an e-mail.

Garcia says she was surprised to see Grado go so quickly. She was part of a committee that interviewed candidates for the principal job, and she says Grado seemed to care about West's students from the start. The committee liked him so much, she says, that it recommended him for the position.

"We'd ask a certain question and he would always say, 'The kids come first. I don't care about anything else except the learning and education of the kids,'" Garcia says.

Garcia thought Grado was doing a good job this year. She says the students liked him and he seemed invested in getting to know the parents, too. He made a point to attend West's football games, she says, and even resurrected the school's mascot, a cowboy.

"He brought back the spirit of West High," Garcia says.

DPS administrator Antonio Esquibel told Westword that Grado chose to resign after the two had a conversation about what Esquibel saw as Grado's struggles at West. "There were some gaps in leadership, specifically around academic achievement," Esquibel said. "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."

Grado told his side of the story to Westword yesterday. In addition to attending athletic events, Grado says he was planning weekly Friday-night barbecues for the students and the community. The food would have been free, he says, and he was negotiating with Denver Health to bring its mobile clinic to the barbecue once a month.

Assistant principal Domonic Martinez took over for Grado. Martinez was disciplined by DPS last year for not following budgetary procedures when he was principal at CEC Middle College. But Esquibel told Westwordthat those issues have been resolved. "Domonic understood what happened and what the concerns were, and he fully explained himself to his superior," Esquibel said. "He fully understood what mistake he made and was remorseful for that and said it wouldn't happen again."

Garcia says she likes Martinez. "He said, 'I'm here to work with you; I'm here to help the parents,'" she says of a conversation she had with him. "I feel comfortable with him, but I really thought we were going to get somewhere with Santiago."

More from our Education archives: "West High principal turnover: New leader Domonic Martinez on his past, school's future."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar