West High principal turnover: New leader Domonic Martinez on his past, school's future

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Recently, West High School's brand-new principal, Santiago Grado, abruptly resigned. The reason, according to Denver Public Schools officials? He wasn't a strong academic leader. But the man who replaced him, assistant principal Domonic Martinez, has had some leadership problems, too, as explained in the story "Tough Subject."

Before Martinez came to West this fall, he was principal at CEC Middle College, a high-achieving career and technical magnet school within DPS.

"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" -- though not fired.

Martinez spoke to Westword about the concerns, which included that he discriminated against female teachers and white employees, that he hired unqualified friends and relatives, and that he mismanaged school funds. He also spoke about his leadership abilities and his hopes for West. Here's what he had to say:

"At CEC, for the most part, those were pretty personal issues," he says. "I can tell you that the district looked very thoroughly into any and all concerns and accusations. Those were all resolved at the district level."

As for the budgetary snafu, Martinez says, "There were some processes that I was unaware of, but nothing criminal or anything like that."

In response to the accusations of discrimination, he adds, "I am of mixed race. I am Caucasian and Hispanic. I'm proud of both and ashamed of neither.

"In June, I decided to step down from my position at CEC," Martinez says. "Other than that, we can all agree that there's value in my leadership and what I've been able to do in my five, six years as an administrator."

After leaving CEC, he came to West, which is slated to undergo major changes next year. The traditional high school will be phased out and replaced with two smaller schools to be run by the New York-based organizations Generation Schools and College Board Schools. The College Board school will focus on preparing students for college, while school run by Generation Schools will concentrate more on core academics.

As the Denver Post reported, the idea for the two schools came from a community group whose task it was to give recommendations to the DPS school board. The community also recommended that principals at West High make at least a five-year commitment.

Martinez says he's eager to help with West's transition. "The biggest thing for this year and in the transition is to really build a vision and a road map for not only our tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders but also our ninth graders about, 'Why should you come to West? What's at West?' Sometimes you get a bad rap, but my biggest job and push is to build that road map and that vision." Martinez says he'd like to strengthen West's relationship with the nearby Community College of Denver and DPS's Emily Griffith Technical College to encourage more high school students to take college classes.

Martinez hopes those partnerships will help boost West's enrollment, which is low.

But, he adds, "I'm going to need the community's help and support. We can't do this alone. I'm going to be reaching out in the next couple weeks to over 12,000 alumni. I need everything from financial (help) to volunteering to tutoring to internships."

It's not clear yet whether the West community's request for principal stability will be granted. While Martinez is scheduled to finish this year at West, Esquibel says DPS will review his performance in the spring and decide whether to keep him on.

More from our Education archives: "North High credit recovery investigation says poor adult oversight to blame for cheating."

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