High school set for moves

Southern principal to retire

assistant principal transferred

`They've done a good job'

Officials had dealt with racial turmoil, drugs in past year

South County

June 08, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

After a year marked by heightened racial tensions and drug problems at Southern High School, two key administrators are leaving, school system officials announced yesterday.

Principal Cliff Prince, who has been with county school system for 32 years, is scheduled to retire at the end of the month, and Assistant Principal Lee Watkins is being transferred to Severna Park High School as an assistant principal.

Paul Vandenberg, principal of Lindale-Brooklyn Park Middle School, will replace Prince. George Lindley, an acting administrative intern at Southern, was promoted to administrative intern and will replace Watkins. All changes are effective June 28, a spokesman said.

Prince's decision to retire apparently came abruptly, after black students reported last month that among other problems, racial slurs were often directed at them, and that he had ignored their complaints. Prince's retirement was announced at a school board meeting, but his name had not appeared on a list of retirees compiled last week.

Prince declined to comment.

Officials refused to explain the staff changes, saying the moves were personnel decisions. But people who have worked with Prince said they didn't think the rocky year at Southern drove him away.

"Last year sometime, he indicated he would be thinking about retiring," said Leslie Stanton, a school system human relations specialist. He said Prince has two children who recently finished college.

"I don't think he would've left as a result of what occurred," Stanton said. "I think he really turned a corner. They've done a good job in terms of defusing the [racial] situation."

Lucille Salisbury, a community liaison brought to Southern to help calm racial tensions, said she thought Prince had been considering retirement before recent incidents. She said members of the staff were saddened by the news.

"Staff members have gone to him and asked him not to leave," Salisbury said. "He's really a gentleman, a nice guy."

News of Prince's departure drew mixed reaction from South County parents who have criticized and spoken empathetically about him. Besides the racial tensions, student drug use has also became an issue.

Several students became sick in September after eating hallucinogenic seeds from jimson weed, and 10 students were arrested on drug charges at the school's parking lot in March. Last year, Southern was beset with disruptive bomb threats.

Patti Harvey, a parent who helped organize recent community meetings, said she was disappointed that Prince would leave at such a critical time, but said the problems and solutions at the school never centered on him alone.

"It's never a one-person issue, although [Prince] can bring about change, and I think he was working on change," Harvey said. His retirement "saddens me at a time when change could be made. I would hope he would want to be a part of that."

June Hardesty, president of the school's Parent-Teacher Student Association, said she also was sad to see Prince leave.

She said Watkins, who has been at the school for six years, was probably due for a transfer, but losing two of the three top administrators might be an advantage.

"Maybe it's time for a clean slate," she said.

Hardesty said she was more concerned that administrators would be spread too thin at the school, which houses eighth-graders in addition to its ninth through 12th grades.

Many said they hoped the new principal would continue to address race relations. Prince had told community members this week that the school would plan a second diversity training retreat for students next year and that staffers would attend sensitivity training.

But two new administrators sent to the school after tensions became publicized will return to their original posts next year, a schools spokesman said yesterday.

"I'm sure there will be continued work there, but I'm sure they'll allow [Vandenberg] to determine what would be best suited for Southern," Stanton said.

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