May 19, 2006

Parents, Teachers Protest Firing School Principal; Demand Removal of District Superintendent

By Romeo P. Marquez

Parents and teachers protesting the dismissal of a Filipino American principal of Heritage Elementary in Chula Vista are demanding his reinstatement and the removal of the superintendent who fired him.

As news of the fate of Tim Suanico as principal spread throughout the community, Congressman Bob Filner (D-50th District) urged the school district to show more transparency in its decision to let him go.

Shades of racism are being hinted by some Filipino Americans in the firing and transfer currently underway in the Chula Vista Elementary School District (CVESD) where an African American was also affected.

CVESD Superintendent Lowell J. Billings has warded off inquiries from parents about why Suanico was being dismissed effective June 30, citing confidentiality.

Asked by this reporter, Billings also refused, saying he had “limitations” of what he can discuss.

“Specific personnel matters are strictly confidential so I cannot comment on Mr. Suanico,” he explained.

But Filner, at a Filipino American community forum at the Chula Vista City Hall on Saturday (May 13), practically pushed Suanico’s supporters to pursue their demands for an explanation and not be silenced by claims of confidentiality to evade any explanation.

“Confidentiality is always there to make you go away,” Filner stated. He said the issue is “political in the deepest sense”.

According to Filner, Suanico’s removal became a big issue because there are few Filipinos in leadership roles.

Sought for his comment, Suanico explained he remained an employee of the district and therefore unable to say anything.

In the mid-90s, Suanico earned the distinction of being the first Filipino American – and the youngest at that – to be appointed principal in the history of San Diego City Schools after he had landed the job at Bethune Elementary school where he stayed for eight years.

Steve Yagyagan, a parent who is at the forefront to reinstate Suanico and remove Billings, said it was his impression that Suanico was fired for reasons that do not satisfy a majority of the parents.

Yagyagan has written a letter to the State Superintendent, Jack O’Connell, and the State Board of Education demanding Billings’ removal from the Chula Vista school district and an investigation into his and the local board’s activities.

“Billings,” Yagyagan explained, “felt Suanico lacked leadership”.

On the contrary, Yagyagan stressed, Suanico “is the kind of leader who is inclusive of all parties involved.

“Tim is collaborative - he welcomes input from other people.  By the same token, he is devoutly concerned about the well-being and education of the children at his school and their parents.

“That is not to say he doesn’t care about his teachers. I have seen him interact with the teachers many times,” Yagyagan added.

The personnel movements in the district did not seem concentrated alone on Suanico. Billings said another principal has quit her position “to pursue other career opportunities”.

Eight other principals are also being reassigned to other schools within the district apparently to effect changes in the system, according to Billings.

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