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Cruz removed from West Philadelphia

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Saliyah Cruz, principal of West Philadelphia High School for the last three years, is being transferred, District spokesperson Evelyn Sample-Oates confirmed this morning.

Taking over at West will be District veteran Ozzie Wright, who has filled in twice previously as principal there, most recently before Cruz was assigned in 2007. Wright has been serving in an interim role at South Philadelphia High School.

Sample-Oates said that Superintendent Ackerman had made the decision that Wright, a West Philly alum, "is the right person to change the school around and improve test scores."

A District press release issued at noon announcing the appointment of Wright doesn’t mention Cruz but cites continued low proficiency rates on the 2010 PSSA.

Superintendent Ackerman is quoted as saying, "deep change is needed in the teaching and learning processes at the school. I make this appointment with a sense of urgency, but also with the confidence that Mr. Wright can lead the staff and students to improved academic performance.”

Cruz has been assigned to serve as principal of Communications Tech High School.

As recently as early June, after deciding that the abortive Renaissance process at West would be postponed for a year, District officials said that Cruz and her administrative staff would return to West next fall, but would be supported by a team from the District.

Asked about the reversal, Sample-Oates said, "The superintendent made this decision for West Philadelphia – for all those students and parents at the school."

The decision to transfer Cruz elicited both surprise and criticism from teachers at the school, who had expected her to be back in the fall.

"It’s another devastating blow to West," said history teacher Laura Boyce, who said she had rescinded her plans to take a position at Bodine High School next fall, thinking that Cruz would be back again at West.

"She was one of the major reasons that a lot of us stayed at West ourselves," she explained. "We talked about 10 to 15 people into staying who had been planning on leaving."

"I saw her as a great leader – somebody who really inspired us and was open to any idea that would make the school better," Boyce added.

Cruz had been credited with a dramatic turnaround in school climate and had been the subject of several positive profiles over the past school year reporting on improvements at West. Nonetheless, the school ended up on the Renaissance Schools list because of poor student achievement results.

Cruz was popular with students, Boyce said. Most staff also supported her, she added.

Neil Geyette, coordinator of West’s Urban Leadership Academy, said he was troubled by "the expedited nature in which the District expects turnaround" in school performance.

"For sustained school improvement, there needs to be stability of leadership in the school. There needs to be stability of staff in the school. They need to have time to implement their plans," he said.

Still on the Renaissance School list, West will be undergoing more changes in the next school year, including a matching process with a turnaround team once again.

That raised another question for Geyette: "Why would you change the leadership of the school a year before you’re going to make another radical change?" he asked.

The reassignments of Cruz and Wright are effective immediately.

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