Pasadena: Rushing to defense

Pasadena Star-News, CA
May 6 2004

Rushing to defense
Marshall High students, teachers support embattled principal

By Gretchen Hoffman , Staff Writer

PASADENA — At the same time that a group of community members are
circulating petitions calling Marshall Fundamental High School
Principal Steven Miller a bigot who should be removed from his post,
students and teachers are rallying to his support.

Miller is anything but a racist, students and staff say, and he has
reduced school violence and increased student performance. He
motivates teachers and students alike, and is always willing to lend
an ear, they add.

One thing about Miller is certain, however. The road he travels at
Marshall these days is rocky. Some Armenian parents are upset that
middle school dean Kevork Halladjian was told he will not be
returning to his post next year. His lawyer, Dale Gronemeier, is
threatening a lawsuit if Halladjian is not reinstated, and alleges
Miller is a racist who did not do enough to halt violence during a
March 5 fight between Armenians and African Americans at the school.

Halladjian’s lawyer is married to Temetra Gronemeier, whose lawsuit
against the Pasadena Unified School District alleging age
discrimination was thrown out recently. She was seeking the principal
position, which was given to Miller.

Students said Marshall has always had racial conflict but that it has
largely abated under Miller’s guidance. Incidents like the March 5
fights, which resulted in a lockdown on campus and several
expulsions, were more common before Miller instituted peer-mediation
programs, they said.

“He doesn’t sit in his office filling out worksheets, he’s making
sure that each and every race is satisfied,’ said tenth- grader
Clarissa Belombre. “Instead of pointing to the one who’s running the
school, which is what people do, you need to point to the students.
They’re the one who caused it. He took care of the situation as he

Senior Veronica Gonzalez said she thought the accusations have been
made by people who do not know Miller.

“It seems like these are because of the position he holds,’ Gonzalez
said. “His main priority is us, the students. The thing that I think
is really just out there is that these people that are accusing him
are saying they’re here for the students but … it’s not helping us,
it’s tearing us apart.’

Senior Tina Lee said the petitions are from people who do not have
children at Marshall.

“They don’t even have grandchildren who go here,’ Lee said. “They
have no relation to anyone who has first-hand knowledge. I think they
have no right to say anything.’

Students and teachers said Miller’s detractors are focusing on the
fights as an excuse to get him thrown out of Marshall.

“For people to try to hang his career over one incident that
occurred, I don’t think that’s fair,’ teacher Darlene Davenpot said.
“Right now at Marshall, we do not need another principal.’

Teacher Rebecca Vasquez said discipline has been Marshall’s Achilles’
heel since she started there six years ago.

“I think he’s taken action where it hasn’t been taken before, and
that’s why he’s being targeted,’ Vasquez said. “It’s not productive
for anybody. It’s interesting that people outside our school are
coming in and creating problems.’

Teacher Patricia Kavanagh said she “can’t think of someone who is
less likely to be a racist. He’s been under more pressure than I can
imagine. He’s unknowingly become a part of … antagonism that was
here before he started.’

Many students said they had never seen Miller treat a student
differently because of his or her race and alleged that deans
Gronemeier and Halladjian gave preference to students of their own

“I feel like Mr. Halladjian favors the Armenians, I guess because he
feels Ms. Gronemeier is African American and he needs to stick up for
the Armenian people,’ senior Rita Manoukian said. “Our own deans are
trying to mess up our school. How does that help us?’

Dale Gronemeier said his client and his wife have a “special
sensitivity’ toward students of their own race but operate with
complete fairness.

“What goes with the territory of disciplining students is that you
are dealing with students and parents in a negative and oftentimes
adversarial (role) because people don’t like to be disciplined,’
Gronemeier said. “Mrs. Gronemeier has 20 years’ experience as a
teacher and as an administrator at Marshall. There are legions of
Armenian students and parents who would swear by her fairness.’

Halladjian said he has an open door policy for all students
regardless of race.

“Anybody can come to my office, I’ll definitely make time to see them
right away,’ Halladjian said. “I try my best to deal with all
students at Marshall with the same fairness.’

Other students pointed to honors awarded to Marshall under Miller’s
tenure. The school was ranked in the top 4 percent of the country’s
public high schools in Newsweek’s 2003 Challenge Index. It was also
selected last year as one of three schools in the nation to receive a
College Board Inspiration Award in recognition of its work in
broadening economically disadvantaged students’ access to college.

“When Mr. Miller came, I felt he brought peace,’ senior Alexandria
Parker said. “I think he’s the bridge or the tie that connects
everyone together and by severing that cord, you’re severing Marshall
and all we’ve worked together to build. I think in the end, the truth
will speak for itself.’