Westminster school board retracts hiring

June 1, 2006

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

No reason given in vote to cancel offer to new Westminster superintendent.

The Orange County Register

Westminster School District
Enrollment: 10,024
Black: 1.1%
American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.5%
Asian: 35.4%
Filipino: 0.7%
Hispanic or Latino: 38.6%
Pacific Islander: 1.2%
White: 17.5%

Source: California Department of Education


WESTMINSTER – The Westminster school board, without citing a reason, voted 3-2 Tuesday night to rescind the hiring of Kimoanh Nguyen- Lam as the district's new superintendent.

The action followed an hourlong closed session.

Former Westminster Councilman Tony Lam, who is not related to the candidate, stood up after the announcement and shouted, "It's a racist type of action!"

Nguyen-Lam would have been the first Vietnamese- American superintendent of an Orange County school district.

Board member Judy Ahrens, who voted May 23 to hire Nguyen-Lam, changed her position Tuesday.

"My only comment is I felt the process was too rushed," she said.

Board President Blossie Marquez voted to hire Nguyen-Lam.

"I'm so hurt and very upset," she said of the reversal. "This decision is very disappointing and very prejudiced. Race played an issue."

Marquez said she and the other Hispanic board member, Sergio Contreras, wanted to hire Nguyen- Lam on Tuesday but that the three white members – Ahrens, Jo-Ann Purcell and James Reed – did not.

Purcell stood by her decision and said Nguyen-Lam "has not had any superintendent experience."

Reed was vacationing in Oregon and cast his vote by telephone.

Nguyen-Lam, 46, is associate director at the Center for Language Minority Education and Research at Cal State Long Beach and a trustee of the Garden Grove Unified School District.

She was tapped to head the 10,000-student Westminster district May 23 by a 4-1 vote, with Purcell dissenting.

Three days after the initial vote, at least three trustees called for the closed session to discuss the hiring.

Interim Superintendent Mel Lopez said before the closed session that the purpose was to quell rumors surrounding her hiring. He declined to comment on the rumors.

He said that if the board waited until its next regular meeting, June 15, "the rumors would keep escalating."

Nguyen-Lam announced her resignation from Cal State Long Beach last week and was expected to join the district July 1, she said.

"I am stressed and concerned, disappointed about the whole process," she said earlier Tuesday. "I'm just waiting and seeing."

She was not present for the announcement Tuesday night.

Ahrens said before the closed session that the meeting would give fellow board members an opportunity to deliberate more in depth.

"It's healthy to get some concerns ironed out before you make a decision on a superintendent," Aherns said. "Sometimes you have your reservation. The person has not been a superintendent before. Let's make sure we're thorough in our deliberation. We just want to get a feel tonight, just for more dialogue with board members."

The re-evaluation of the hiring has divided the board.

"I really feel in my heart, the entire Orange County community will benefit from having Dr. Lam," Marquez said before the closed session. "She'll bridge the gap. She'll really give us what the district needs.

"I feel good about the selection," she said. "I'm sorry the others feel bad – if it's their personal agenda, whatever their views are, they need to put that aside and put what's best for the children."

Westminster School District has been the center of controversy in the past. In 2004, the district was embroiled in a battle between the school board and state education officials over the definition of "gender" in a state law.

Earlier this month, some teachers picketed during a board meeting over an ongoing contract dispute.

2 Responses to “Westminster school board retracts hiring”

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