Reversal on Westminster hiring defended

June 14, 2006

Trustee who opposed Nguyen-Lam says accusations of racism are 'disgusting.'

The Orange County Register

Previous stories


WESTMINSTER – A 3-2 vote by the Westminster school board to rescind the hiring of Kimoanh Nguyen-Lam as the district's new superintendent hinged entirely on her lack of relevant experience and not on race, a trustee said Wednesday.

Jo-Ann Purcell, who cast the sole vote last month against hiring Nguyen-Lam, said she was deeply offended by allegations of racism that came during a packed, emotional meeting Tuesday night from Trustees Sergio Contreras and Blossie Marquez, who voted in favor of the hiring.

Purcell said she was concerned that Nguyen-Lam lacks experience – whether it's working hands-on in an elementary school classroom or dealing with day-to-day challenges as an assistant principal or principal.

"Saying that the three white board members voted against a minority candidate is the most disgusting, insulting, uneducated remark I've ever heard," Purcell said. "Dr. Lam is a lovely, bright lady who is very educated."

But Marquez on Wednesday repeated her contention that the vote was racist and sent a negative message to the residents of one of the most diverse cities in Orange County.

"It's a very sad day for Westminster," said Marquez, president of the school board. Nguyen-Lam, 46, is associate director at the Center for Language Minority Education and Research at Cal State Long Beach and a trustee at the Garden Grove Unified School District.

The board voted 4-1 on May 23 to hire Nguyen-Lam. But Tuesday, Trustees Jim Reed and Judy Aherns changed their positions to tilt the vote against Nguyen-Lam, who would have been the first Vietnamese-American superintendent of an Orange County school district.

Nguyen-Lam said Wednesday that she was "very disappointed, but not entirely surprised" by the decision. She said she was initially relieved to "stay out of all the mess," but that she felt bad for parents who'd counted on her arrival.

"How could three board members so easily ignore and invalidate the concerns and voices of so many people who were there (Tuesday)?" she asked.

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