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

The Orange County Register

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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.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Group questions school board's decisions.

The Orange County Register

The group announced it would hold a rally in support of Nguyen-Lam on Thursday at 6 p.m. outside the school district an hour before the regularly scheduled school board meeting.

WESTMINSTER – The school board’s hiring and firing of a respected member of the local Vietnamese community has sprouted a grassroots group that is questioning trustees' decisions and demanding answers.The informal group, which calls itself Keep our Voice, Keep KimOanh Coalition, organized its first meeting this morning outside the Westminster School District building on Cedarwood Avenue.

Attorney Daniel Do-Khanh, who heads this group, said the school board’s decision has confused community members and left them with more questions than answers.

"This was a very thorough selection process," he said. "How could (KimOanh Nguyen-Lam) be qualified one week and unqualified a week later?"

Phu Nguyen, president of the Vietnamese American Community of Southern California, said Nguyen-Lam has inspired and touched the lives of many students, especially those who cannot speak English.

On May 23, trustees voted 4-1 to hire Nguyen-Lam, but rescinded the hiring a week later in a 3-2 decision, with two board members changing their minds. They said they believed Nguyen-Lam lacked relevant experience.

Trustee James Reed said this week that he initially felt pressured by the search firm and other board members to pick Nguyen-Lam.

Nguyen-Lam, who works as associate director for the Center of Language Minority Research and Education at Cal State Long Beach, has said she will pursue legal options to try to clear her name.

She was not at today’s meeting. Do-Khanh said he was not currently her attorney.

County Supervisor Lou Correa, who spoke to the group, said he was saddened by the board’s actions and knows Nguyen-Lam is qualified for the position.

"I’m glad you’re doing this," he said. "Elected officials must answer to what happened and why."

Top Westminster School Official Resigns

Acting Supt. Lopez was forced out over district's latest controversy, a board member says.

By Seema Mehta, Times Staff Writer
June 13, 2006

Westminster School District's acting superintendent has quit, adding to a series of high-level resignations and controversies plaguing the district.

Mel Lopez declined to comment on why he resigned Friday.


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"I would rather go quietly into the night," said Lopez.

"I just came to realize this is not a place that I can be effective. That's all."

Lopez's resignation after less than two months on the job comes after the district's school board outraged some community members over its decision last month to rescind a job offer to KimOanh Nguyen-Lam, 46, who would have been the first Vietnamese American superintendent in the United States.

The board voted to hire Nguyen-Lam on May 23, then reversed the decision a week later.

This is the latest in a series of controversies at the district, which serves about 10,000 students in Westminster and parts of Huntington Beach, Garden Grove and Midway City.

Two years ago, the district nearly lost $8 million in annual state and federal funding when it balked at adopting a state-mandated antidiscrimination policy that allowed school employees and students to define their own genders.

The board approved compromise language after four months and avoided losing funding.

Teachers in the district have been working without a union contract since September and have picketed board meetings.

The district and the teachers union have been unable to agree on a pay increase, so the state will mediate contract discussions.

Lopez, whose last day will be Friday, is the fifth high-level administrator in the district to resign in a year.

The most recent superintendent, Sheri Loewenstein, announced her resignation after only 16 months.

To replace Loewenstein, the board hired International Group Inc. to find candidates.

Some school board members have reportedly been unhappy with Lopez's connection with the firm, according to board member Sergio Contreras and published reports.

Lopez said that from September 2005 to March 2006, he was a consultant for International Group, working with troubled schools in Lynwood for four days a month, earning $500 per day and mileage.

The firm told him about the opening in Westminster for an acting superintendent as it searched for a full-time superintendent.

He applied and was hired April 20, Lopez said.

Lopez has been the superintendent of school districts in Anaheim and Pacifica for a total of 16 years and has taught at Chapman University.

Lopez said he had no role in the search for a superintendent or the recommendation to hire Nguyen-Lam.

Contreras, a Nguyen-Lam supporter, said Lopez was pressured to resign by his board colleagues, who were looking for a "fall guy" in the controversy over the superintendent's position.

He did not explain how they could blame Lopez for the incident.

Many Westminster residents were outraged by the school board, which offered Nguyen-Lam the position on a 4-1 vote, then rescinded the offer 3 to 2.

"There's all kinds of finger-pointing going on now," Contreras said.

"Unfortunately, he's being used as a fall guy.

"He has absolutely nothing to do with the [hiring] process whatsoever. He was professional. Everything he did, he did it right."

School board member Jo-Ann Purcell declined to comment, and attempts to reach the three other board members were unsuccessful.