By Alfredo Camacho
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Concerned parents, teachers and community members of Mira Monte High School in Bakersfield recently attended a Kern High School District meeting to voice their opposition to a proposed change in the school’s administration.
The change, they say, will deprive students and their families of a longtime advocate.
District officials are reportedly considering reassigning Mira Monte Principal Jaime Quiñónez, one of just three Latino principals in a district that is 60 percent Latino. The school itself is close to 90 percent Latino.
Quiñónez has served as the principal at Mira Monte since it opened in 2008.
“We are saying here to all of you that that would be a big mistake,” said veteran activist Dolores Huerta as she addressed the board during last week’s Monday meeting. “The parents of Mira Monte love their principal and they care about him.”
Kern County resident Nick Hernandez was among those gathered. He stressed that the district needs to be more transparent in its dealings with Quiñónez.
“My hope is that such a move will not be done without just cause and due process,” said Hernandez. “The community has a right to know what the issues are before any changes take place.”
Hernandez echoed others in noting the culture of college readiness that Quiñónez has fostered during his tenure. In 2013, some 42 percent of students at Mira Monte completed their A-G requirements, making them eligible for both the University of California and California State University systems. The state average is just over 39 percent. The school’s graduation rate is 78 percent.
KHSD Board President Chad Vegas rebuffed calls for transparency. “No, the community does not have a right to know, you don’t,” said Vegas. “By law we can’t disclose an ongoing investigation.”
The tenor of his remarks drew murmurs from the audience.
The tensions come amid an ongoing lawsuit filed in October of 2014 against KHSD for what plaintiffs say is a culture of racial targeting of Black and Latino students for suspensions and expulsions. A county superior court judge is currently considering a request by the district to dismiss the civil suit.
Speaking through a translator, Manuela Ortega of Lamont spoke of how Quiñónez helped her and her son during an especially difficult part of their lives.
“When my [oldest] son was in eighth grade, he was diagnosed with cancer,” said Ortega. “Mr. Quiñónez and his staff gave him the support in education, in sports — my son was a runner — I felt supported, and thanks to them, he was able to undergo chemotherapy, participate in athletics, and still succeed academically.”
A parent of two Mira Monte graduates, with a third currently a freshman at the school, Ortega also spoke of Quiñónez’ involvement in encouraging students to undertake extracurricular activities and his work in facilitating communications between the school and Spanish-speaking families.
“My son today is in college, and it’s thanks to Mr. Quiñónez, staff, parents, at Mira Monte who all supported us,” said Ortega.
Ortega implored the board to take into consideration the impact that Mr. Quiñónez has had on building community at Mira Monte.
“I ask you as a person to not move him from there,” said Ortega. “I’ve always been involved in meetings at school and I’ve always seen him there helping support us and our students, and I ask you make the best choice for parents, for students, and for Mr. Quiñónez.”