Wednesday, May 13, 2009

San Pedro High School Principal Bob DiPietro Wednesday Explains His Imminent Departure from the Trouble Plagued Campus -- After 24 years of Service to LAUSD; Personal Troubles Began in March When His Father Died of a Heart Attack, His Mother Was Left Without a Caretaker and the Family’s Former Trucking Business Needed Liquidation

The Students, However, Still Will Shine Like Bright Stars in the Future and Are by Far the Politest He’s Ever Known – Despite All the School’s Turmoil

By Diana L. Chapman

After a disheartening year of lessons – from San Pedro High School not proving worthy of full-accreditation and an increased drop out rate, the principal Wednesday revealed his earlier-then-predicted retirement was personal – not professional.

A replacement will be selected for Robert DiPietro’s post, through Los Angeles Unified School District, said Linda Del Cueto, who heads the region of 90 schools, in which San Pedro High resides.

The typical hiring practices in the past, including the formation of a hiring committee, will be blocked due to recent layoffs, which have left many administrative directors without jobs – but gives them seniority to return to head up schools.

“I happen to know a person who will do a really great job,” Del Cueto explained. “I have somebody in mind and I have to take them because of “return rights,” which are part of the education code.

“Bob is such a professional that he will work 100 percent until his last day on June 30th, so it will be seamless,” Del Cueto explained.

In fact, DiPietro said he will work without pay after June 30 to help ensure that the changeover works.

At this time, the new principal will not be named officially, until the hiring has been approved, Del Cueto explained.

DiPietro’s upcoming departure has stunned some community members who hoped he would stay aboard and guide what seems to be a rudderless ship, a situation he inherited when he climbed aboard in Aug. 2007.

“He always put the kids first,” declared Richard Vladovic, an LAUSD board member in charge of the region from San Pedro sweeping through the Harbor area and up to Watts.

The sudden death of DiPietro's robust 89-year-old father came as a surprise, but the principal explained it was something that inevitably he should have expected since his father was the sole caretaker of his mother, who has Alzheimer's. The couple lived in Swansea, Mass where DiPietro was raised. His father had a heart attack March 2.

When he learned of his death, DiPietro raced home to arrange for nursing care for his mother, and realized that the job of dismantling his father’s assets was overwhelming. Since he is the only child, he plans to move back to the New England town for six month period, but return to Culver City where he lives with his 25-year-old son.

Death haunted him much earlier in his life, when his wife, then 45, died of cancer. He never remarried.

From the moment DiPietro arrived, the San Pedro campus was saddled with troubles, including a school that had swollen to 3,500 students, when it was made for no more than 2,000. DiPietro inherited some other nasty problems, besides an over population of students. The school’s accreditation now remains borderline, and a new state report revealed that more students were dropping out from high schools in general than originally predicted, including San Pedro High.

That fails to mention looming layoffs in the current dismal economy.

“This is a particularly bad time because there’s a lot more ambiguities,” DiPietro, 61, agreed. “But I remain very positive for the school. I feel really good about the kids. I’ve never met a group of children who are so polite.”

His mood late Wednesday afternoon remained upbeat and optimistic, but somewhat saddened to leave the students he had come to consider the most mannerly students he’d ever worked with in his 24 years at Los Angeles Unified. “They are such cool kids,” he added.

He joined the district later in life, after holding jobs in New York as an officer in reconciliation bankruptcy and later a researcher for a commodities firm.

Changing to a different course, DiPietro went into education, beginning his first job as a teacher at Locke High School and holding different teaching and administrative posts at many high schools, including Marshall, after he finished his masters at Columbia University.

His first full time principal post was at San Pedro High.

The principal believes the accreditation at the school will fare well as soon as teachers accept a new practice to ensure that they engage their students in valuable lessons, rather than working with them in a more traditional way.

For example, he said, he began to teach again to learn the impacts from a coach on student engagement and was impressed with the “thinking skills” the coach required of his students, meaning they were encouraged to participate in discussions and find the answers.

“We need to move toward a more student centered way of instruction,” he concluded, less than two months from his departure, at a school he oversaw for less than two years.