Jefferson High School Principal Leon Dudley is on leave of absence until the end of the school year, according to Portland Public School officials. Cynthia Harris, area director for the Jefferson Cluster, will take his place on a temporary basis.
Dudley was hired as Jefferson's principal on Aug. 14, 2006, and the end of this school year would have marked his first year at the school, which has been marked with controversy over his leadership style, including recent criticism from the student council over Dudley's allegedly frequent absences.
Portland Public Schools Spokesman Matt Shelby declined to say if the leave was forced or if Dudley chose to leave, but said the leave is for a defined amount of time and that he expects Dudley to return to his duties after that time.
"We're affording him the same respect we would any other (PPS employee)," Shelby said. "It is a personnel matter."
Harris, who also started her position in the fall of 2006, has been involved with many of Dudley's duties, says Shelby, and supervises all the principals in the Jefferson Cluster. The district will be filling Harris' position in the near future, but says it will have "zero effect" on day-to-day functions.
But some parents say they're concerned that the constantly changing leadership has a detrimental effect on students.
Tyrone White, whose son is a junior at Jefferson, said he is concerned with PPS Superintendent Vicki Philips' choices.
"They promised our children we were not going to go through this again," White said. "How can you get any stability?"
Jefferson High School has gone through a number of leadership changes in recent years, and has struggled with rapidly declining enrollment – a phenomenon not necessarily unique to Jefferson.
White, who graduated from Jefferson, said he transferred his son from another high school because he and his wife believed in the high school and in its rich heritage. Now, he wants the community to unite and demand better performance from its school leaders.
Another parent and Jefferson grad, Dante Paschal, whose son is a junior at Jefferson, said his personal experience with Dudley was positive. He says he believed the principal made an effort to know the names of students, to be involved and to get along. But Paschal did say the pride and respect he once felt for the school and staff is not evident in many current Jefferson students.
"That same pride is not there," he said. "I don't blame Mr. Dudley for all the failure, a lot of it starts at home."
With Jefferson's men's and women's academies set to begin next fall, it is unclear how Dudley's absence might affect that transition. Aurora Lora, principal of the future Women's Leadership Academy, said Dudley's absence would not affect planning for the 2007 school year.
"Cynthia has been very involved with this process," she said of Dudley's interim replacement.
Willie Holmes, principal of the Men's Leadership Academy, did not return phone calls in time for this paper's deadline and The Skanner was unable to contact Dudley for comment on this story.