The Hispanic Association of Atlantic County wants to know why the Atlantic City Board of Education plans to transfer the city’s first Latina principal to an elementary school, according to a letter sent by the Association to the board.
Atlantic City High School Principal Lina Gil was told recently by the Atlantic City Superintendent Barry Caldwell that she would transfer to Pennsylvania Avenue School, while La’Quetta Small, the principal at Pennsylvania Ave, would move to the High School, according to HAAC officials. Reports of the planned transfer have spread among teachers at the High School and Pennsylvania Avenue.
The move would have to be approved by the Board of Education, which meets on May 21. An agenda for that meeting has not yet been published. Superintendent Caldwell and the clerk to the Board did not respond to messages about the possible staff transfer.
“Principal Lina Gil is a well-qualified, effective high-school principal who has dedicated the last twenty years to the youth of Atlantic City,” wrote HAAC President Bert Lopez in the letter to the president of the Board of Education.
“What is the official reason or justification provided to the Board of Education by the Superintendent for transferring Principal Lina Gil away from Atlantic City High School?”
Copies of the letter were sent to Jim Johnson, special counsel overseeing Atlantic City for the Governor’s Counsel’s Office, the Atlantic County superintendent and others.
HAAC is also questioning whether any board members could have a potential conflict in approving the transfer. Small is the wife of Marty Small, Atlantic City Council president. The school board’s vice president, Constance Days-Chapman, is running for election to city council.
“Our fear is that this seems to be politically motivated,” Lopez wrote in the letter.
HAAC is also requesting that the May 21 meeting be held in a venue that would fit more members of the public than the board’s usual meeting room, because the limited capacity in the board’s offices can restrict public participation.
Gil was named principal of the high school in 2016, after a stint as deputy principal. In her first two years at the school, enrollment climbed slightly, bucking the county trend of shrinking school districts (although no data is available for the current academic year). The school’s graduation rate has also climbed to over 81 percent from below 75 percent in the 2015-16 school year, according to state data.
Caldwell’s administrative assistant said the superintendent was not in the office late on Tuesday afternoon. Atlantic City Council president Marty Small said, via text message, “We have absolutely no comment, we refer any and all comments to the superintendent of schools and the Atlantic City Board of Education.” Gil did not respond to a message for her left with HAAC.
Gil, who has a master’s, earned $146,446 in the 2017-18 year. La’Quetta Small, who has a doctorate, earned slightly more: $147,471 in the same year, according to the Asbury Park Press’ teacher salaries database.
Just over one third of the Atlantic City High School’s student body is Latino and about a quarter speaks Spanish at home.
The HAAC is a recently-revived community organization that is working to advocate for Latino residents in the county. Atlantic City’s population is almost one-third Latino. The organization had some success in the Winter when it organized the community to call for the promotion of Latino police.