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Still, the district recognized "a level of inexperience here," according to HISD spokeswoman Heather Browne. So Allen wouldn't be back in there by himself. A task force would go with him and examine procedures at the school, to help Allen sort things out and assess whether he and Jones were really a good fit.
Unfortunately, the makeup of the new task force didn't win the administration too many points. Vanguard Parents Organization president Becky Udden said she was told it would be headed up by South District Superintendent Warner Ervin and Hilbert Bludau, assistant superintendent of school operational support.
Well, Ervin's wife, Melba, works for Allen as a counselor on the comprehensive side of Jones High School. Parents said she was moved there after they complained a few years back about the job she was doing in the Vanguard program. But Stripling said later that Ervin was not one of the task force leaders and there shouldn't be concern. "What we sent Warner in to look at doesn't really have anything to do with the area in which his wife works, so there really shouldn't be a conflict there," Stripling said. "Mr. Ervin has a district to run, so he's not going to be heavily involved in this."
Bludau was on the HISD task force that investigated the fatal stabbing of a student in Deady Middle School in 1999. He addressed Jones teachers about the new task force by first saying that he'd known and respected the Allen family for a long time.
It seemed to some parents, at least, that the deck was stacked and Lawrence Allen was proof of the boast he made to several of them: "You can't touch me." Or as one parent put it: "They've made him invincible now."
HISD removed Allen as principal "for the betterment of the whole school," South Central District Superintendent Linda Whitley told Jones faculty.
Sitting on a couch in his office for an interview shortly after his return, the well-dressed Allen was not the picture of a chastised administrator grateful for a second chance. Task force members were meeting just outside his office; he was asked if he needed to reschedule the interview to be on hand for the session. But Allen was the epitome of the man on top of things. "No," he said, "I have a representative there."
He was clear and articulate. He not infrequently referred to himself in the third person as "Mr. Allen."
His portrayal of what has gone on differed in several aspects from what Vanguard parents report -- and in some cases, from what HISD administrators say. In fact, some of his statements seemed at odds with his own actions.
He talked of the importance of reaching out to all students through his appearances at sporting events and in school. Yet Vanguard parents say he attends football and basketball games, but not soccer games. In the interview, Allen said he would attend his first soccer game the next day. He denied he's "never" attended the meetings of Vanguard parents or the comprehensive side's Parent Teacher Student Association.
He frequently said he had not heard of the problems Vanguard parents insist they raised repeatedly with him. Allen said none of the Vanguard parents talked to him this year. He doesn't talk with them, he said. Asked to clarify that statement, he said:
"I have not talked to one parent, one Vanguard parent, about any issue since August 2001. I am the principal over the comprehensive program."
In a separate interview, Dr. Simpson said he knows Vanguard parents have e-mailed or called Allen with their concerns this school year because many of them copy their e-mails to him. He was at a loss to explain Allen's statements.
Allen said he had not heard of problems with the Vanguard students' attendance records, and wasn't aware of any animosity by the comprehensive side toward Vanguard students. At the January 15 meeting, Joyce Woods announced that George August, executive director of the south central office, had removed her as the Vanguard counselor. Asked about it, Allen said: "I wouldn't know what assignment Mrs. Woods has. She serves another populace with the school."
Yet HISD spokeswoman Browne and Simpson both said that Woods, whose salary had been paid for with Vanguard funds, had been transferred to the comprehensive side and was working for Allen. They said she was removed from Vanguard at Simpson's request because she refused to take direction from Simpson, telling him Allen was her boss.
Allen was brought in as principal of Jones two and a half years ago to improve student performance. He'd gone to high school there and served as a Jones assistant principal for three years. He left in '97 for two years as an assistant principal at Yates High School before returning. He'd started his career at Lanier Middle School, where his son is in the Vanguard program, before moving to Dick Dowling.
Allen's first year as Jones's principal was a honeymoon. He was scouting the staff for strengths and weaknesses, but saved changes for the second year, he said.
He instituted standardized dress "to remove competition in clothing." He felt the Vanguard program needed a mission, so he brought in respected teacher Mary Kay Porter to be Vanguard coordinator. It was his idea to add Dr. Simpson, Allen said.
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