Principal Lauren Topek Yanked from Shadowbriar Elementary by HISD

Lauren Topek, who we wrote about three weeks ago in a column about the death of the school's custodian, Antonia Rivas, is out as principal of Shadowbriar Elementary, effective immediately, Houston ISD announced today.

In a letter sent home to parents, Sam Sarabia, HISD's chief school officer, said Topek is being placed "on special reassignment" as of February 20 and that, until her successor is chosen, Suzanne Sutherland, a retired HISD principal, will serve as interim principal.

Sarabia gave no reason for the sudden change -- highly unusual during the school year -- but as outlined in "A Little Respect," teachers, other staff and parents were upset with how Topek had operated in the school since arriving in May of 2011.

Parents complained she had initiated meaningless changes that did nothing to improve academics at the school, constantly brought up the fact that she had a degree from Harvard, and was not open to discussion with them about their concerns.

Things came to a head after the death of the 69-year-old Rivas, a longtime custodian at the school who -- while filling in for the injured head custodian -- worked four 16-hour days in a row at the school before suffering a brain aneurysm at her church.

Teachers were upset and several staff members blamed Topek -- fairly or otherwise -- for making Rivas work so many hours before the Christmas break. Two of Rivas's grown children said their mother was afraid to turn down the extra hours, fearing that Topek might fire her.

Staff members also pointed out that Topek had little experience as an assistant principal before becoming principal and thought she was not up to the job. They said she created a tense atmosphere at the school, and that employees were frequently written up.

Topek declined to talk with us at the time we were researching the column. A town hall meeting had been scheduled for tonight at the school.

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