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By Billie Jo Jannen
For East County Magazine


September 22, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) -- The principals of Campo and Potrero elementary schools in Mountain Empire Unified School District were reassigned by the superintendent without warning on Sept. 9; shocked parents were issued hasty letters of explanation five days later.


Campo Principal Diane Yops was informed that she was being removed. A janitor was dispatched to collect her keys and, in the presence of parents and staff members, moved her office items to Potrero Elementary. There, the non-Spanish speaking educator will supervise a student body that is mostly made up of native Spanish speakers. Witnesses said she was forbidden to speak to anyone at the time of her removal.


At the same time, Potrero principal Barbara Cowling, a fully bilingual resident of Potrero and supervising principal of four other district schools, was informed that she was being removed from Potrero Elementary to focus exclusively on far-flung schools in Descanso, Pine Valley, Boulevard and Jacumba.


According to MEUSD Superintendent Steve Van Zant, the sudden move was intended to benefit district schools. “Their test scores are really low (at Potrero) and Diane was Title I Administrator of the Year, last year,” he said. Campo’s scores went up 70 points in the first year she was there, he added.


However, Campo parent Heather Sepulveda is skeptical of Van Zant’s motives: “If the intent was simply to put a new principal at Campo, wouldn’t that be done before moving this one? Why put the students through three different principals?”


Sepulveda said the friction between Yops and Van Zant has been noticeable to both staff and parents: “I think he doesn’t like that she’s a strong female. He is … a personality that likes to be right.”


Potrero parent Edward Barker is adamant that the move is ill-considered and will hurt students. “The principal (Cowling) should have stayed where she was. She was doing a great job,” Barker said. “The biggest concern (among parents) is to have a bilingual principal.”


Barker pointed out that having family conferences with a translator removes all privacy and that language barriers will make interaction difficult for both the principal and parents.


Worse yet, he added, what if a student has a problem, like molestation or other abuse? “She (the hypothetical student) needs to have confidence that she can talk with someone private and trustworthy,” Barker said. Trust, he added, is difficult to establish without the ability to communicate.


Van Zant was dismissive of the language concern, saying Yops would use a classroom aide or teacher to translate conversations with parents and students, a response that prompted Barker to wonder what impact that would have on classroom instruction.


According to a district employee, the daytime instruction staff at Potrero has been sharply reduced from last year’s two full-time and six part-time teaching assistants to two full-time and one part-time assistant – a loss of five part-time teaching assistants. The employee asked to not be identified out of fear of retaliation from the district.


The current staff includes 13 teachers, two special education aides, and a computer lab aide during school hours, and serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Additional aides are employed for its after school program, which is paid for from a separate fund than the daytime staff, Van Zant said. The current student population of Potrero Elementary is 254, he said.


Yops has been temporarily replaced by an interim principal, Dr. William Hall. The addition of another principal to the district’s stable of administrators brings the total to seven districtwide, according to the district’s salary schedule. This does not include the teaching assistant principals at Descanso, Pine Valley, Boulevard and Jacumba.


In a Sept. 14 letter to Campo parents, Van Zant admitted that though the additional principal position “…runs counter to the district’s attempt to shrink administrative costs, the fact that Potrero has grown to nearly 250 students means that a greater leadership presence there is necessary.”


Van Zant said that a permanent principal will be hired within a month to six weeks and input on the hire will be accepted from parents.


Barker has circulated a petition requesting the return of Cowling to Potrero Elementary and has visited Van Zant to present the request in person. Barker said the petition had been signed by 194 of the school’s 266 parents.


Barker said he has since called several times, but has yet to receive a response from the superintendent.


The principals were moved the day after the district’s regular school board meeting, leading some to wonder if the board of trustees had made the decision, but Van Zant said he had made the decision himself. The board of trustees approved a three-year renewal of Van Zant’s contract on June 23.


The next regularly scheduled meeting of the MEUSD board of trustees is at Jacumba Elementary at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13.

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API Scores

If someone had a problem with Yops why would they not talk with her about it. If the staff was not doing a good job she would have taken care of it. She always has that I have seen. Campo Elementary scores are very close to 800. Like Pine Valley is around 800 plus. What more can you want. This is the state number all schools shoot for. 800....Someone needs to check the scores before complaining. The majority of us campo parents want Yops back ASAP. We want what is best for our children not what is best for the district.

API Scores

I am all about facts. According to the State of California Star Testing Website Campo didn't reach 700 in 50% of the grades. For 2010 2nd grade-742; 3rd grade-692; 4th grade-775; 5th grade-692; 6th grade-694 and 7th grade-701. They are 3rd out of 4 schools testing in the district (Pine Valley/Descanso counted as one). Please don't think for one moment I don't know my facts.

It would be interesting to

It would be interesting to find out if all of the 194 signatures were American Citizens that reside in the United States. I agree with getting Barbara Cowling back to Potrero! She has done great things there and is beneficial to that community. However, I do not agree with Diane Yops coming back to Campo Elementary. Sure she has gotten the scores up but they are still some of the lowest scores in the Mountain Empire School District! That is nothing to be proud of people. These are our kids and grandkids we are talking about and they deserve better. I know several kids at that school who were afraid last year of getting beat up by known bullies than supended by Diane Yops. That is mainly because the women (one has short red hair with an obnoxious personality and another has long blonde hair medium build) on campus are to busy socializing than watching the students and with a NO tolerance policy kids who have defended themselves have been suspended. I am glad Diane is out of there, now maybe someone who isn't BFF's or drinking buddies with the principal may FINALLY give these kids what they deserve - A REAL EDUCATION. Finally as far as Van Zant is concerned I wouldn't hold your breath when waiting for a straight answer from that man and it may take him a year to keep a promise but he keeps it, eventually!

Interesting to find if all were American Citizens??

What a stupid thing to say. In a predominantly spanish speaking school you wonder if all 194 signatures were from American Citizens? Of course not. A lot of our parents are resident aliens. What difference does that make?!!? So if they are not citizens but just resident aliens then the signatures don't count? These arem't elections. You don't need to be a citizen to care about your child's education or to deserve to have your voice heard. Although it seems regardless, the school system doesn't care the system is not here for us. We are here for it. Deplorable!

Why Campo Elementary has low scores, according to Van Zant:

In an interview with Supervisor Van Zant recently for another story, he had this to say about why Campo Elementary's scores are low: 

"We consolidate all our special ed day kids in the district at Campo, to get better service to them.  But their test scores count in Campo’s test scores."


So it may not be the principal's fault if Campo Elementary has test scores lower than other schools. 


This district has had problems for a long time. This Superintendent seems to have a problem with strong women. All the principals that have either retired or been let go have been replaced with his friends and they are all male. Why would he try to fix something that is not broken. Yops has gotten the numbers at that school higher than they have ever been. The students don't seem to get away with all the stuff, fighting, etc. as in the past with other principals. I have heard about the things Van Zant has done to Yops. Why would this school board let him do something like this? Cause they always do what he asked them to do or any of the supers ask them to do. Right or Wrong. Rubber stamp board is what it is called. It is time for a change. Northcote is the only one with someone running against him. Rob Romero is not my favorite but I think he would do a better job than Northcote has. VOTE FOR ROB ROMERO! Give Campo back their principal, and it is time to look for another Superintendent...One that cares for students, staff and education. This one does not. He has his own agenda and I have heard that if you do anything that makes him look bad, you better watch out... Potrero has low numbers because the students don't speak English and they are hard to teach until they do. I bet the students test better each year they attend that school. Barb Cowling loves that school and has worked hard to make it better. She has done a great job under adverse conditions. Give her and the students and parents back what works best for them and the distrist..This was not a good thing for anyone, Mr. Van Zant....Please fix it....Campocitzen

MEUSD is a poorly run school

MEUSD is a poorly run school district. The superintendent needs to be replaced, ASAP. I took my daughter out of their high school because it was NOT run by the district, but by the kids. Absenteeism is so high, yet, nothing is done.