Why is Sunset High School Principal Anthony Tovar Leaving? [Updated]

Update on April 16: The Morning News reports that Tovar will not, in fact, be resigning. No reason given yet for the change of heart.

Original post: What's happened at Sunset High School over the last seven years has been, if not quite a miracle, than at least proof that a struggling inner city school with a highly impoverished, almost entirely minority student body can be turned around. Dropout rates have gone down, graduation rates up. More students are engaged and more parents are involved in their kids' education. Scores on the all-important TAKS test have skyrocketed. In 2007, 38 percent of students passed all four subjects. In 2012, that number was 71 percent.

Leading the renaissance is Anthony Tovar, an affable and energetic 57-year-old in his seventh year as Sunset's principal. We penned a glowing profile of Tovar back in 2009 that gives a good idea of how he's been so successful.

He's a hands-on leader who prefers walking the halls and checking in on classrooms to holing himself up in his office. He shares an easy rapport with students and staff. He's wise enough to surround himself with talented deputies and teachers. He has a knack for motivation that comes from his decades as a DISD baseball coach.

In other words, he's the prototype of an effective inner city principal, exactly the type of leader Superintendent Mike Miles is looking to bring in. Instead, Tovar's on his way out.

He's not being forced out, as is supposedly happening to Marian Willard at Madison and a few dozen of her peers. It seems he's just become fed up with how clumsily Miles' reforms are being implemented.

He hinted at some of his frustrations at a meeting with parents and trustee Eric Cowan. We weren't there, but about 50 parents and community members were, and none of them want him to go.

"He was adamant Monday night that he really wanted to stay," says Sunset Alumni Association President Doris Murphy, who attended the meeting. He didn't go into detail about why he decided to leave, but it's something of an open secret in the Sunset community: He's being micromanaged to death.

As a small but telling example, Murphy cites the effort to get the district to approve Sunset's prom. In the past, it's been a simple process, with plans given a quick once over and OK'd by DISD headquarters. This year, the contract was sent back by the legal department a dozen times for revisions. Even then, the prom still wasn't green-lighted until earlier this week, a couple of weeks before the event was scheduled to take place. Another annual tradition, an evening trip to the ice skating rink at a nearby mall, never received approval.

Commenting on a Change.org petition calling for Tovar to remain at Sunset, Assistant Principal Harold Hinsley suggests the problems go deeper.

"There is no reason for him to be going through this anguish with a school like Sunset," he writes. "Why take a performing, successful school and leader, remove the leader and punish a man for doing his job and providing stability to a school that was on the verge of failure before he came?"

As Tovar pointed out Monday, he's not being removed. But when well-intentioned reforms are done in such a hasty and slipshod manner that it makes talented employees miserable, is there much of a difference?

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