South Philadelphia High School's principal faces harsh criticism over the Dec. 3 attack on Asian students by some of their African American schoolmates.
But controversy is nothing new to LaGreta Brown.
During nearly a decade in Atlantic City, a tenure that included running the city's major high school, Brown became involved in numerous disputes with parents, teachers, and staff. Her time there ended in 2008, when she resigned ahead of a school board vote on her dismissal.
Brown is not speaking to reporters while she focuses on fixing South Philadelphia High, district officials said yesterday.
District administrators are not concerned about Brown's troubled record in Atlantic City, saying she was exonerated of any wrongdoing. She continues to have the strong support of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, said district spokeswoman Evelyn Sample-Oates.
"She came into a rough situation, but she's trying to do the best she can," Sample-Oates said. "What happened on Dec. 3, none of us anticipated would happen, at this magnitude."
That day, large groups of mostly African American students attacked about 30 Asian students both inside and outside the school, sending seven young people to the hospital.
Marcia Genova, president of the Atlantic City Education Association, the teachers' union, said yesterday that she was surprised Brown had been hired in Philadelphia because "we had so many problems with her here."
"She just did not know how to treat people," Genova said. "It was constant. I was constantly at the high school. I constantly filed grievances."
Brown was hired in October 1999 as the first female principal in the history of Atlantic City High School. She arrived amid great expectations and pledged to create "a blue-ribbon school."
But three years later, Superintendent Fredrick Nickles recommended that Brown not be rehired. The school board overruled him.
The next year, high school teachers and employees expressed "no confidence" in Brown by a vote of 168-29. The teachers' union held the April 2003 balloting in response to what it said was a "hostile work environment" created by the principal.
Two months later, Brown was transferred from Atlantic City High to a new alternative school.
In July 2007 Brown was transferred from that school, Viking Academy, to the New York Avenue Elementary School. The next month, she was suspended by school officials for unspecified charges of insubordination. In late April 2008, still under suspension, she resigned from the district, effective Dec. 31, 2008.
The Atlantic City Press documented incident after incident during Brown's tenure.
In May 2002, teacher Isaac Bord, who is Jewish, said he was harassed and discriminated against when Brown refused him a day off to observe Passover.
In November 2006, the state Attorney General's Office sought to strip Brown of her license. That stemmed from a March 2001 fire in an Atlantic City High bathroom trash can. The fire did not trigger the fire-alarm system, so the Fire Department did not respond.
Lead safety officer Brian Daniels testified that security officer Brenda Rice told him that Brown had ordered her to deactivate the alarm. Rice denied the claim. In May 2007, the state Education Department dismissed the charges that fueled the attorney general's action, saying there was no proof that Brown had ordered the system dismantled.
Brown grew up in West Philadelphia and graduated from Girls High School in 1979.
This fall, she took over a school that has for years failed to meet state performance standards and has been deemed "persistently dangerous" under federal law.
Yesterday, Brown and Ackerman were among those who met with the city Commission on Human Relations to try to address tensions at the school. Participants characterized the meeting as productive but declined to share details. About 50 Asian students continue to boycott classes, saying they won't return until their safety is assured.
On Friday, Brown announced a series of steps to increase security at the school and rebuffed any suggestion that she had been indifferent to the problems of Asian students. "I never have and never will tolerate offensive and negative comments by a teacher or employee directed to a student at any time," she said.
Asian leaders say they have long tried - and failed - to focus Brown's attention on safety issues.
Allan Wong, a member of the Mayor's Commission on Asian American Affairs, said that this fall he sought to follow up at three schools where attacks had occurred on Asian students during the previous school year.
Administrators at Samuel Fels and Horace Howard Furness High Schools immediately invited him to visit, showing him how they had added security cameras and developed safety programs, he said.
But he could never get a reply from officials at South Philadelphia High, Wong said. The first time he called, he said, he couldn't get anyone in authority on the line. The same thing happened the second time. The third time, Wong said, he reached a vice principal who told him that someone from the school would be in touch.
He's still waiting.
"I was hoping the new principal, LaGreta Brown, would be better, but it doesn't look like it," he said. "It's quite clear to me they have an attitude problem there."
Xu Lin, a community organizer for the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp., told the School Reform Commission on Wednesday that he had been happy to have a new principal at South Philadelphia High.
In fact, Brown quickly agreed to hold once-a-month meetings with Asian leaders to address school violence, he said. The first meeting was set for Sept. 29.
But when community advocates arrived, they discovered that the principal "had totally forgotten about the meeting," Lin said. "We waited for over 40 minutes before we were able to have a brief meeting with her."
Brown promised to meet again soon, but that hasn't happened, Lin said.
"I called numerous times and left messages for the principal," he said, "but I never heard back from her."