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Demoted Women Suing APS

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A civil lawsuit filed against Albuquerque Public Schools by three female employees alleges women were disproportionately demoted in 2010, when Superintendent Winston Brooks changed principal leadership at more than 20 schools.

The suit was filed by Nikki Dennis, former Highland High principal; Blanca Lopez, former West Mesa High principal; and Andrea Felts-Pargas, former principal of Sierra Alternative school.

All three, who were moved to lower-paying jobs as part of the shake-up, allege they were discriminated against because they are women.

APS’ response, filed last week in federal court, acknowledges the demotions but denies the process was unfair.

The suit alleges the women were told their demotions had nothing to do with their job performance. The APS rebuttal denies this, and Brooks said publicly in 2010 that Highland’s graduation rate – then 49.4 percent – was one of the reasons he was replacing Dennis.

Brooks said Thursday he would not comment on specifics of the suit, but that the 2010 changes were about placing people in the right positions.

“We do care that we have balance and equity in gender and race,” Brooks said. “But bottom line is, we try to hire and place people who are the best at their jobs.”

According to the lawsuit, women fared poorly in the shuffle. Brooks changed leadership at four of APS’ large high schools, and combined some of its small alternative schools. Specifically:

⋄  Dennis was moved from her post at Highland to a lower-paying position as principal of the Early College Academy and Career Enrichment Center. She swapped jobs with Scott Elder, a man.

⋄  Lopez was moved from West Mesa to a lower-paying job as principal of Washington Middle School. She was replaced by Ben Santistevan, who was promoted from his previous job as an assistant principal at Rio Grande High School.

⋄  Felts-Pargas’ job as principal of Sierra Alternative was eliminated when APS combined the leadership at Freedom and Sierra alternative schools. The new position was given to Vivia Sparkler, a woman, who was then the principal of Freedom. Felts-Pargas was moved to a lower-paying position as an assistant principal at La Cueva High School.

⋄  APS combined the leadership at School on Wheels and Vision Quest, both alternative schools. The combined position was given to Frank Maestas, a man, who was promoted from an assistant principal job at Highland.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal