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Martha Contreras came to Miramonte Elementary as an assistant principal while the school was still reeling from a sex abuse scandal involving two now-former teachers. Contreras will start the new school year as principal, and says her job is to reestablish trust and focus on safety, academics. Patrick Healy reports for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Aug. 10, 2012.
For Miramonte Elementary School, next Tuesday will mark more than the start of a new school year. It will be, in-effect, the reboot of a school shaken by charges last February that two teachers were accused of sexually abusing students.
"My concern is for student safety and academics," said Martha Contreras, Miramonte Elementary School principal.
Contreras came to the South LA school as an assistant principal last spring, when the school and community were reeling from the abuse scandal. Now, she’s taken on pressing challenges as the school’s new principal.
"I think there's a layer of things that needs to be done here at Miramonte. Number one is re-establishing the trust," she said.
Following the arrest of two Miramonte teachers accused of sexually abusing students, the school’s entire staff was replaced by substitutes last February.
Those former teachers – Mark Berndt and Martin Springer – are both scheduled to be in court next week as their former school is rebooting.
Parents and staff rallied to bring them back and dozens of the relocated teachers are returning in the fall, but not without anxiety.
"These teachers continue to suffer the aftershocks of everything that happened at Miramonte," said Ingrid Villeda, with the United Teachers of Los Angeles union.
Villeda told NBC4 the returning teachers don’t want to speak out publicly ahead of the new school year, as they did in May, but they do hope the administration will schedule a meeting with parents to deal with lingering concerns.
"They want to make sure the parents and kids feel comfortable," Villeda said.
Contreras said a community meeting is in the works.
Enrollment will be lower when Miramonte starts on Aug. 14, partly due to plans set before the abuse scandal broke.
Several hundred students will transfer to a new school nearby that was already in the works to ease overcrowding. A dozen teachers will relocate with them, having helped draft the education plan for the new site while they were on relocation.
Principals throughout LA say they are aware of the expectation of vigilance on their part.
"The principal is the first line of defense," Contreras said.