Clifton James, the former principal of West Philadelphia High School, said he was not upset so much by the way he was abruptly removed from the post last month after a string of student assaults on teachers in the school.

"That part of it didn't bother me," he said yesterday after an administrators' rally against school violence and for increased school funding. "The part that bothered me is the effect it had on the kids," James said yesterday in his first public comments since his ouster on March 7.

But although James' name was not mentioned during the event, officials from the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, a Teamsters local, said the district's shabby treatment of James had sparked yesterday's rally, which drew about 350 administrators to the front of the district's administrative offices at 440 N. Broad St.

Michael Lerner, business agent of Teamsters Local 502, said what happened to James "was totally inappropriate. It is not the first time one of our administrators has been publicly disciplined in the press."

He added, "One of the themes of our rally was proper respect, professional respect for our members who are out there doing their jobs every day."

James was reassigned to the Southwest regional office and replaced by two administrators after a string of teacher assaults. The school of 1,100 students had 14 assaults against teachers and administrators through March 8, the most of any Philadelphia high school.

Teachers complained that they were pushed, punched, slapped and threatened, sometimes without consequences for students. James was accused by the teachers' union of failing to report all the incidents.

James countered yesterday by saying that the teachers' union had encouraged its members to report any incident as an assault in an effort to make him look bad. Previously, James had said he reported all incidents and followed regulations.

He added: "I was the principal of the school, and anything that happens, I take full responsibility for it. I'm not trying to duck anything. Any violence, even if it was only one teacher who was subject to a violent incident, is too much."

Upset by James' departure, students set a series of small blazes, and a teacher was punched in the jaw. The unrest continued for several days and resulted in several student arrests and a threat against a teacher.

The rally was the first public display by the principals. Previously, their union complained in a letter to district chief Paul Vallas.

James said many other students had told him that they felt hopeless at school.

James said he runs into West students on the street. On Monday, he attended the funeral of a 2006 graduate who was slain on Easter, and last week he visited a West Philadelphia student who was shot while participating in a vigil for the slain graduate.

"There were a lot of kids at both places," he said. "And a lot of them were expressing to me how hopeless they now felt. They said they didn't have anybody to listen to them anymore, and they didn't feel that somebody really believed they could be successful."

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said last night that it was natural for students to miss their principal.

"That shows the type of relationships he had with his students, and we want to foster that with the new staff," Gallard said.

James was replaced by two interim principals. Gallard said it may be easier for students to form attachments once a permanent principal has been selected at West Philadelphia.

At yesterday's rally, district administrators also said that budget cuts were harming students' education and vowed to seek additional state funding for the city's schools. And Lerner announced that the Teamsters International has contributed $10,000 for programs that stem violence and urged other unions to pledge similar amounts.

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com

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