Wright, a West Philadelphia High alumnus, is known as a consensus-builder.
Cruz spent three years at the school. She had been lauded by district leaders for turning the school's climate around, and had won strong support from the young teaching staff. But the school has not made enough academic progress, and the community has been divided over proposed changes, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said Friday.
"West Philadelphia High has some needs," said Ackerman spokeswoman Evelyn Sample-Oates. "We want to bring the community together and help that school improve its proficiency. The superintendent thought that at this time, Ozzie Wright was the best person to do that."
The school's preliminary 2010 state standardized test scores were dismal, with just 2 percent of juniors on grade level in math and 16 percent meeting standards in reading.
Cruz acknowledged the school needed help with academics, but pointed to other improvements.
West, for instance, has come off the state's Persistently Dangerous list, a designation under the federal No Child Left Behind law. It was on the list for several years running.
In a statement, Ackerman said "deep change is needed in the teaching and learning processes at the school. I make this appointment with a sense of urgency, but also with the confidence that Mr. Wright can lead the staff and students to improved academic performance."
Teachers were stunned by news of Cruz's ouster Friday, said social studies educator Neil Geyette, who runs the school's Urban Leadership Academy.
"This doesn't set the right tone and example for our kids, who need stability," Geyette said. "School-change research shows it doesn't happen overnight."
Cruz will become principal of Communications Technology High School in Southwest Philadelphia, Sample-Oates said.
This year, West was designated as one of the district's 14 Renaissance schools, targeted for radical restructuring.
But Ackerman postponed that process after a dispute over allegations that parents on the advisory council who were supposed to decide who should run West had a conflict of interest.
The school will receive extra support beginning in September, the superintendent said.
When announcing that West would not become a Renaissance school this fall, Ackerman said Cruz would remain as principal. But the changes led to 31 of the school's 77 teachers' opting to take jobs elsewhere in the district.
Geyette said he liked and respected Wright, whom he worked with during Wright's last stint at West.
But "the choice of Ozzie to move West forward is questionable. The state that West is in is not the kind of problem that he fixes," said Geyette, noting that Wright is known as a climate specialist, not an academic specialist.
"They're going back on yet another decision. It's a slap in the face," said Geyette. "I don't know how many other school leaders of Saliyah Cruz's caliber exist out there."
Cruz did not return calls for comment.
Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.