Archive for the ‘05. January’ Category

Chapter Five-Complete (Installments 1 to 9)

31 Jan

Chapter Five—January

Confessions of an Urban Principal/ Dandelions and Bramble Bushes

by Frank Murphy

Installment (1 of 9)

Returning to school on a Monday after the winter break is a dreary way to start a new year.  Despite this bleak turn of the calendar page my mood was surprisingly upbeat.  I am a happy man by nature.  The weather was unusually warm.  So we did an outside line.  All of the children went straight to their assigned locations and fell silent a full minute before Mr. Ong blew the whistle.  I wondered, if this was the calm before the storm?

Several members of my team immediately picked up on my good mood.  Ellen Lube said, “You are looking pretty happy.”

“I am.” I replied with a broad smile on my face.

It seemingly took only a few minutes for everyone to get back into the groove of the school routine.   I was pleased that the New Year had started well.  The rest of day passed smoothly.   After school, Pat Costello, Ellen Lube and I met in order to begin to work on developing a new observation tool for the Instructional Leadership team.  We planned to use it when we did future classroom walkthroughs.

It would act as a guiding instrument, as we gathered useful information concerning the effectiveness of our instructional program. Working on a project of this sort can be interesting and satisfying work.   As I focused on this task I was reminded of why I had become a teacher in the first place.  The joy of this profession comes from the knowledge that you are assisting people to develop and sharpen their skills as critical thinkers and productive problem solvers.  Helping teachers to be effective instructors is a top priority for me as a principal.  By supporting the efforts of my teachers’ as they plan and implement a challenging and rigorous instructional program I am able to affect positive changes in my school community.    I got into this business because I wanted to change the world.

This is how I am able to do so.

This is not an easy mission.  There are many obstacles that impede my progress as I pursue my goals.  Often the story I want to tell as educator is not the one I in fact live.  Although I want to write a narrative that is as pleasant to the mind as the sight of tulips and roses, and all of the beautiful flowers of nature, I do not.  Too often the events that unfold around me are not the prettiest of sights to behold.  The garden that I daily labor to scratch out from the rough ground on which Meade stands is over run with dandelion and bramble brush stories.  Daily I witness tangled scenes that my mind tries to untangle.  Twisted characters, painful problems and ugly scenes are too often the nature of life at Meade. It is a struggle to be a happy man here. I am not always successful in doing so but I try.

Dealing with student discipline problems has become much more of a burden in the last year.  I used to have a Dean of Discipline and an aide who assisted me with this chore.   But shrinking budgets in recent years has resulted in the elimination of these positions.

As a classroom teacher, I carefully attended to monitoring my students’ behavior.  Teachers make many decisions during the course of a day that will influence the manner in which their students will react to and attend to the activities of the classroom.  Important decisions concerning; lesson plans, student seat assignments, parent contacts, material choices, and the use of instructional time are constantly being be made by teachers.

Every choice that a teacher makes has an influence on how children will behave during the day.  The teacher who understands the developmental needs of her children and who can challenge them intellectually and socially seldom has to deal with serious behavior problems in her classroom.  Experienced and effective teachers know how to engage their students in productive activities.  They keep children on the right track.  When a student does act out in the classroom of masterful teacher, the child is quickly corrected and redirected.  Helping children to learn from their mistakes is what good teachers do.   My veteran teachers seldom refer student discipline problems to me.

Generally it is the new teachers who pass along their disciplinary problems to the principal’s office.

It’s my job to help them to get a handle on student management.  There are many things that a beginning teacher must learn to master.  It takes much time and energy to get it all right. I want my new teachers to be successful.   In order to do so they need to get their feet firmly on the ground.  I give them the space they need to take chances, to make mistakes, and most importantly to grow as an instructor.   Often times this means I have to help them to get through the trials and tribulations all beginning teachers experience. I do so by acting as their coach and helping them to solve the problems that they encounter. The initiation process into the teaching profession is hardly a gentle one.   Children can make life difficult for a novice teacher.

In the beginning of the school year, I direct much of my attention to the needs of my rookie staff members.  As the year progresses, I expect that they will handle most situations on their own.  Eventually as they become more skillful mangers of student behavior, they will refer only the most severe disciplinary problems to my attention.  Often the misbehavior I do deal with stems from the hurts and frustrations of children for whom life is a mess.

Even though my teachers do handle most of the incidents of student misbehavior that occur in their classrooms there are still many cases that come to me. Extreme misbehavior, such as fighting, is always my business.   There are many fights that occur before and after school during the week.   I am kept busy as I deal with a constant stream of problems.


It is a challenge for me to keep my attention on the big picture issues of the school when I find myself so frequently bogged down in the mire of student discipline problems.  Fortunately, I have a great leadership team who regularly assist me with the search for the answers that will make Meade a better school.

I have been looking carefully at the work that our students do in their classrooms.  What I have seen has encouraged me.  Our school team is solid; in most every room I see dedicated energetic teachers. The Meade teachers are talented professionals.  They are eager to do their best and they expect the best from me.

This means that I need to act as a good coach who provides them with an effective game plan.  They value receiving thoughtful suggestions and good ideas that will assist them in improving their instructional practices.

How to provide continuous high quality professional development and feedback to the staff was the topic of discussion today, when I met with John DiPaolo.  He wants to develop a plan that will detail to the Central Office how the Meade staff is working to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress.  After much discussion we decided that I would pull together a small group of teachers and members of the leadership team who would than work on developing an action plan that we could present to the Central Office staff.  This committee would meet on the Saturday of the Martin Luther King holiday weekend.  Jeff, a consultant hired by the Temple Partnership School Office, would help facilitate the work of this group.  This is a deadly serious pursuit that will determine my future as well as that of Meade School.  If we don’t meet the expected AYP targets for this year, I will most likely be axed as the school leader.

My team has told me many times in the past that if I go they will leave.  This is not a prospect that any of us wish to consider.  There is still much to do and we want to be the ones who get the job done at Meade.  Our plan must appease the central administration. I can see that ignoring them isn’t an option.

After meeting with John the rest of my day was taken up with resolving student feuds and fights.  The plan had to wait for a quieter time.  I was glad to see the end of the day.  Around five O’clock, when everything was quiet, I pulled out my newspapers.  Another teenager had been shot outside of a neighborhood high school.  He had taken a bullet in the head. The boy didn’t attend the high school and there wasn’t any evidence that students from this school were involved.  According to the article the police suspected that this crime was a result of a feud over a girl.  Paul Vallas was quick to respond to the press’ need for a quote.

“When will the violence end?” he asked.

The tragedy of teenagers murdering other teenagers has long been a horrible shock to the sensibilities of our society; it’s the violence Shakespeare described in Romeo and Juliet.  Sadly every year in our society impulsive teen behavior leads to death.

Vallas is further quoted as saying; “There are too many guns on the street.  There is too much poverty.”

In his statement he acknowledges that the world our kids live in can be a tough place.   I wish that he would talk more about this problem to the press.  Stronger actions need to be taken by our society in order to deal with the ill effects of poverty.  Additional resources must be allocated to under resourced schools. Yet I expect that the leadership of my district will not deal in a realistic manner with the twisted characters, painful problems, and the ugly scenes that characterize many of our schools.  It will take a high degree of resolve and much more money than we currently have for any meaningful change to occur.

Tending to dandelions and bramble bushes is a constant and thorny business.  It is not a cause that our elected officials are eager to champion.   At the end of day they are only interested in smelling like a rose.   Getting stuck by the thorns created by the inequalities of our society is the fate of those of us who actually do work with the children that the politicians say won’t be left behind.

Installment (2 of 9)

Today I received a call from a school police investigator.  He asked me if I had a five-year-old student by the name of Jared or Jarod White.  I told him that we did have a Jared White-Miller enrolled in our first grade.  The investigator asked me to check and see whether the boy was in school.

The assignment of this school police officer was to monitor the Philadelphia Police radio.  He had heard a call for a patrol car to investigate a report of a five-year-old boy falling out of a third floor window of a house.  The address of this residence was located near our school.

The school district officer said, “I’m checking to see if he is one of our kids. It doesn’t sound good.  According to the 911 call, he landed in a cement backyard.”

There are several White-Miller siblings in our school, a first grader, second grader, fourth grader and seventh grader.   Initially, I thought I was receiving this alert so that I could arrange counseling support for the siblings of this child.  I was impressed by this central office display of sensitivity to the needs of our school.

After an aide made a quick check, we determined that all of our enrolled White-Millers were accounted for and safe.  I personally talked to Jared the five-year-old first grade student.  From him, I learned that he had a four-year-old brother named Jarod, who was at home.

This information I shared with the investigator.  I expected him to respond by saying that a crisis response team would be deployed to the school.  That would make sense, since I was sure that the brothers and sister of the injured child would be traumatized when they were told of his fall.  Instead the officer simply thanked me for the information that I had provided.

He concluded our conversation by stating, “It doesn’t look like the boy is one of ours.”

As soon as I hung up the phone I realized that there wouldn’t be any crises response team coming to Meade. The inquiry of the school police officer wasn’t about offering our school assistance.   It was about gathering information that Paul Vallas might use in responding to a reporters inquiry.

The public relations office of the Vallas administration has a reputation for putting a positive spin to every story.  I had just received a first hand glimpse of how they work. They needed facts so that they could plan an appropriate response from Mr. Vallas in case it was needed.  The police officer that had called me was assigned to gather the information that the press office needed. He had accomplished his mission.

Later in the day, the aunt of the White-Millers came into the main office.   She was there to pick up her nephews and niece.  I engaged her in a conversation.  She told me that it had indeed been the younger brother who had fallen out of the window. According to her account the boy was banged up but he was going to be all right. His mother was still at the hospital with him.

This is how I learned of the outcome of this story. I didn’t hear back from the school police or any other school district officer regarding this accident.

Just before lunch Ms Sample pulled a document from the day’s mail.  She said, “Take a look at this.”

It was a copy of a letter from the regional superintendent to Christie Sims.  He stated that he was granting her request to transfer her two daughters to another neighborhood school.  Oddly, I felt no emotion as I read his letter.  The departure of these two girls will be good for the school.  It will put an end to the troubles that they were creating almost everyday.  Whether it will be good for them, remains to be seen.

The rest of the day was peaceful.  It was only inches away from the finish line, when a fight broke out. Samuel was one of the combatants.   I was not happy.  It seemed like he wasn’t getting what I had been saying to him about staying out of trouble.

It was three-forty p.m. when our school police officer brought him into my office.  At five p.m. Samuel and his parents were due to be at family court.  This was the day of his hearing pertaining to the charges, which had resulted from his fight with the twins.  It was unbelievable that at this time he had chosen to be in another foolish street fight.  Talking to him was becoming an exasperating experience for me.

When we met, he once again acted as though there was nothing wrong. I wasn’t in the mood to play mind games with him. I cut our conversation short.  I just wanted to be done for the day.   I was tired of dealing with hardheaded and troubled people.


Monday started fast.  Many parents were waiting to see me.  The pace stayed hurried throughout the day.  The Sims girls did not come to school.  Later in the morning there was a call from the Regional Office.  The secretary there requested that we transfer the records of Christie’s girls to another school.

Around noon there was a lull in the action.  I took a break.  Someone had left a copy of Saturday’s Daily News on my desk.  In it was an account of the White-Miller boy’s fall.  The reporter didn’t mention angels but after reading the article, I was convinced that a divine intervention had occurred at this child’s home last Friday.

The four-year old boy had fallen out of a third floor window.

He landed on a second floor roof then he fell again to the concrete ground of the backyard.  At that point he should have been trapped in the fenced-in yard.  But some how he managed to climb a six feet tall cyclone fence, which was topped with razor wire.  The boy’s shredded clothes were found snagged in the razor wire.

The next-door neighbor to the White-Miller boy ‘s home had heard some scraping sounds at her back door.  She thought it was a stray cat, and had ignored it.

Once he was free of the yard the boy had wandered for several blocks.   Two facilities workers from Temple University discovered him standing in a vacant lot. He was wearing only the torn remnants of his underpants.

When the workers took him back to his home, the adult who greeted them at the door begged them not to call the police.  They did.  Officials from the Department of Human Services are conducting an investigation. Other than for some bruises, minor scrapes and cuts, the boy was uninjured.

Installment (3 of 9)

At three-fifteen, I headed off to the district headquarters. I had been invited to be a member of the Chief Academic Officer’s advisory committee. The first meeting of this group was scheduled for four o’clock this afternoon. I didn’t want to be late.

I counted fifteen principals, Greg Thornton the CAO and two members of his staff in attendance. The meeting started with everyone introducing themselves. The first half hour of this hour meeting was consumed by these introductions. At four-thirty Mr. Thornton opened the floor for questions and comments.

When I received an opportunity to speak, I made several points related to the K-8 conversion initiative. His assistants appeared to dutifully note my points in there notebooks: inadequate facilities for middle school age students, the difficulty in hiring teachers for grades seven and eight, and the tremendous increase in the workload of the principals who managed the conversion schools.

Several other principals offered comments that expanded on my three points. Others expressed their concerns about how well the core curriculum was addressing the needs of Special Education and English as Second Language students. Every principal in the room expressed a concern about the overwhelming amount of testing which was being imposed on students. Every sixth week the teachers who taught in grades 3 to 8 were required to give a benchmark test in both reading and math to their students. Three times a year, the K-3 teachers had to administer the Dibels test. All teachers K-8 conducted Directed Reading Assessments (DRA) three times a year. In the spring, two weeks of testing for the PSSA state test was scheduled. Immediately following the PSSA tests, two more weeks of Terra Nova testing followed.

Thornton acknowledged each principal’s concern with a thank you. His staff representative took notes throughout the entire meeting. He ended the question and comment segment of the agenda after fifteen minutes. He rose from his seat and went to the front of the conference room. He stood in front of a wipe off board.

“What I really want to get done at this meeting is to get your views on a new idea we have been considering for next year.”

Thornton then described Mr. Vallas’ intention to develop special schools that would serve only the most gifted children in the district. The plan was to open three new schools that would enroll only students who had scored between the ninety-sixth and ninety-ninth percentile on the Terra Nova test.

“I am hoping that we will have these three centrally administered schools operational by September. So far we have identified only enough students district-wide to create one of these gifted schools. I am disappointed that we have not identified more students who have scored at this percentile level.

We also want to open a gifted schools in each of the regions for students who score between the ninety-third and ninety-sixth percentile on the Terra Nova.”

He paused. The room was silent.

“Of course, we know that there will be people who won’t think this is a good idea. They will say we are creaming off the brightest students from the neighborhood schools. I’m not concerned with this worry. I’m just disappointed that we didn’t identify more gifted students for these schools in our initial data search.”

The School Reform Commission says that they expect that high academic standards will be set for every child in the district. NCLB requirements hold every school responsible for posting test sores that meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards. These are tough challenges to accomplish for neighborhood schools that are populated with children who demonstrate a wide range of abilities and talents. Skimming off the most talented children from these schools will only increase the likelihood of their failure.

Several principals immediately voiced their concerns regarding how this plan would have a detrimental effect on neighborhood schools. Thornton’s tone wasn’t friendly as he responded to their critique. He brushed their concerns aside.

I had to question the sincerity of our districts No Child Left Behind reform plan as I considered this gifted school concept.


Two professors from Temple’s theatre department brought a troupe of their students to Meade today. One of the professors was the author of a play that the student actors were going to perform. The objective of this play was to introduce our of seventh and eighth grade students to the works of Shakespeare. We set up chairs in the gym. The theatre people wanted to work in a space in which the audience could interact with them. The two lead actors were modeled after Jerry Springer the talk show host. Their part in the play was to interview various characters from Shakespeare’s plays.

The first guest that was brought on stage was Juliet. She confided to the audience that the night before she had secretly married Romeo. Juliet described to the hosts the multiple points of contention between her family and Romeo’s. After Juliet finished her reveal, the hosts brought out her parents. They had been waiting off stage in an imaginary soundproof booth. The ensuing confrontation between Juliet and her parents was a dead- on parody of over the top daytime TV.

During the course of the play many other guests were introduced to the middle school audience. There was Rosalind who confessed of her love for Duke Frederick. She shared her apprehension concerning how she would explain to him that she was a girl disguised as a boy.

Kate the Shrew made an appearance as Petruchio tamed her in front of the audience. Next up was Hamlet who proclaimed his hatred for his treacherous uncle. The show concluded with a sword fight. The result of which left Hamlet, and his uncle dead on the gym floor along side of Hamlet’s poisoned mother.

As I watched this play, in my head I envisioned the world in which I live. Love, hatred, jealousy, revenge, misunderstanding; all of the stuff of a Shakespearian tragedy or comedy are the stuff of daily life in Meade School. For a brief time, I enjoyed the feeling of being in the audience rather the lead actor in the real drama of a principal’s life

Before the students left for lunch, I took a few minutes to talk to them about the play-writing project, which we were about to launch in their class. The partnership elementary schools, along with three nonprofit organizations, had just won a three -year grant to promote the arts in our community.

One of the groups that will be working with us on this project is the Philadelphia Young Playwrights. A playwright from this organization is going to help our eighth graders write their own plays. There are two main goals we hope to accomplish through this project. First we want to provide our middle school students with more opportunities to participate in cultural activities such as going to plays. We also want them to create their own plays. Plays in which they will communicate their ideas to the larger society of our city. I told them that this project would give them an opportunity to show their face to the world as well as providing them an opportunity to observe the face of the world. The Shakespeare performance was the kick off event for this project.

During my explanation to the students, I made a reference to the murders that had happened outside of different high schools this year. The Strawberry Mansion murder was an act of revenge; the more recent killing in front of another school was related to a feud over a girl. Yesterday a fifteen-year-old boy had been arrested as a suspect in this second case.

I suggested to my students that they could safely explore through their playwriting, the feelings and rages they harbor. “The beauty of Shakespeare, of artistic creation”, I said, “is that you can explore the elemental themes of human existence with passion and fury and yet live to see another day.”

I am hoping that our guest artist can help our kids to channel their raw emotions into the drama of a stage production. As authors they can continue to learn how to use words to create stories about themselves, stories they can watch being performed. This creative process is one way in which they can safely explore their feelings, desires and fears.

Through the art of play writing, the students of Meade can find a means to be heard in this world. By exploring and gaining mastery of the use of words, they can define who they are. They can learn as well how to communicate in a constructive manner. I have great hope that words will soon replace fists as the means for resolving conflicts at our school.

Installment (4 of 9)

I awoke this morning to the sound of raindrops pelting against my bedroom windows.  A winter thunderstorm had darkened the sunrise.  Lightning flashes filled the sky and heavy rains were pouring down on the city.   My ears filled with the sound of thunder, as I hazily contemplated the day ahead.

This was going to be a bad data day.  Judging from the fearsome nature of this storm, I knew that far fewer students than normal would come to school. One or two days of high student absences in a month can seriously skew the average of our daily pupil attendance.  We will be lucky If 70% our students show up today.

Average student attendance is one of the factors that are considered in determining whether a school makes Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).   A school most maintain a minimum of 90% daily attendance in order to receive a passing grade in this category.

The Central Office doesn’t make it easy for us to achieve this objective.  A half-day student dismissal has been scheduled for every other week of this school year.   These half-day dismissals are intended to provide more time for teacher professional development. Giving teachers extra time in order to learn and plan is a good idea.  Unfortunately, good ideas sometimes have unintended consequences.

At Meade when we have half-day dismissals, our student attendance drastically declines.  It is difficult for our parents to leave work early in order to pick their children up at school.  They deal with this problem by simply keeping them home.

Severe weather is another attendance suppressor.  When the winter cold first comes, many of our children who don’t have winter coats will be absent.  We address this problem by helping them to get heavy coats.   A lack of rain gear will also create an attendance wash out.

The arrival of snow will also cause problems.  For several days after a heavy snowstorm, city bus routes may be diverted or slow moving.   In order to deal with this commuting problem our parents will leave for work much earlier.  Their children will stay home with elderly watchers.  These older folks won’t risk slippery sidewalks in order to walk young children to school.

The No Child Left Behind Act expects us to increase our average attendance every year.  On good days, our attendance rate is 92% to 93%.  Last year, when the effect of half-day dismissals and bad weather were factored into our yearly average, we barely made our target goal of 90%.

Somewhere around two, John Di Paolo came to visit me.  With him was the assistant to the Dean of Temple’s School of Education.  She is spearheading a special project to develop Professional Development Schools (PDS).

These Professional Development Schools would be similar in concept to a teaching hospital, where a cohort of thirty college students would perform all of their program requirements on site at one public school.  These undergraduate students would work closely with a group of teachers from the public school.  Temple faculty would also work at the public school. They would be responsible for teaching and directing the college students as they completed their intensive internships.

This is part of a plan to redesign the requirements of the degree program that is currently being offered by the college of Education at Temple University. The dean is looking to form partnerships with several Philadelphia Public Schools in order to make this project a reality.

In a PDS school, the teachers would work with university staff in a collaborative and collegial relationship.  Together, the public school staff and the college professors would prepare and train prospective teachers.  This PDS collaboration would provide a means to implement best practices, and to conduct educational research.  This program model would flood the participating schools with additional adults and resources.

The special assistant had already been in contact with the principals of several other schools.  None of these schools were Temple Partnership Schools.  John was interested in Meade becoming one of the PDS schools.  Ellen Lube and I both agreed that this type of arrangement could potentially benefit our school.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Ellen agreed to organize a follow up session.  At this second meeting, interested participants from the Temple School of Education would get together with a group of Meade teachers.  Collectively they would explore the possibility of working together. I was excited.   This proposal, if it moves forward, will offer me a chance to be part of a real school reform effort.  This thought brightened my otherwise dreary day.


Tuesday and Wednesday of this week passed in a whirlwind.  One chaotic event flowed into another as I stumbled my way through these two days.  I met with many parents and even more kids.  The adults were high octane and high maintenance people.  The children who flooded through my office were class clowns, bullies, cutters, fighters, and victims.

At the start of this week we were coming off the three-day, Martin Luther King weekend. Typically a short week after a holiday is often frantic. This one was no exception.


Today, I attended a retreat with my Leadership Team at the Partnership Office.  The Instructional Leadership Teams of the other Partnership Schools were also there.

The mission of the day was to examine various samples of student achievement data in order to determine the instructional progress our schools have made thus far this year.  We reviewed student reading levels as well as the results of the math benchmark test, which had recently been administered.  There was also a wide assortment of other information.  Included in this data were, special education, discipline, and counseling referrals.

This was the second time this week that the Meade leadership team had met.   On the previous Monday we had spent the morning preparing the action plan for Greg Thornton, the chief academic officer. The centerpiece of this plan was our intention to pursue the goal of creating a Professional Development School.  This afternoon we added the final touches to this action plan.

We completed the final draft by two. It was a smart piece of work. Our day together ended with general conversation. Peggy Saegar shared a story about Arthur. He had stopped by to see her during the lunch period.  While he was talking to her he been patted her hair, which was an act that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from an eighth grader.

He said to her, “Mrs. Saegar you have such soft and beautiful white hair.  I don’t think I’ll live long enough for my hair to get white.”

Peggy was troubled by this comment. Ellen and I both shared our own stories regarding comments that Arthur had made to us.

The three of us agreed that he had been expressing many subtle statements lately concerning his fear of dying young.  This was worrisome.

I arrived back at school in time for dismissal. The student exodus was orderly making for a pleasant ending to the day.  Around four, I decided to go home. I was exhausted.

The night before I had slept fitfully tossing and turning in bed.  Eventually I had gotten up and read a professional journal.  An article that caught my attention, related the story of three principals in Texas who had been taken out of their schools.  It unnerved me.  These were three hard working principals of high poverty schools.  Each of them had been recognized in their district as exemplary leaders of School Site Reform.  They were surprised and devastated by their abrupt reassignments.  The reason given for their removal was that their schools’ test scores weren’t rising fast enough or high enough.

The author of the article made the point that other principals would soon face this same fate.  The test-based accountability system of No Child Left Behind is modeled much after the Texas assessment system, a system that has been in place for the longest of any state in the nation.  Reading this article didn’t help me fall asleep; instead, it wound my spring a little tighter.

Installment (5 of 9)


Luis came into the main office today.  Mr. Nottingham had sent for him.  Luis had been giving his classroom teacher a hard time.  It was the fourth time this week that he had acted in a disrespectful manner towards one of his teachers.

To Mr. Nottingham I said, “I want to see him myself.  His behavior is getting out of hand.”

Luis came in to my office.  I asked him to explain to me why he was acting so rudely in the classroom.

He responded, “I didn’t do anything.  The teacher is always picking on me.  She always says that I’m calling out and stuff and I’m not.  She gets on my nerves.”

“Well your other teachers also must be getting on your nerves.  They are writing the same kind of things on pink slips about your behavior.”

“Yeah I know they all say that I’m talking all of the time.  I’m just asking questions.  They won’t answer me.”

“Luis, constantly calling out isn’t the best way to get a teacher’s attention.  It can be annoying, if you do it often.”

Suddenly his teacher appeared in the doorway to my office.  She was on her lunch break. She asked, “Can I be part of this conversation?”

When Luis saw her, his demeanor completely changed.  It was amazing.  Just before her arrival he was engaging with me in a mature conversation: we had eye contact; he was articulate; we were listening to each other; our dialogue was respectful.

Now he turned his head from both of us.  Luis started to pout as though he were a five year old.   The more she tried to talk to him, the deeper his pout became.  I could see that he was going to have a tantrum if she remained.  I said to the teacher, “How about we get together later and talk.  Luis isn’t hearing either of us now.”

She agreed.  When she left, the boy immediately snapped out of his fit.  I told him to sit down.   We talked for the next hour.  Never before had I had a conversation with a kid like the one I had with him.

Luis had transferred into our eighth grade class in early October of this school year. I didn’t know much know about him but by the end of our conversation I knew plenty.  First off I discovered that he is an incredibly perceptive person.

Luis easily identified what his problem was with his teachers.  “I don’t get along well with women.”

His tone was neither angry nor sarcastic.  It was like he was stating a simple and obvious truth.

He continued on by sharing with me a considerable amount of intimate information concerning his life.  He had been in two psychiatric in-patient programs prior to arriving at Meade.  His first commitment had taken place when he was eight years old.

At that time Luis had attacked his female therapist.  “I told them that I didn’t like women, but they didn’t listen.”

I imagined him as an eight year old trying to get his little hands around the throat of a young, well-meaning but inexperienced therapist.

The second trip to the psych ward had occurred when he was twelve.

“My mother said I was suicidal but I wasn’t.  I think she just wanted to get rid of me.”

In addition to his psychiatric commitments, Luis had been in four different group homes since he was in fifth grade.

“Mr. Murphy you don’t know what it is like to live in a group home!  At first everyone beats you up.  I was the smallest kid there.  I had to fight everyday.  It was the only way to keep them off of me.  I made them think I was crazy.  You just don’t know what goes on in places like that.”

His mother had also had him admitted to these programs.  The description Luis provided of life in protective custody was a scary and sad account.  The boy’s frequent trips to group homes were occasionally punctuated by periods when his mother would take him back.

For most of our conversation he recounted his negative feelings towards women.  He was clear.  He didn’t like them.  This distaste explained why he frequently acted in an inappropriate fashion towards his two female teachers.

I said to him, “Luis, you are going to have to get a grip on your feelings regarding women.  Can you think of any reasons for why you will need to get along with them?”

“I can think of two reasons.  I like girls.  You know what I mean.  I really do like girls, but they grow up to become women.  If I’m going to get married some day, I will have to figure out how to get along with women.  Besides when I grow up, I will have to get a job.  Half of the people out there will be women.  We will be on the job together.  I’ll have to get along with them.”

Luis was harboring a great deal of anger.   I just sat and listened as he described various episodes regarding his mom’s inappropriate behavior toward him and others.  His insights were an education for me.  Often, when a parent was acting poorly towards me in front of their child, I had wondered what the child was thinking.  Luis helped me to see what these unpleasant encounters looked like from a child’ point of view.

He described an incident that had taken place in one of his former schools.

“Mr. Fenwick was the principal of a middle school I used to go to when I lived in West Philly. My mom would curse him out every time she met with him.  She over talked him, screamed at him and just acted wild.”

“What did the principal do?”

“He tried to talk to her.  I was really acting bad back then.  My mom wouldn’t let him say anything.  After a while he would just leave his office.  Then he would send the counselor in to talk to my mom.”

As Luis continued to speak of his mother, his facial expressions conveyed an interesting mixture of affection and anger.  “ She was always yelling at me.  I couldn’t do anything right.  My older sisters and brother did everything right.  She was always good with them.  I don’t understand why she treated me so bad.  She is a mess.  My father finally came and got me.”

“I can imagine how much that must have hurt you.  I’ve talked to a lot of kids who have been hurt by their parents.  I’ve also talked to a lot of parents who have left their children.  I learned alot from people.  Here is what I can tell you. Parents don’t mess up because they don’t love their kids.  They mess up because they have problems.  They let their problems distract them from doing the right thing.  I’m sure your mom loves you.  How is she doing now?  Is she in a program?”

“Mr. Murphy, my mom isn’t a street person.  She doesn’t do drugs or anything.  She is just crazy.”

I just sat staring at him for a moment.  I didn’t know what to say.

The time had flown by since we had started to talk.  There were only a few minutes remaining until dismissal time.  I directed Luis to go back to his room in order to get his things.  After he left, I put on my coat and headed out to the yard.

Another twenty-two minute rectangle was ahead.  This is what I have started to call the time that it takes to clear the school property of kids at the end of the day.  The schoolyard is a large rectangular space.  It is a city block long and a half block wide. Within this area is where most of our fights occur.  On Fridays, the danger of a disturbance is particularly great.

We were almost clear of the twenty-two minute rectangle when a major fight erupted near the kindergarten exit door.  News of the brawl spread quickly across the playground.  Children started to stampede in the direction of the altercation.

By the time I arrived in the back of the yard, the fighters and the surrounding mob had spilled out onto 18th Street.  Traffic was blocked.  The gapers and the chanters were running every which way around the fighters.  When some of the onlookers saw me, they scattered.

I saw that Saundra, the daughter of Mrs. Thompson was engaged in a vicious fight with a fourth grade boy.  The siblings of both the fighters had also jumped into the brawl.  There were so many kids in the surrounding mob that I was unable to get to the fighters.  The crowd rumbled across the street and away from the school.

I concentrated on moving the remainder of the spectators out of the schoolyard.  I had almost accomplished this mission when the fourth grade son of Mrs. Thompson ran up to where I was standing.   An older girl was chasing after him.  Later I learned that she was his cousin.

The boy was furious.  He had a broomstick in his hand and he was screaming, “I’m going to kill him… I’m going to kill him.”

I grabbed the stick from him.  His cousin grabbed him and put him into a headlock.  She started to drag him in the direction of their home. I could see many scars and bumps on his face.  I guessed that they were the result of prior battles.    He and his family are a combative group.    I threw his broomstick into our trash dumpster.

An hour after this altercation I was sitting at my desk.  Nottingham announced that the Thomson boy was in the main office and he wanted to see me.  For a moment I thought that he wanted to apologize for his poor behavior.   The boy entered my office humble and contrite, his anger was gone.  At first he didn’t say anything.  He just stood in front of me, his head bowed, looking at his sneakers.

“What did you come to tell me?”

Softly, very softly he said, “My mom sent me to get her broomstick back.”

“I threw it into the trash bin in the back of the school.  It wouldn’t be a good idea for you to go looking for it there.  Are you calm now?”


“I don’t want to see you again, trying to hit someone with a stick.”


“I’ll see you on Monday.”


Dealing with the emotional needs of my students takes up much of my time.  I want to be there for them.  They need support. But finding a balance between helping an individual child with big problems while tending to the needs of the whole school community is difficult.

So it is I finish up another week.  I am exhausted.

Installment (6 of 9)/ The AYP Electric Slide


One of Mr.Vallas’s chief deputies visited our school today.  John had invited her.  When he first told me of this invitation, John said, “We will ask her for suggestions on how to succeed at meeting our AYP goal.  I’m sure she can offer us some good suggestions. Besides it wouldn’t hurt, if she decides to take a personal interest in Meade.”

This central office bureaucrat planned on being at the school for a total of two hours.  Ellen, Pat and I carefully prepared an itinerary for her visit.  Our plan was to provide her with an opportunity to experience a comprehensive overview of our school community.  We wanted her to recognize the strengths of our instructional program.  Additionally we thought it was vital for her to witness our challenges.  The first hour and a half of the schedule was designated for classroom visits. The last half hour was reserved for a debriefing session.

She was late arriving at the school.  When she finally did appear we engaged in hasty introductions before we prepared to start the walk-through of the classrooms.  Just as we were about to leave my office, several parents appeared at the front counter.  They demanded to speak to the principal.   The team went on without me.  Their first stop was in a first grade classroom.

The teacher in this room is a highly effective and experienced instructor.   Teachers from other schools in the district regularly observe in her room.   We thought that by starting on a high note we would set a positive tone for the entire visit.

Pat told me later in the day that the Deputy Superintendent had exhibited the signs of suffering an attention deficit disorder during this classroom visit.  Her first impression of the Deputy was quickly confirmed. In the hallway the group briefly discussed what they had seen in this teacher’s room.  The Deputy Superintendent was the first to make a comment.

“ It looked like she was doing a good job but I didn’t understand what her lesson objective was.”

Pat related to me that the teacher had clearly stated the objective of the lesson.

“The Deputy probably missed what was said because she was too distracted by the conversation she was having with her aides.”

Next the team visited with one of our second grade teachers.  By this time I had caught back up with the group.  This was a new teacher.  She was working out well.  The Deputy again engaged in a conversation with a member of our team during this observation.  Though she was distracted during this classroom visit, she still had a comment.

“All of the children weren’t involved in the lesson.”

Next she saw a fourth grade classroom.   This teacher did an excellent job of instructing her students.  We went on to visit a fifth grade teacher and then an eighth grade teacher.  These two teachers though experienced were new to their current grade level.  They were still figuring out the best way to engage their students in instructional activities that they too were working to master.

The classrooms she visited were well organized. They were filled with books, children’s work, and many other instructionally interesting and relevant materials. The teachers she saw were all working well with small groups of students.  The other children in the classroom were productively engaged in independent learning activities.  The students with few exceptions were focused and on task.

She didn’t indicate that she had noticed the many effective instructional practices that were taking place in our school. Instead our visitor made a stream of negative comments after each observation.

“I saw a child playing with a piece of paper in the back of the room.  There were children talking in that room.”

The inappropriate behaviors that she observed were the acts of a few random children.  This off task behavior occurred mainly when the teachers were giving information or directions to the whole class.  As the teachers observed a child misbehaving they immediately redirected the student.

The deputy made it clear to me through her behavior that she was a nitpicker.  I quickly regretted that we had invited her to our school.

During the debriefing session that followed this walk-through, I described to the Deputy the problems our team had identified in our action plan.  I presented a detailed review of our students’ achievement data.  She appeared to listen to my presentation.

“One hundred and seven students were in our second grade class in 2001-2002.  Three years later, only thirty-two of them are still enrolled in our fifth grade class.  In fourth grade only thirty of the eighty-two students who started with us in first grade are still here.  In eighth grade twenty-two out of the ninety-eight kids who attended Meade in first grade remain.  The student turnover we experience is extreme. It is a wonder that we have been able to make the progress that we have.”

When I finished she acknowledged that our high student turnover is a problem.  She also recognized that it is hard for teachers to provide rigorous and proficient instruction when they have been in a grade level for only one or two years.  The Deputy went on to identify other roadblocks that our teachers face as they work to create an effective and consistent instructional program.

“I know what a high poverty community Meade is.  You have lots of problems: high student discipline referrals, very difficult parents, and neighborhood problems.  We all know that these things make it hard for a school.”

When I heard her make these remarks, I felt good.  I started to think that inviting her to visit wasn’t a bad idea after all.  She quickly proved me wrong.

Her next remark stunned me.

“People are wondering, Frank, why you haven’t made AYP yet. With all the support you received from the district, it should have happened by now.”

I had to take a second to compose myself.

“I don’t understand what you mean.  What are the additional supports that the district gives to us?  The extra services that we do receive come from the Temple Partnership Office. This association provides us with a full time coach who works with our teachers.    There are more books and literacy materials available as a result of this relationship.  These certainly are added advantages. The Temple Partnership is a great help.    We are grateful.

But we don’t benefit from the resources that district managed schools receive.  An assistant principal or a climate coordinator hasn’t been assigned to our school.”

“Well, you get the Title I money.”

“The Title I money we have received for the last five years has gone towards hiring additional teachers in order to reduce class size.  This is why we have class sizes of twenty students or less.  This year there was only eight thousand dollars available for books and supplies after the salaries of these supplemental teachers were deducted from our budget.”

She ignored my remarks. Instead she stated her expectation.

“ During the summer, Vallas asked me to tell him how many schools I expected would make AYP this year.  He wants more than last year.  I told him that we would have more.  We will.  I will take AYP anyway I can get it.

So Frank, are you going to make AYP this year?”

I stared at her.  Her message was clear: I don’t want to hear about problems, just give me AYP.

After a few seconds of awkward silence Pat responded for me.

“Of course we will.”

Pat’s reply cut through the tension that hung in the air.  I was grateful.  If I had responded there would have been a scene.

John addressed the Deputy Superintendent.

“What suggestions do you have for us?”

She replied. “Well here is what I did when I was a principal.  People said I was nuts, but it worked.  I made up a PSSA chant and we would sing it to the music from the Electric Slide.  Every morning in the yard, we would do the Electric Slide and sing our chant.  It helped the children to understand how important the test was.  On rainy days, I would do the cheer over the PA system.  It really works.”

I was silent. What could I say after listening to her little pearl of wisdom?  To myself I thought yeah, this is the secret to success. We will Electric Slide our way to higher PSSA test scores.

Later after dismissal, I tried to relax by reading the latest edition of Education Week.  The headline of the lead article caught my eye, “Texas Takes Aim at Tainted Testing Program.”

The story reported a potential cheating scandal in Texas.   The Dallas Morning News had done an analysis of the test scores results for of all Texas’ schools.  The results of this study indicated that the scores of as many as four hundred schools in the state were suspect.  This study identified unlikely leaps in school scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge from one year to the next.  It also looked at schools where students were unable to maintain high levels of achievement as they advanced in school.

Were these schools making AYP anyway they could?  Perhaps they had created their own Electric Slide chant. According to the Deputy, when you have a good Electric Slide, you can do anything.

Installment (7 of 9)

Last Friday I attended a weekly Principal’s Meeting with the Philadelphia Central Office Leadership team.  Afterwards, I was eager to get home. Several items on the morning’s agenda had enraged me.  We adjourned at noon. I was looking forward to enjoying a weekend escape devoid of school district business.  Only a few hours back at school separated me from the beginning of this retreat.  I resolved to myself to be on my way home by three thirty.  But like on so many other Fridays I found my plan unraveling by the end of the day.

A Department of Human Services (DHS) investigator appeared at the office counter around two o’clock.  She was responding to an anonymous call that had been made to the DHS Child Abuse Hotline.  She requested to see Arthur.

I knew this caseworker.  She had enrolled her nephew in our school a few years back.  In my previous interactions with her, she impressed me as being a decent and caring person.  We talked for a while.  I shared with her what I knew of Arthur’s life with Cindy. In turn she related some of her observations concerning Arthur’s home.  She had made a visit there just before coming to the school.   What she had seen had caused her concern.  She wanted to interview Arthur.  I arranged for her to meet with him in the counselor’s office

A half hour later, she came back to see me. “I have good news and bad news. Which do you want to hear first, Mr. Murphy?”

“The good news…?”

“The good news is that Arthur is the most humble, nicest teenage boy I have ever met.  He really is nice.”

“I know.  He is a great kid.  What’s the bad news?”

“Arthur has asked to be removed from his home.  He is afraid to go home.  His mom has been waking him up at different times during the night, beating him with a pot.”

“What are you going to do with him?”

“I’m going to place him at an emergency shelter tonight.  Then I will work on finding him a foster care placement.  But first I need to obtain a court order in order to remove him from his home. This will take a few hours.  Can he stay here after school until I come back to pick him up?”

“No problem, he can come down and stay with me.  I’ll be here until six.  I have a request, though.”

“What is it?”

“I would like you to find a placement for him where he can still come to our school.  Can you do that?”

“I can try.  I’ll have to talk to my supervisor.  Can you write a letter that makes this request?”

I agreed to do this. The caseworker left.  She went to obtain the court order.  This sudden turn of events had upset me.  I willed myself to be calm, when Arthur arrived at my office.   Together we waited for the caseworker to return.

The wait felt like forever.  A big decision had been made. Arthur’s life was about to undergo a dramatic change. Now, a prisoner to circumstances beyond his control, he waited.  I was his companion in these last moments of his life before foster care.

At first, he sat quietly on the sofa. He thumbed through various professional books that were sitting on the coffee table. He looked as though he was carefully reading the text.  This I doubted knowing how much he struggled with reading.

“Are these your books, Mr. Murphy?  They are like high school books.  Do you read them?”

“Yes Arthur, those are books about teaching and running a school.  I use them for my work.”

“How do you remember all of the things they say?  It must be hard.”

“When you get older, books like these will be easy to read, Arthur.”

I got up and turned on my CD player.  I needed hear some soothing music.  Several of Mr. Nottingham’s CDs were loaded in the player.   Celtic music started to play.  When Nottingham heard the music, he came into my office. As he entered, I said to Arthur, “This is Mr. Nottingham’s music.”

Nottingham asked him, “What kind of music do you like?”

“I don’t listen much to music.  I just stay in my room and play my games.”

I had to step out of the office for a moment to see a teacher. When I returned, Nottingham was explaining to Arthur how to build model planes.  I didn’t interrupt them.  I slid into my desk chair and listened to Nottingham talk. Once he gets started, he can be quite a storyteller.  Arthur was sitting forward in his seat, taking in every word.  His eyes were bright and he was smiling.

A melancholy sounding fiddle and harp number was playing on the stereo.  It sounded like the background music for a movie scene.  I was mesmerized by their discussion.  Mr. Nottingham was standing and Arthur was sitting, beaming up at him.  The conversation had shifted while I was out of the room. Mr. Nottingham was describing his camping experiences as a boy scout.  Arthur was taking it all in, like a thirsty boy drinking water at a newly discovered desert oasis.

Earlier, Arthur had started a conversation with me by asking, “So Mr. Murphy, what do you have planned for our eighth grade trip?  Are we going somewhere like New York City?”

“Where do you want to go?  Where have you been?”

“I don’t know where I want to go.  I’ve never been anywhere.”

When he said he hadn’t been anywhere, he meant it.  Apparently his house and Meade school are the only world he has ever known.  Cindy and friends drank away their lives in her living room while Arthur played with his games alone in his bedroom.  The world he lived in was indeed small.

Mr. Nottingham was taking Arthur on a quick look at what his life could be.  Arthur was enthralled.

Nottingham continued to relate more camping stories to the boy.

“We used to go up to Fairmount Park, near Germantown when I was a kid. We would camp there overnight, I loved it.”

Arthur laughed. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that park.  They say that unicorns live there.  Do you believe in unicorns, Mr. Nottingham?”

Mr. Nottingham didn’t miss a beat as he responded to this question.

“I hear a lot of people say that they are real.  Maybe… but I don’t think they really do live there.”

Mr. Nottingham had the look on his face of sweet memories and happy days.  Arthur was bright eyed with joy. They were both enjoying their conversation. It was a pleasant moment. I guess it was the calm before the storm.  Soon this boy would be taken from the only world he had ever known.

I kept looking from one face to the other, as the man continued his reminiscing and the boy enjoyed the stories told.  They both looked like their troubles were far away from them.  As I watched, I almost cried.  I didn’t.  If I did, it would have ruined the moment.

I wasn’t completely sure, if Arthur fully comprehended the changes that were about to come.  Life with Cindy had been rough, but being placed into foster care setting didn’t necessarily mean that everything would be better.  Shelters and some foster homes can be nightmares.  I was worried.

Keeping Arthur company as we awaited the return of the caseworker was difficult. I have waited before with children who were being put into protective custody. Those waits, like this one, have been some of hardest things I’ve had to do as a principal.

A parent came into the main office in order pick up her child from the after school program.  Mr. Nottingham left my office in order to assist her.  Arthur and I were once again alone as we continued our wait.

The social worker had promised to be back by six.  She was late.  By six-fifteen we were the only two people left in the school.  I was starting to worry that she might not return.  I called the number that the caseworker had given to me.  It was her office number.  After several rings, her voicemail picked up. I left a brief message then I tried to reach her supervisor.  I ended up listening to another voicemail message. Growing increasingly frustrated I searched for a DHS Hotline Number.  I wanted to talk to a person.

Finally, I did reach someone.  The hotline intake worker put me on hold while she tried to find the caseworker.  It was a long wait.  Fortunately, in the middle of this finger-drumming experience, the social worker walked back into the building.  She showed me the court order she had just obtained.  She apologized for taking so long.

Arthur and I shook hands and shared an awkward hug.  Then he was gone.  The caseworker promised me that he would return to Meade.  This made me feel better.  I hoped that it was true.  Once again, I blinked back my tears.

It will be all right.  It will be all right. I told myself over and over.  When I arrived home, I didn’t want to talk, but I needed to talk.  I told my wife, Mary Anne all about Arthur’s departure.  She hugged me.  She comforted me.

What comfort awaited Arthur at the place where he was being sent?

I slept for most of the weekend.  Sleep was a way to try and escape from this ugly fact of life.

All of my waking hours during these two days was spent worrying about him.

My dreams were troubled.

Installment (8 of 9)

I arrived at school earlier than usual today.  By seven-thirty I was pacing back and forth in the hallway outside of the main office.  I was looking for the boy.  Will he come back?

At eight-thirty, the children started walking up the main stairway steps.  They were heading to their classrooms.  I planted myself in the middle of the first floor landing.  From this vantage point, I could see everyone who entered the school.  There wasn’t any sign of Arthur as the morning influx of students flowed around me.  Where is he?

Mrs. Martin called me back to the office.  A parent was waiting to see me. Her son was returning from his suspension.  She was there in order to reinstate him. I met with her then several other parents. An hour passed before I was free to return to the search.  I was frustrated. People were distracting me from my main mission of the day.  People wanted to see me.  Always, people want to see me.  Well I wanted to see Arthur.

I made a call to his classroom teacher, Ms. Odum.

“Did Arthur come in today?”

“Yes, he’s here.  Do you want me to send him down?”

“Would you please?”

He is here!  Yes, I cheered to myself.

He was smiling when he arrived in the office.   I said,” How did it go?”

“It was all right.”

He handed me a slip of paper on which was written his social worker’s phone number.  The contact information for the foster care person, to whom he had been assigned, was also included.  He hadn’t been placed in an emergency shelter.  The caseworker had found a home for him.  I was pleased.

He was dressed in the same clothes that he was wearing on Friday.  We talked for a little while. Afterwards I couldn’t recall much of what he had said.  It didn’t matter.  I was just glad to see him.

Mr. Nottingham came into my office just as Arthur was about to leave.  He said, “Hey buddy, what’s up?”

Arthur replied, “You have to tell me some more of those stories.”

As soon as I had a chance to be alone, I made a call to the person who was caring for Arthur.  She sounded like an older woman. I introduced myself as Arthur’s principal. We had a pleasant conversation.  She shared with me her first impression of Arthur.

“He is a very nice boy.  He settled right into my house.  I washed the clothes that he had on. But I don’t like that he doesn’t have any others.”

I told her that we were working on getting more clothes for him.  We talked for a while longer.  When I hung up the phone, I felt much better.  She seemed like a nice lady.

Later on his teacher came to see me.  She told me that she had brought with her a bagful of clothes for Arthur.  They were outfits that her son had out grown. She didn’t want Arthur to know that they had come from her.

It seemed like everything was going well for him.  Much better than I could have ever imagined last Friday.  When his teacher left my thoughts wandered back to the principal meeting that had enraged me last week.

The opening speaker at this event detailed the regional superintendent’s expectations regarding how school teams were to review student assessment data.  Each of the following presenters also made references to this topic.  The information they presented was superficial in nature.

One after another they said, “Data doesn’t lie.”  I cringed each time I heard this statement.  I thought to myself that data analysis is a sophisticated and complicated endeavor.  It isn’t a matter of “lies” or “truth.”

I have little confidence in the Central Office staffs’ ability to intelligently analyze student achievement data.  Deputy Slide’s visit to our school had confirmed for me how little these folks know.

The Acting Regional Superintendent was the final speaker.  He concluded his remarks with the following statement.

“After all of the money that has been spent on Title I over the years, there shouldn’t be any low scoring schools in this region.  But there are.   People in this district want to know why schools with low-test scores aren’t doing any better.  Something has to be done.

This is why the district is organizing a new region for next year.  It will be called the Corrective Action Region (CAR).  You don’t want to be in this group.  Schools that are put in this region will most likely have a change of school leadership.  There are a couple of schools in our region that are being considered for placement in this new region.  Names are already up on the board.  If your test scores aren’t going up, you need to get serious.  You need to do something.  The data doesn’t lie.”

Installment (9 of 9)

John arrived later in the morning.   He was eager to go over the final version of our AYP action plan.   While we were reviewing this document, Pat Costello and Ellen Lube came to see me.  Earlier in the day Ellen had received a disappointing and puzzling message from the person who was working on the Professional Development School proposal.  In an e-mail the Temple representative wrote, “ We have decided not to work with Meade school. The Dean has received information from the school district’s Central Office administration that has influenced our decision. He was told that there might be changes at Meade next year.”

Pat asked John to provide an explanation. “Are they saying that they are going to change the principal?

I cannot remember John’s response to her question.  I was in shock after hearing this news.  Later when John and I were alone, I pressed him for an explanation.

“What exactly do they mean that they are waiting to see how events develop here?  Have you talked to the Dean, John?”

“I talked to him yesterday.  He doesn’t want to move ahead because he has been told that there will be a change of leadership here.  It is a pain, really.”

“You’re telling me that the Dean was told by someone downtown that I’m going to be removed as principal?”

“Not exactly in those words.  But… yes, it was very strongly inferred that you are going to be removed.”

My face flushed.   Anger gripped me.  He continued to talk but I didn’t hear him.  I sat quietly in my chair as I contemplated this latest turn of events. So it was my name that was up on the board.  I am the one who has been chosen to be the sacrificial lamb. This was not a professional move that I desired.

Just then Mr. Ong entered my office.  He had with him the graphs and tables that would be inserted into the report. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone right then and there.   I excused myself from this meeting.

“If you don’t mind, I can’t get my head into this right now.  I’m sure you will figure at what information you need to use”

“That’s okay, it’s perfectly understandable.”  John responded. I left the two of them to figure out which graphics to use in the final report.

At that moment, I could have cared less about a plan to make AYP. I was dumbfounded by this latest development. The Central Office staff knows little if anything about my North Philadelphia School and neighborhood.  They look solely at the numbers.

I didn’t think I could keep on with my work as the principal of Meade. I felt like running as fast and as far away from Meade as I could.

Somewhere in the midst of my confusing thoughts, I wondered about Arthur.  When he told the DHS worker that he didn’t want to go home to Cindy, did his bottom fall out?  At that moment, when everything had become too real to hard for him to handle, did he want to run away?

There is a lot of abuse in the world; bad things touch everyone sooner or later. Arthur was strong when he faced his fate. I thought I could do the same.

On this day, the seventh anniversary of my arrival at Meade, I did not expect that I would have to deal with the threat of being removed.  I decided that I would not go quietly. It was up to me now to assist the central office to develop a better understanding of my school.

Meade isn’t just a number.  I along with the staff have worked hard to attend to the best interests of our neighborhood.  I will not have all that we have done unraveled as a result of a misguided attempt to make an example of our school.

In the privacy of my own head, I offered a solitary toast to my staff and kids.

Happy Anniversary!


Chapter Five: January

31 Jan

Confessions of an Urban Principal/ The Sacrificial Lamb

by Frank Murphy

Installment (9 of 9)

John arrived later in the morning.   He was eager to go over the final version of our AYP action plan.   While we were reviewing this document, Pat Costello and Ellen Lube came to see me.  Earlier in the day Ellen had received a disappointing and puzzling message from the person who was working on the Professional Development School proposal.  In an e-mail the Temple representative wrote, “ We have decided not to work with Meade school. The Dean has received information from the school district’s Central Office administration that has influenced our decision. He was told that there might be changes at Meade next year.”

Pat asked John to provide an explanation. “Are they saying that they are going to change the principal? Read the rest of this entry »


Chapter Five: January

26 Jan

Confessions of an Urban Principal/ Waiting For Arthur

by Frank Murphy

Installment (8 of 9)

I arrived at school earlier than usual today.  By seven-thirty I was pacing back and forth in the hallway outside of the main office.  I was looking for the boy.  Will he come back? Read the rest of this entry »


Chapter Five: January

24 Jan

Confessions of an Urban Principal /Arthur is Placed in Protective Custody.

by Frank Murphy

Installment (7 of 9)

Last Friday I attended a weekly Principal’s Meeting with the Philadelphia Central Office Leadership team.  Afterwards, I was eager to get home. Several items on the morning’s agenda had enraged me.  We adjourned at noon. I was looking forward to enjoying a weekend escape devoid of school district business.  Only a few hours back at school separated me from the beginning of this retreat.  I resolved to myself to be on my way home by three thirty.  But like on so many other Fridays I found my plan unraveling by the end of the day. Read the rest of this entry »


Chapter Five: January

19 Jan

Confessions of an Urban Principal /The AYP Electric Slide

by Frank Murphy

Installment (6 of 9)/


One of Mr.Vallas’s chief deputies visited our school today.  John had invited her.  When he first told me of this invitation, John said, “We will ask her for suggestions on how to succeed at meeting our AYP goal.  I’m sure she can offer us some good suggestions. Besides it wouldn’t hurt, if she decides to take a personal interest in Meade.” Read the rest of this entry »


Chapter Five: January

17 Jan

Confessions of an Urban Principal/ Luis Doesn’t Get Along Well With Women.

by Frank Murphy

Installment (5 of 9)


Luis came into the main office today.  Mr. Nottingham had sent for him.  Luis had been giving his classroom teacher a hard time.  It was the fourth time this week that he had acted in a disrespectful manner towards one of his teachers. Read the rest of this entry »


Chapter Five: January

12 Jan

Confessions of an Urban Principal/ Professional Development Schools

By Frank Murphy

Installment (4 of 9)

I awoke this morning to the sound of raindrops pelting against my bedroom windows.  A winter thunderstorm had darkened the sunrise.  Lightning flashes filled the sky and heavy rains were pouring down on the city.   My ears filled with the sound of thunder, as I hazily contemplated the day ahead. Read the rest of this entry »


Chapter Five: January

10 Jan

Confessions of an Urban Principal/ Shakespearian Tragedy or Comedy: Life in Meade School.

by Frank Murphy

Installment (3 of 9)

At three-fifteen, I headed off to the district headquarters. I had been invited to be a member of the Chief Academic Officer’s advisory committee. The first meeting of this group was scheduled for four o’clock this afternoon. I didn’t want to be late. Read the rest of this entry »


Chapter Five: January

05 Jan

Confessions of an Urban Principal/ Of Angels and Fallen Boys

by Frank Murphy

Installment (2 of 9)

Today I received a call from a school police investigator.  He asked me if I had a five-year-old student by the name of Jared or Jarod White.  I told him that we did have a Jared White-Miller enrolled in our first grade.  The investigator asked me to check and see whether the boy was in school. Read the rest of this entry »


Chapter Five: January

03 Jan

Chapter Five—January

Confessions of an Urban Principal/ Dandelions and Bramble Bushes

by Frank Murphy

Installment (1 of 9)

Returning to school on a Monday after the winter break is a dreary way to start a new year.  Despite this bleak turn of the calendar page my mood was surprisingly upbeat.  I am a happy man by nature.  The weather was unusually warm.  So we did an outside line.  All of the children went straight to their assigned locations and fell silent a full minute before Mr. Ong blew the whistle.  I wondered, if this was the calm before the storm? Read the rest of this entry »