Confessions of an Urban Principal / Hope
by Frank Murphy
Installment 2 of 8
On Wednesday evening, I met with the Home and School Association. I brought them up to date on the plan to place Meade in the CAR (Corrective Action Region). The parents in attendance decided it was time to meet with the President of Temple University. Hope, our Home and School president, would communicate this request in a letter that she would write on behalf of the Home and School Association. Several times during the course of the meeting, parents expressed their appreciation for my work at the school and in the community. They also heaped lots of praise on our teachers. It was clear that they were satisfied with the management of our school. As I listened to them talk, I wondered why don’t I spend more time with these people.
On Thursday, Hope’s letter was hand delivered to the President’s office at Temple University. Copies were also sent to Mr.Vallas and various local elected officials.
The parents weren’t wasting anytime in getting their message out.
The next day I received a memo from Deputy Electric Slide. In it, she directed that I attend a meeting on April 18, 2005, a week from next Monday. According to her memo, at this meeting I would receive information, along with several other principals about the impending reorganization of the district’s regions. This communication offered no details beyond this statement. Since I had already received inside information from John, I knew that this would be the time when the principals of the targeted schools would learn their fate.
I realized that another letter from Hope would be needed. This one would be directed to Mr. Vallas. In this letter, it would be important for the Home and School Association to express their support for the current Meade management team. The group is scheduled to meet again next Wednesday. I can bring this matter up with them then. John DiPaolo and one of the Temple’s Vice Presidents will be at this meeting. They will deliver the reply from Temple’s President to our parents’ first letter.
On Friday afternoon, I observed our young playwrights at work. They were gathered in Lori Odum’s eighth grade classroom. The teaching artist had brought two actors along with her. They were acting out scenes from the emerging scripts of the students.
The teaching artist was prodding the students to think critically about their work. As the actors finished a scene, the teaching artist would ask the playwrights the same two questions.
“Does it sound real? Does it look real?”
This artist had engendered a lively exchange among the participants. Luis was one of the main contributors to this discussion. It was evident that everyone in the group was feeling enthusiastic about this project. The artist had really succeeded in involving the students in the art of writing. I am hopeful that next year with the new eighth grade class, this work will continue. I’m not sure that this will be the case. If the district does carry through with its plans for our school, there will be no playwriting. The focus of a Corrective Action School will be on test preparation.
Our eighth grade graduation is an event to which our school community is looking forward. We are determined to create a pleasant and memorable culminating experience for our graduates. A class trip to Washington, lunch on a river cruise boat and a closing ceremony in the Great Court of Mitten Hall at Temple University are part of the package we have put together. During first period, Lori gave me a list of the eighth grade students who can’t afford to pay their class dues. She had identified four students so far. The class dues for these children will be paid using donations we have received. I don’t want anyone to be left out of the closing activities due to financial concerns.
On Tuesday, PSSA testing came to a conclusion. There are a few students to whom the testing team will have to administer make-up tests. It appears as though only one student, a third grade boy, will not complete all of the test sections. The Department of Human Services had taken him into protective services during the second day of the testing period.
We didn’t need an Electric Slide or a chant to encourage our students to participate in the testing. There wasn’t any pep rally or prizes offered to motivate them. The students understood the seriousness of this test. I ran into more than a few students with upset stomachs during the test weeks. There was almost an audible sigh of relief from the school when the testing was finished.
We have a two-week break before we start administering the Terra Nova Test. The Terra Nova is administered to students in grades one through eight. The pressure that our students feel will increase during this second test cycle. Any student who scores below the twenty-fifth percentile on the Terra Nova test will have to go to summer school. The stakes are high for all of us in the test accountability game. The future of our school community will be determined by the results of the Pennsylvania State Assessment. How our students spend their summer will be determined by the Terra Nova test.
I received a call from Reverend Moore later in the day. Mr. Vallas had been in contact with him. He assured the Reverend that a final decision hadn’t been made yet concerning Meade’s placement in the CAR region. This was encouraging news. Reverend Moore confirmed that he would be at Wednesday night’s Home and School meeting.
I assisted Hope in writing the letter to Vallas. It had two main points. First, it stated that the community is happy with and wishes to continue with The Temple Partnership. Secondly, it expressed the parents’ unhappiness with the lack of communication from the school district leadership regarding the plan to remove Meade from the Partnership. The letter concluded with a request for Vallas to meet with a committee of parents to further discuss their viewpoints.
At the conclusion of today’s meeting with Temple Partnership principals, John shared with me a letter that the President of Temple had sent to Mr. Vallas. He communicated his displeasure regarding the school district’s negative description of the Partnership’s work.
Included in this document was a data analysis of the test scores of the schools, which Temple managed. This information indicated that the Temple-managed schools were performing better than half of all of the other EMO managed schools. The President stated in the conclusion of his letter that the University was still interested in managing Meade School. This letter clearly disputed the claim made by Vallas’s staff that Temple wanted to dissolve the Partnership.
This evening at the Home & School meeting, John read this letter aloud to the parents. John was representing the president. The audience attentively listened to him. Since the Saturday church meeting, the group has grown to fifty-eight people. After he was finished reading, John reiterated in his own words Temple’s commitment to Meade. The response from Temple to our parents has been rapid and positive.
After John left, the group decided on the next step that they would take. Everyone agreed to call Mr. Vallas’s office the following morning in order to express concern about Meade. Essentially the message would be the same for every caller. ‘I am a parent at Meade School and I am not happy with the idea of Meade being removed from The Temple Partnership.’
I was a bit apprehensive that only one or two people would call. If this were to happen, the claim that Hope had made in her letter regarding the strength of our parent support will appear to be false.
By the end of the day on Thursday, more than forty-five calls had been made to Mr.Vallas’ office. The people who answered the phones in the CEO’s were rude. Many of the parents described to me the response they received. Callers were transferred to one of Vallas’ aides. She told them that Temple wanted to dissolve the Partnership. By three o’clock, the aide was exasperated. To one caller, she said, “Don’t you people get it. This Partnership has been dissolved. It’s over. Mr. Vallas knows all about your meeting and he has made his decision.”
After this outburst, the aide told several people that Mr. Vallas was no longer taking calls from Meade parents.
These reports were delivered to me as I made my rounds. Near the end of the day I was distracted by several reports that the two high school girls who had earlier jumped me were in the main office. Saundra had returned to school this morning. She was awaiting a transfer hearing that was scheduled for next week. I had requested that she be given an interim placement until that time. The regional office staff had ignored my request. Her presence in our school is communicating the wrong message. It says that you can assault the principal and nothing serious happens will happen to you. If this weren’t bad enough now I had to deal with her partners in crime. It bothers me that feel comfortable enough to enter the school. This potential threat to my security distracted me.